Smoothing Out The Grind.

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Part of being a graduate student is liberation! Finally, free of from the shackles of introductory undergraduate classes that are accompanied by the colossus that is studying. Regrettably, being a grad student also pins you into the category of very cheap labor. I personally felt an annoyance of three parts the day I found out that my assistant, a summer student, is paid better than I am because he is paid by the hour.

Though I cannot speak for all graduate students, I do know that for most of my fellow laboratory trainees there exists robots capable of easily automating the larger portion of the bench work we do. That being the case, I am old friends with repetition, a slow and torturous soul-killer that is known to many others as well. Of course repetition is our friend in many ways, helping to squeak our n-values towards significance, still it is also the bane of maintaining an interesting existence.

In my valiant attempts to combat the trials of monotony I have spent a good deal of time sampling the various options available to aid me in battle. Of course the go-to for most people is music, which is all well and good for a lot of people but I have grown to find it disappointingly unstimulating in the long-haul. So what was next for me? Technically I first tried listening to TEDtalk videos as well as talk-radio, but we’ll skip straight to the best thing so far, and that is podcasts!

For those who are not in the know, as I was not too long ago, podcasts are like audio only TV-shows that vary in length from as little as 5 minutes to up to several hours. Production qualities swing widely between extremes, from the audio equivalents of Sharknado up to shows that approach divinity itself. The best shows provide superb entertainment, have potential to better you as a person and are astoundingly good at increasing your volume of trivia knowledge.

Let us now outline a few of my favorites in case you’re in need of recommendations:

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 1. Hello Internet: A personal favorite for having popped my proverbial podcast-cherry. This, though archived under educational, is best classified into the genre of ‘two dudes talking,’ which is sort of like eavesdropping on a conversation between your two good friends. The podcast consists of two guy who make their living via Youtube just kind of chatting about whatever they feel like. Your two hosts are the hard-as-nails Brady Haran of numberphile videos, accompanied by the queen of spades himself, CGP Grey. If you like this show, then you’re also likely enjoy the Cortex podcast.

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2. Freakonomics: Hosted by the not-actually-an-economist Stephen Dubner and real-economist Steven Levitt, they talk about everything economics that you probably didn’t realize was economics. For most, the mere mention of economics risks them nodding off, but this show is nothing like that as they dive into every issue from why we wear belts to the church of scionology. Added bonus: More than 200 hours of back catalogue.

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3. This American Life: Not sure what to say about this one. I’m going to call it a jack of all trades and master of all sort of podcast. Topics fall over the map with no regard for themes of any discernible kind (except relevancy to those living in America probably). The show is very well put together and the main host, Ira Glass, has kind of a semi-infuriating voice that you can’t help but fall in love with.

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4. 99% Invisible: Another podcast about something I never thought I was interested in, architecture! This podcast derives its name from the fact that good design is completely invisible 99% of the time. The idea being that the best designed things are so easy and natural to do use that you put absolutely no thought into the underlying design. Your brilliant host Roman Mars takes you through design choices in all avenues from all around the world, each episode is evergreen and will absolutely make you see the world more than a bit differently.

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5. The Broad Experience: Hosted by the slightly monotone Ashley Milne-Tyte, this show is about the many issues that are tackled by women in the work place (including academia) and everyday life. Even without taking into account that the entire show is made by Ashley alone, it’s interesting to listen to and covers a lot of relevant issues that everyone is faced with everyday. I recommend this show to anyone who lives within 1000 miles of civilization because these issues are very addressable and in need of our attention.

One last thing to consider before getting your feet wet in the world of podcasts is that you’ll probably need a podcast player. Sorry android users, I know nothing about your phones so you’re on your own. On new apple devices though, there’s an integrated podcasts player you couldn’t delete even if you wanted to, but don’t settle for it! There is a myriad of podcast players out there for you to choose from.  Personally, I use Overcast because it has ‘smart speed’ and ‘vocal booster’ options. Also, if you don’t know how to relax and just enjoy yourself (like me) then you can listen to everything at 2.25 times speed, just to hurry information into your head.

Now go out into the world, find time when you’re not doing anything else with your brain (driving, walking, showering, exercising, etc.) and plug yourself into the world of podcasts!


3 thoughts on “Smoothing Out The Grind.

  1. I love podcasts and they are definitely a great way to take your mind off your own work and learn something new. I listen to them on my commute, when I’m doing housework, and when I just need a walk to get a break from the computer. Freakonomics was my first love and I also just got on to 99% Invisible. Nick, you might like Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast “Revisionist History” which is very engaging. And the classic Stuff You Should Know if often quite easy to have on in the background if you tend to drift in and out of listening. Now I’ll take your suggestions and check out Hello Internet and The Broad Experience.


    1. This isn’t strictly a list of my favourite podcasts, more like one from each of my favourite genres.

      I’ve been on the fence about trying Revisionist history, maybe I’ll finally try it out.

      I just caught up on Planet Money, The Moth and Story Corps. All get a huge stamp of approval. Of course if you like The Moth then you might like the similar Story Collider.

      Happy Listening!


  2. Wow, Nick! Thanks for this super informative and well-written post! It’s such a useful review of what is out there for podcasts, and your personal tips are also helpful. Keep up the great work!


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