Meet the personalities behind the Supplemental Material podcast
By Joseph Blanchette
Supplemental material, in science speak, usually refers to the data and results that are critical for understanding a research study but don’t make it into print. In this spirit, science writers Dave Mellert and Anna Lisa Lucido provide a behind-the-scenes look into The Jackson Laboratory in their podcast, Supplemental Material.
On their show, the pair has conversations with the JAX team about their research, the state of science and its future, and their passions and motivations. They also talk a lot about food.
Please describe what you do at JAX.
Mellert: Well our titles are “Sr. Scientific Writer”, which means that we spend most of our times working with JAX scientists to develop and write grant applications, but because we both have PhD with significant postdoctoral research experience, PIs and administrators come to us to work on a variety of projects.
Lucido: The longer we’re here, the more we get to do (including podcasts)! But yes, our bread and butter is technical science writing.
What inspired you to create your own podcast? How do you describe Supplemental Material to your friends?
Mellert: I have participated in a few podcasts before, but nothing that has to do with science; pop culture, video games, that sort of thing. I’ve met a number of friends this way. I also love to listen to podcasts. It seemed like a great opportunity to interact with the research community, younger scientists that may not necessarily know much about JAX but are curious, and anyone that has an interest in science.
I would describe Supplemental Material as "listening to a casual conversation between scientists." We aren’t necessarily trying to package the material in any particular way, although we do try to keep the conversation at a level that someone who is science-savvy, but not an expert, will enjoy.
Lucido: The podcast is a great opportunity for us (and you) to get to know JAX scientists on a different level. We work quite closely with investigators when they’re preparing grants and what often comes out is some neat story or curiosity that drives them in this career path or some other personal or scientific interest — the supplemental material, if you will — that’s hard to capture any other way than through casual conversation. This is what we’re trying to tap into.
How did you join forces with one another to work on this?
Mellert: We were already working together and our offices are next door. And Anna Lisa has such a melodic Canadian voice I thought she would be a great cohost.
Lucido: Aw, thanks Dave. I was worried I was losing my accent. Yes, we share a wall and are frequently talking about work, and in one of our many conversations Dave realized the absence of a regular podcast at JAX. He was the spearhead and brought me along as a co-host.
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones are your favorites? And what are you doing while listening?
Mellert: I love listening to podcasts. I usually listen while I am running or exercising. And sometimes in the car if I am on a long drive by myself. Some of my favorite are Good Job Brain, which is a trivia podcast, The Geekbox, which is more or less a Geek Culture podcast, and anything by my friends over at Nintendo World Report, which is a Nintendo fansite (yes, I am a Nintendo fanboy!). I also listen to a lot of music podcasts.
I actually don’t frequently listen to science podcasts. They usually are aimed at a more general audience than someone such as myself, and they are generally pretty short. I like long-form podcasts that feature a lot of discussion.
Lucido: I too love long-form podcasts — although I don’t listen to as many these days, my commute to work is blessedly short and my toddler makes it difficult to really get into a long podcast! My favorites are not podcasts per se but taped NPR episodes of On Point and Fresh Air — which cover a range of interesting topics, from art to science to history to politics and more. Their respective hosts, Tom Ashbrook and Terry Gross, are brilliant; they have truly mastered the art of the interview and their ability to speak intelligently on a range of topics is beyond impressive. I always learn from them. The Moth features true stories of people told live, and is often poignant and hilarious. Those are my favorites.
What do you think it is that makes a podcast a good podcast?
Mellert: Mostly it is the personalities of the people involved. A good podcast will draw you in and make you feel like you are part of the conversation, or want to join it. And, again, I like a longer-format podcast — I am probably not a typical listener. I don’t like podcasts that are heavily edited or jazzed-up. It detracts from the personalities of the participants.
Lucido: I agree with Dave. When interviewers and interviewees have chemistry (good or bad) it makes for fascinating listening.
Why do you think podcasting is such a popular media format?
Mellert: I think that radio programs have always been popular, and podcasts let people listen to what are essentially radio programs on their own time and pace. And because the internet and personal digital media devices have democratized radio, programming is not constrained by the need to collect advertising revenue. It allows for a much broader range of content. There is no broadcast radio station on the planet that would ever play an hour of 30- to 40-year-olds nonchalantly talking about comic books, or three or four scientists chatting about science and food for a half-hour. But these kinds of things have an audience, and often a very loyal and engaged audience.
Lucido: Dave hit on the major points. I also think it’s popular because it taps into a certain mystique that is similar to radio — because you can’t see what’s going on, you need to use your imagination to appreciate and understand what you’re listening to.