Podcasts by Scientists: The Lonely Pipette

Podcasts by Scientists: The Lonely Pipette
2 years ago

Podcasts by Scientists: The Lonely Pipette

In the next in our Podcasts by Scientists series, we’re shining the spotlight on The Lonely Pipette! This popular podcast focuses on producing engaging interviews and sharing valuable advice to help scientists ‘do better science’. Hosts Renaud Pourpre and Jonathan Weitzman speak to inspiring researchers from around the world to find out more about their lives, careers, work habits, and to share their tips for others.

This month they are launching Season 2 of the podcast, with an exciting (but still top secret!) line-up of new guests ready to share their advice on lab life! We spoke to Renaud and Jonathan to learn more about their science backgrounds, the motivation behind The Lonely Pipette, and their hopes and plans for the future of the podcast…


Hi Renaud and Jonathan! Can you tell us a little bit about your background as scientists?

Renaud: I have a PhD in patho-epigenetics (University of Paris-Saclay, INRAE). I always wanted to better understand how our cells work and what mechanisms underlie them. But then I discovered all the little creatures in the microcosmos (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) and became super curious about how they are able to interact with the world and with us. That's why I chose to work at the interface between our cells and bacteria: trying to understand how something that seems so simple, like a bacterium, is able to outlast our defenses and, more importantly, modulate our cellular processes.

Jonathan: I studied biochemistry (University of Manchester) before pursuing a PhD in molecular biology (University of Oxford) in the UK. I then embarked on postdocs in cancer research, first in Boston (Harvard University) and then in Paris (Institut Pasteur). I have always been interested in interactions, interfaces and signaling. For example how cancer cells interact with their surroundings, how these interactions lead to signals that go to the nucleus, how parasites interact with host cells, and how the environment influences the genome and the epigenome. In 2006 I became a professor at the university and set up a research unit studying epigenetics and cell fate. I am also fascinated by the interface between disciplines and I have enjoyed working with physicists, philosophers, sociologists and even artists.


How did the podcast begin?

Renaud: Right after my PhD defense, I asked Jonathan to talk with me because I was lost in my career as a scientist. I felt insecure about how I was doing science, but I also wondered if I was doing it the "right" way. Jonathan was the first person I asked for this kind of help. In the course of the discussion, Jonathan admitted that he was also looking for answers to "doing science better" as a more advanced scientist, with different but complementary questions. He knew I was doing science communication and asked if that might be a good reason to start something together. We ultimately realized that if we could find the time to ask inspiring scientists for their tips and insight into science, we should share it with other peers who were asking the same questions. Complementing each other, we decided to start a podcast, thinking that the best media for scientists is one they can listen to in the lab, at times when they may feel alone. 

Jonathan: I had been dreaming about a science podcast for some years and Renaud was the right person to make it happen. I really wanted to make mentoring advice available to all and I loved the idea that we could use the podcast format to talk to some of the wonderful scientists and mentors that I have had the chance to meet over the years. Working with Renaud has been fantastic - we are very complementary and this helped us produce a show that caters to both young and older audiences.


Is this the first podcast you have produced?

Renaud: Yes. I've done science communication in several media formats: videos, conferences, festivals (Pint of Science), associations, etc. but never podcasts. As a teenager, I had the chance to be a radio presenter for a young show, far from science but very pleasant to manage.

Jonathan: I have been teaching and lecturing for years, and I was involved in making documentaries for television and I have enjoyed being on the radio, but this was our first adventure in the world of podcasting.


Who is the podcast aimed at?

Renaud: The scientists. All of them. Whatever their origin, culture, location, etc. The best way to think and to question our vision of science is sharing without frontiers, because science is without frontiers.

Jonathan: Scientists. Young or old, experienced or beginners, at the bench or managing a lab. Anyone who thinks that they can become a better scientist by learning to listen to others. And we even have listeners who are not scientists. The podcast is not about the science, but about the scientists themselves.


Which has been your favourite episode so far?

Renaud: Hahaha tricky question! Actually, let's face it, I cannot pick one. They all are so different with their own intentions, stories and surprises. I’ve enjoyed recording and listening to all of them… and Season 2 will not help to answer this question either!

Jonathan: Ooh, that’s hard. I try not to have favourites in the lab. The real thrill is learning to listen to each of them and the different tips they have to share.


You invite listeners to send in their own stories or tips for other scientists. What has been the best tip that a listener has shared?

Renaud: I have to say that I think the best advice comes from gathering all the advice we've seen and received, but picking the ones that fit our story. I mean, I feel like it's like a deck of cards: each piece of advice from someone you meet is like a new card you can add to your deck. Then you just have to choose and play the one that suits you best and make the most of the diversity around you. This also works with exchange: keep sharing the tips around you with their stories, you'll be surprised how many cards you'll receive in return!

Jonathan: What I have enjoyed most is hearing people’s stories of where they listen to the podcast - in the tissue culture room, at the microscope, counting flies etc. And the response from researchers around the world has been fantastic. It has been inspiring to hear someone on the other side of the world mention a tip from the podcast that helped motivate them or change their day. And listeners have encouraged us to expand beyond biology and beyond academia … wait for Season 2!


