Podcasts by Scientists: Her Royal Science

Podcasts by Scientists: Her Royal Science
11 months ago

Podcasts by Scientists: Her Royal Science

It’s time to take a closer look at another great science podcast, and this time we’re shining the spotlight on Her Royal Science! Host and founder Dr Asma Bashir created the podcast in order to provide a much-needed safe space for people from minority groups within STEM to share their life experiences.

The podcast archive currently features 40 fantastic interviews with scientists from a wide variety of backgrounds who all have insightful, fascinating and moving stories to tell about their journeys through science.

Dr Bashir is a neuroscientist whose PhD focused on the consequences of traumatic brain injury. Through her audio platform she digs deep into the issues facing scientists from minoritised backgrounds, and encourages them to share the lessons they have learned along the way.

We spoke to Asma about the origins of the podcast, why it’s vital to have a platform for minority groups to be heard, and the importance of striving for equity over equality in STEM…


Hi Asma! Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a scientist?

I would say my scientist origin story begins as an undergraduate student in Boston, where I took ‘Introduction to Neuroscience’. I absolutely loved the course and, after chatting with the professor a few times, I decided that I would pursue a graduate degree in Neuroscience following my Bachelor’s. I then went on to complete a PhD in Vancouver, where I studied the behavioural, electrophysiological, biochemical, and histological consequences of traumatic brain injury.


What was the inspiration behind the creation of the podcast?

I had started becoming hyper aware of how different I was compared to most of my lab mates and larger grad cohort, and I wanted to find a way to create community for anyone who felt different in the STEM space. I had also started realising that a lot of STEM research is very hard to access, since we often publish our work in expensive journals or we present our results at conferences that are very costly to attend. I wanted to accomplish two goals: to make science more accessible while also creating safe spaces for individuals from minoritised groups to share their experiences.


Who is the podcast aimed at?

I would say students with diverse backgrounds at the graduate level are my primary target audience, so I try to feature individuals who are considering grad school, are currently in grad school, have recently graduated, or are in pursuit of academic and non-academic careers. It’s important to me to showcase people from all over the world so that anyone in STEM—no matter who they are, what they look like, and what their story is—can look at the guests we’ve featured and see themselves represented.


What makes this podcast different from other STEM interview podcasts?

One thing that makes Her Royal Science different is our emphasis on the people and the stories behind the research. While I do enjoy talking about STEM and the latest, most exciting research, I also really enjoy hearing about the lessons my guests have learned throughout their respective journeys. My interview prompts are, at times, heavily inspired by 'The And', a card game by The Skin Deep that poses introspective questions like ‘What’s a mistake you’ve made that changed your life?’. I love life-chats, so I try to have them on the podcast and share them with my audience.


What do you enjoy most about making the podcast?

Meeting such interesting and inspiring people is definitely the highlight! I also enjoy the warm feeling when a listener messages me about an episode that they particularly enjoyed or were moved by.


What’s been the most powerful or moving story or message to have come from the podcast?

In Renaissance (Season 4, Episode 7), Lietsel Jones and I discuss the series of events that led to her self-described exodus from academia, also touching upon the importance of re-evaluation, recalibration, and rebirth if one finds themselves in a less than ideal professional space. Her story is especially moving because of how candid she was throughout our chat, and I am forever appreciative to Lietsel for sharing her story with me. Check it out here: https://www.herroyalscience.com/post/37-renaissance


Why is it important for scientists from minority groups to share their stories in this way?

I think it can be wonderfully cathartic to have safe spaces for scientists from minoritised groups to share their stories. For a lot of minoritised scientists, their labs and classrooms are not entirely safe, and we/they have learned to conceal certain aspects of themselves when they are around their supervisors and peers. Everyone deserves a space where they can be 100% themselves and can be celebrated for all aspects of their identity; through Her Royal Science, I strive to provide just that.


In your opinion, what more could be done by employers/institutes to support scientists from minority groups?

Strive for equity more than equality! Through some of my conversations, I’ve realised that a lot of institutions say that they are working towards creating a fair and equitable environment, but the resources that they are providing are falling short. An example that I often use is the academic reimbursement system. Equality is saying “Everyone who wants to present at a conference on behalf of their lab or institution can go if their work is accepted, and the conference attendee will be reimbursed for their travel expenses upon their return from the conference.” Equity would be having the lab/institution pay for the conference registration fee and travel costs from the get-go, recognising that not everyone can put $1000+ on a credit card to be reimbursed many months later. While equality is a step in the right direction, equity often means a radical overhaul towards systemic change.


What’s been the most challenging aspect of starting a podcast?

Starting a podcast can be very time-intensive! There’s a lot to figure out early on, especially if you’re doing your own guest recruitment, hosting, and audio editing. Luckily, I’ve become really good at time-management as a result, especially when I used podcasting as an escape between running experiments and writing papers while I was completing my PhD.


Which has been your favourite episode of the podcast so far?

Oh my, that’s a hard one! I don’t think I would be able to pick just one. I’d say my favourite episodes are the ones where my conversation with a guest turns into a genuine friendship. That has happened a few times over the years, and it feels so special every single time.


If you could interview absolutely anybody, who would be your dream podcast guest?

Definitely Dr Mae Jemison! I think she is extraordinary; she’s an engineer, physician and astronaut who was also the first Black woman to travel to space. I’d love to have a conversation with her one day.


How do you see the podcast growing/what are your plans for it long-term?

To be honest, I have no idea! Every summer, I figure out whether I want to host the podcast for another season, and that has been working for me so far. I enjoyed expanding the Her Royal Science platform into video content last year, where I produced a short film about my podcast’s origin story. As for what’s next, I’m not 100% sure, and I find that kind of exciting!


What advice would you give to other scientists who are keen to get into podcasting?

Do what feels right; whether you want to interview guests, or host an educational podcast, do the thing that feels best to you so that you are proud of the final product. It’s also worth asking other podcasters about their own experiences! Ask them what their expenses are, what they wish they did differently at the very start, etc.


Aside from Her Royal Science, which other science-themed podcasts would you recommend?

Ironically, I don’t often listen to podcasts! From my very limited experience though, I think Jason Zackowski (Science Pawdcast) and Anne Chisa (Root of the Science) are really fun and engaging hosts. Definitely check out their work!


How can our readers listen to the podcast?

Her Royal Science is available on all major streaming platforms, including but not limited to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, and Spotify. You can also listen to the episodes and read their transcripts on the Her Royal Science website (www.herroyalscience.com/podcast; www.herroyalscience.com/transcripts).


Anything else you would like to tell us?

This October, be sure to pick up a copy of Been Outside: Adventures of Black Women, Nonbinary, and Gender Nonconforming People in Nature. I contributed a book chapter about my experiences of finding community in STEM spaces, and the larger collection discusses what it means to be a Black woman or nonbinary scientist studying and existing in the natural world.

Find out more here: https://www.mountaineers.org/books/books/been-outside-adventures-of-black-women-nonbinary-and-gender-nonconforming-people-in-nature


Thank you for speaking to us Asma! We love what you are doing - keep up the great work!


Discover more great Podcasts by Scientists...

Take a look at some of the other podcasts we have featured in our spotlight series:


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