Pondering Podcasts

Pondering Podcasts

… and audiobooks

Headline image by Mark Solarski on Unsplash

Last week, Cia told us the ‘in’s and out’s’ of creating your own podcast. This week, Stephanie, puts the spotlight on a few of her favourite listens.

Lab life can get repetitive. Sometimes, listening to music just doesn’t cut it for me and can even add to the cycle of repetitiveness. Even if you’re not a lab-rat PGR, there are probably aspects of your life - such as the daily commute or even a lunchtime walk - that can be infinitely improved by the topic of today’s post.

Podcasts are like feature articles for your ears (or nonsensical ramblings depending which you choose); you can get all the benefits of reading, just without the eye-strain! I prefer to think of myself as fashionably late to the hype as opposed to living under a rock. If you too find yourself fashionably late with no clue where to start, I’ve got you sorted with a few suggestions of podcasts and audiobooks that I love, and a bunch more recommendations from the twitterverse.

So, put those noise receivers in the side of your head to good use (in my opinion) and get ready to delve into the world of podcasts and audiobooks.


First things first – you need a way to listen to these fantastic offerings. I use the podcast app on my iphone for podcasts and I have a subscription to Audible to listen to audiobooks. Android users fear not, you can access podcasts through Google Play. Otherwise, Spotify has quite the array of podcasts, all arranged into categories helping you navigate the minefield of the selection process. If you’re not a smartphone user but are still interested in listening, most podcasts can be accessed through a web browser - so you too can tune in (check out soundcloud).  

Now this is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a couple of my favourite podcasts and audiobooks from the past year.


Ologies (@Ologies @Alie Ward on twitter)

‘Ologies’ podcast logo. The image features the title ‘Ologies’ in the centre and ‘with Alie Ward’ underneath and offset to the left. Greyscale illustrations of a conical flask, a beetle, an egg, a heart and an octopus feature above the title in addition to a cog, human skull, shell, fern branch, dinosaur skull , atoms and a crystal underneath the title.

Interested in literally anything on earth? ‘Ologies’ is the podcast for you!

Each interview style episode, hosted by Alie Ward, features a scientist working in the field of a certain ‘ology’. In the words of ‘Dad Ward’ herself, she ‘asks smart people dumb questions’ and encourages you to do the same.

I’ve found myself AMAZED by subjects I never would have dreamed of looking up before. A few of my favourite episodes include Dendrology (trees), Lepidopterology (butterflies) and Fearology (fear). You learn how the scientists ended up doing what they’re doing and a bunch of cool facts about obscure subjects (fantastic dinner party material).

The casually charismatic host, Alie Ward, guides you with ease through the subjects using hilarious asides. Warning: phrases like ‘oh heeeyyyyyy’, ‘boy howdy’ and ‘hot dang’ may become fixtures in your vocabulary because of this splendid host, or maybe that’s just me (the episode, Phonology, explains the science about why exactly that happened by the way).

Hands down, this is my favourite podcast. I eagerly await Tuesdays just to hear what weird and wonderful topic I’m going to become obsessed with for the next week.


Cover image of the podcast ‘Getting Curious’ with Jonathan Van Ness. The image features the face of Jonathan Van Ness against a grey background, in the bottom right hand corner looking quizzically up towards the top left hand corner. Above is the title 'in bold letter ‘Getting Curious’ and ‘with Jonathan Van Ness’ written in scripture underneath the main title.

Getting curious with Jonathan Van Ness

‘Getting Curious’ is another interview style podcast which is hosted by Jonathan Van Ness (JVN), star of the heart-warming Netflix revival of Queer Eye (this programme gives you all the feels. I highly recommend watching it if you haven’t). It has a similar set-up to ‘ologies’ in that each episode has a different topic (anything from cults to figure skating) which JVN and guests explore. Expect diverse subjects and the occasional celebrity guest, for example Reese Witherspoon, Drew Elliott and Justin Theroux.

It was through watching Queer Eye that brought me to this podcast and rest assured JVNs sparkling personality isn’t lost by losing the video!

Disclaimer: this podcast is supported by adverts, which can be quite annoying. It’s worth sticking with this podcast if you can tune out during the ads.


Front book cover of ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ by Adam Kay. The image displays a white lab coat hung up on a hook against a teal coloured wall. There is pen placed in the breast pocket of the coat, and a spot of blood on the pocket of the lab coat.

This is Going to Hurt - Adam Kay

(Audible, or just read it the old fashioned way...)

A witty, unfiltered memoir of a former NHS Junior Doctor. What started as notes scrawled in presumably a sleepless haze, has since transformed into a show at the Edinburgh Fringe which led to this fascinating, if sometimes heartbreaking, read/listen.

Warning: be prepared to laugh to yourself in public if you listen to this on the go.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

(Audible, or again just read it…)

Book cover of ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’. It features description underneath the title which says ‘She died in 1951. What happened next changed the world’. There is a profile outline of a woman’s face, coloured in black, which covers the left hand side of the cover. On the right hand side a scene of people on a street outside a hospital can be seen. This scene extends underneath the chin of the woman and the image of a car is prominent.

A truly remarkable account of how the author, Rebecca Skloot, took up investigative journalism to tell the world the story of the Lacks family and how the world’s first immortal cell line, HeLa, came into existence.

The book explores the relationships between Lacks family members, the intricacies of medical property, shocking accounts of segregation in addition to the ‘birth’ of the immortal cells.

As a PGR who routinely uses cell lines in my work, I picked this  as I thought it was about time I learned about the woman who made it possible. After listening, I believe it is a story everybody needs to know about whether you are a scientist or not.

Note: if you listen to the audiobook on audible, the narrator may seem quite irritating at first, but I promise you will be rewarded for your perseverance - this is a story worth hearing.


Suggestions from the twitterverse:

  • UofG Sound Tracks - The University of Glasgow has its own podcast! The show has different UofG Alumni guests each episode and explores their lives and careers.

  • Infinite Monkey Cage – Science-y podcast hosted by Brain Cox and Robin Ince

  • The Guilty Feminist – Hosted by comedian Deborah Frances-White, the podcast invites guests to discuss all things feminism and confess ‘I’m a feminist BUT…’.

  • Literary Friction - A monthly podcast discussing themes inspired by a guest author’s book

  • True Crime Garage - Does what it says on the tin, this podcast delves into true crime stories

  • The Daily  (The New York Times) - A fairly informal discussion of stories reported by The New York Times

  • This Might Get Weird - Relatively new podcast brought to the world by Grace Helbig and Mamrie Hart (youtube stars, actresses, comedians, writers etc, etc, etc.). These two friends chat about anything and everything and their laughter is infectious. I’ll be keeping tabs on this one.

As a PGR it’s hardly a surprise that I like learning about new things, so I’m hoping these suggestions go down a treat with you too. Happy listening folks.


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