How do you choose the guests for your podcast?

Renaud: We started with scientists around Jonathan. Just to try without pressure and meet the most inspiring scientists around us. There was also a special wish list because some of them caught our attention based on their stories. For example, I really wanted to meet Oded Rechavi, as I was very curious about the stories I had heard about him and his original lecture. But we also wanted to talk with Magdalena Skipper and discuss other topics that we felt were important for scientists. 

Jonathan: Most of the guests were people that I knew had something inspiring to say - and I chose people that I just wanted to sit down with for an hour. It was also important to explore a diverse range of guests from across the world. We hope there is something there for everyone.


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

Renaud: Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of Sci-hub, is someone I really want to interview. I wish for an open science model that is sustainable. We’ll have to talk to a lot of diverse people to challenge our way of doing things and think about new models of producing and sharing science. 

Jonathan: I would have loved to sit down to talk to lots of scientists who are no longer with us, like Francis Crick, or Marie Curie or Conrad Waddington. It is such an honour to chat with some of the world’s top scientists. We are creating an archive of conversations for scientists of the future to listen to.


What topics/guests do you have lined-up for Season 2?

Renaud: Suspense! You can check our banner on Twitter (below) to try to decipher the upcoming guests. For season 2, the guest names will be released the day of the episode publication. We want to keep some surprises for the listeners. One of them gave me my master diploma AND this is a woman who is a great inspiration to me. For the topics, we stepped out of our comfort zone and reached out to scientists outside our circles. You believe that some experience outside academia can benefit academia!

Jonathan: Yes I’m afraid we need to keep some surprises! Surprises are what motivates me to be a scientist. And we don’t want people to tune in because someone is famous. We are convinced that all of our guests have something interesting to share with other scientists. Some of the season 2 guests are new friends and some I have known all my life…


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

Renaud: We aim to develop the audience of the podcast (new topics, new approaches etc.), and keep serving scientists in their journey. For this we want to collaborate with people who share our values. We would be delighted to be more involved in conferences or workshops too, creating content to share meaningful ways to do science and help develop bonds between scientists all around the world. In a sense, I believe The Lonely Pipette can be a catalyst to bring scientists together and answer the challenges of research as a truly great community. So if you recognize yourself here and want to support our work, just get in touch so we can think about synergies!

Jonathan: We are going to keep going until no more scientists are lonely - that could take a while! And we have lots of ideas (but not enough time) for future projects on mentoring and building a community of researchers globally. We also want to reach scientists in countries that get less coverage, particularly the southern hemisphere and Asia.


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

Renaud: If other scientists want to start a podcast, I would definitely advise them to look for what animates them when they do science. This is how we started our podcast and kept doing it while it was sometimes a lot of work. We started our podcast based on a shared need for answers about how we do science. So if you get the feeling you could go to look for answers that would benefit others, that’s your motor! Also do not overthink the technical part. Just start as simply as possible and show your work. You’ll perfect it on the way!

Jonathan: The most important skill is to learn to listen - and that is harder than it sounds. The podcast is a fascinating format - it’s just the beginning. We would be interested in working with anyone who wants to explore this medium more for science.


Aside from The Lonely Pipette, which other science-themed podcasts would you recommend?

Renaud: I would definitely talk about Ologies from Alie Ward which was one of my first beloved podcasts. It is one of my influences to produce an honest and transparent show such as The Lonely Pipette, but also an inspiration for other podcasts that I plan to do. Thanks Alie! And I have also to share the one by Elodie Chabrol, “Under the Lab Coat”, a real gem of a discussion with the researchers.

Jonathan: Alie and Elodie are talented stars and they do a wonderful job. My mum's favourite is The Life Scientific with Jim Al-Khalili. And a special shout out to David Mendes, host of PapaPhD, because he interviewed me for my first podcast experience back in 2020.


How can our readers listen to your podcast?

Renaud: In the way that suits them best! You can find it directly on the major streaming platforms (Apple Podcast, Spotify, etc.). We've designed the podcast with their experiences in mind so they can listen anywhere and anytime! If you don’t know where to start just go on our page: https://thelonelypipette.buzzsprout.com/share

Jonathan: We are everywhere - sign up here (https://bit.ly/TLPNL) and reach out to us with feedback.


How can our readers find you on social media?

Renaud: Twitter! This is the social media we both use the most. We check every post and try to respond to every comment! 

Jonathan: We are all over Twitter and LinkedIn:


And finally, is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Renaud: If you are interested in science communication, I also share a lot of my productions and collaborations with scientists (video, podcast, documentary, immersive show etc.) on my personal account: @LePourpre. You may find some science communication tips or maybe you can reach out to work together!

Jonathan: Don’t be lonely! Come and join the TLP community and help us ensure that everyone becomes a better scientist every day. And if you like it… share it with a friend.


Thank you for speaking to us Renaud and Jonathan! We can’t wait to listen to Season 2. Connect with The Lonely Pipette podcast:


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