How and Why I Started a Podcast while Defending my Dissertation
This is the next post in my ongoing series about the steps that led to my publishing a non-academic book shortly after completing my PhD. It’s intended for academics and current graduate students wondering how they might branch out into new areas of research and writing.
Today I’ll be focusing on why and how I began podcasting. I’ll end with a few questions you can ask to shed light on areas of your thought or research that have “podcast potential.”
Without further ado…
Podcasting and Me
By the time I finished the defense draft of my dissertation–some six months before the defense–I knew several things with certainty:
- I did not want to go on the traditional academic job market–after my defense, I planned to grow my career as an academic editor;
- I did want to continue writing and researching some of the broader questions that had surfaced during my dissertation years;
- I did not want to immediately begin trying to publish my dissertation. I was burned out on that particular project for the foreseeable future;
- I was kind of sick of writing for a strictly academic audience.
Here’s what I didn’t know or wasn’t so sure about:
- How, exactly, I wanted to continue writing about those broader questions mentioned above;
- Who my audience would be, or even if there were enough interested readers in the world to constitute an audience;
- How to make the more academic facets of my writing and research interests connect to a wider readership;
- How the publishing process works, especially non-academic presses.
The bigger, more foundational thing was this: I had serious doubts as to whether I’d be able to write anything after finishing my PhD. Although my dissertation was pretty good (for a dissertation), something about the solitude and drudgery of the work hadn’t been good for me, mentally or emotionally.
Afterward, I had an itch to write, but it felt dead and dissociating, like the phantom itch an amputee might feel in their severed limb. Unsure what that hollowness meant, I confided to my best friend that I wasn’t sure I’d ever write again, and I meant it.
Around the same time, an acquaintance mentioned offhandedly that I should try podcasting. I had a “good voice,” they said, and things to say.
The idea intrigued me, partly because I missed teaching and wondered if podcasting would fill the void. I did some research and grew interested in creating a podcast through a digital media group I’d often listened to during graduate school, back when I was converting to Eastern Orthodoxy. Since my dissertation research had dealt with religious history and theological developments, podcasting with a theologically oriented venue seemed like a good idea.
(At the time, I don’t think I realized that I could have just started a podcast on my own, paid my own hosting fees, etc. I just assumed you had to do it through a larger website or channel. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t know this because podcasting with Ancient Faith Radio has been a wonderful growing and learning experience I would not otherwise have had.)
To pitch my podcast, I had to develop a pilot episode. Until that point, I knew little about audio editing. But like most PhDs, I’m a fast and curious learner and managed to develop that episode pretty quickly. It wasn’t a stellar performance and I had much to learn about audio engineering, but it wasn’t that bad for my first try. Plus, it gave me a project to occupy my mind while I awaited defense day.
As I recall, I got my acceptance letter from Ancient Faith the same week I defended (in October 2015). It was a relief knowing I’d have a creative and intellectual outlet as I took my first baby steps outside the academy. I suddenly experienced a surge of newfound inspiration as I planned and created new episodes in advance of the podcast’s launch date, slated for the following January (2016).
Back then, I considered all of this–podcasting, writing episodes–to be a “little” thing in my life. A minuscule side project. After all, I wasn’t getting paid and barely had any listeners in the beginning (not that I have a ton now, but a lot more than when I first started). I didn’t know how important podcasting would become, and it’s only in hindsight I’ve realized the healing role that podcasting played in the wake of finishing my dissertation. I certainly didn’t realize that a book would come out of it all–a book that wasn’t even on my radar when I defended.
Podcasting and You
If you’re an academic, postac, or altac looking for ways to recharge your creative and intellectual juices, might I suggest podcasting? There are plenty of folks #withaPhD who’ve made the leap in exciting ways (check out Liz Covart’s “Ben Franklin’s World” or Sarah Bereza’s “Music and the Church“). You can learn more about the basics of podcasting here and here.
On a more conceptual level, though, here are a few questions to generate content or a premise for a podcast of your own. The key is to dream big as you consider them–your answers don’t need to fall in the narrow grid of your field, committee, or department!
- What are the types of conversations you most enjoy having about your work (however distantly related to your topic/ dissertation/ academic research, strictly speaking)?
- What initially piqued your interest in or curiosity about your research? What about that “first love” have you strayed from? What aspects of your initial interest do you wish you could reconnect with?
- What do you wish people knew about what you’ve learned through your research?
- What were your creative, intellectual, or lifestyle interests before you embarked on the academic path? What’s fallen by the wayside? What do you wish you could revisit or recultivate?
- What are the interesting stories, data, or points of interest you’ve had to omit from your academic work due to the expectations of your field or preferences of your committee?
These are questions that help signal points of podcast potential. They draw your attention to the journey and the hidden, compelling questions behind what you have done as an academic and as a human being. No matter how obscure or opaque your research is, people are drawn to quests and questions.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the particular ways podcasting can be healing for folks in a creative slump, especially those of us who’ve been burned out by the confines and hoop jumping of academic writing.