Episode 26 – “How Real is Silicon-based Life?” by Natalie Wallace and Nicole Kendrick

Winner; Graduate & Professional: “Excellence in Podcasting” Competition

Sponsored by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and the Office of Immersion Resources.

When the line between science and fiction becomes blurred, how can know what’s rooted in reality or simply pseudoscience? This is precisely the question that Natalie Wallace and Nicole Kendrick, graduate students in biological science and biochemistry respectively, aim to answer. In this episode of VandyVox, the dynamic duo debunks famed sci-fi TV-series The X-Files, Season 2 Episode 9 “Firewalker.” The pair earned first place in the graduate and professional students category for the Excellence in Podcasting competition.

Strong components of Nicole’s and Natalie’s style are their ability to swiftly separate conglomerates into components, then scaffold discussions surrounding each subsection. Beginning with the basics, they compared and contrasted carbon- vs. silica-based structures, then built into the underlying mechanisms to lead listeners to the conclusion that silica-based life is unlikely on Earth. In addition to their robust analysis, the women keep the spirit of science fiction alive by referencing progress made in the field of synthetic chemistry for silica-carbon molecules, acknowledging the role imagination plays in the limit of possibilities.

Following the trend to reveal that some science fiction may not be so farfetched, Natalie and Nicole reference tangible examples where science mimics the science fiction found in the show. As examples, they unearthed various and vicious parasites that are capable of modifying host behavior and referenced NASA operations that sent robots to extreme environments, like volcanoes, in preparation for Mars explorations. Their ability to relate fantastical fiction to evidence-based science creates an enticing piece of audio that keeps the listener enthralled.

This STEM squad uses a cold open tactic, jumping directly into the audio in a discussion of the cuteness of robots on screen, followed by pensive music foreshadowing the dark drama ahead. Using supplementary sounds in this fashion catches the listener off-guard then draws them in, creating a subtle ploy to garner their attention.

Natalie and Nicole acknowledged their personal relationship to the show, revealing how they were inspired by the character Dana Scully, a strong female scientist, who may have convinced them to pursue scientific tracks themselves. Driving the conversation further, the podcasters investigated the impact of quality representation of women in STEM throughout media, highlighting both the progress made and the disparities left to address.

Their award-winning audio is a part of their larger podcast, “How Real is that Science?” where the team tackles more myths in a self-proclaimed “effort to improve science communication and watch movies.”

Find more episodes of “How Real is that Science?” by Nicole and Natalie at:

Apple Podcasts: 

    • https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-real-is-that-science/id1504271187


    • https://open.spotify.com/show/4sMAb6cpwEzIl8X5esP24g?si=e1f9a8907e9c44f7


Educational podcasts shine when evidence-based teaching methods are employed, the way Nicole and Natalie implemented informational scaffolding. Convey your content with precision:

The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College offers free, online resources related to implementing instructional scaffolding:

    • https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/sca/cresource/q1/p01/


Natalie’s and Nicole’s intro hooks the audience. Want to try your hand at a cold open?

Scroll through Tallie Gabriel’s “Show Bites: Hook Your Audience With a Cold Open,” on Marketing Showrunners:

    • https://www.marketingshowrunners.com/blog/show-bites-hook-your-audience-with-a-cold-open/


You don’t need a team to create an amazing podcast. Add sounds and edit audio for free using Audacity, then publish for free on Anchor:

Audacity, a “free, open source, cross-platform audio software”

    • https://www.audacityteam.org/

Anchor, a “free, beginner-friendly platform for podcast creation,”

    • https://anchor.fm/


Written by Kaelyn Warne, Teaching Affiliate at the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching

Episode 24 -“Black Tea” by JoHannah Valentin & Shay Milner

In this episode VandyVox is featuring audio from a podcast titled “Black Tea”, that is produced by two Vanderbilt undergraduate students, JoHannah Valentin and Shay Milner, in collaboration with Vanderbilt Student Communications. In their episode, “Women, Religion, and Enslavement”, the women interview Vanderbilt Professor Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh from the Department of Religious Studies.

While this podcast was not produced in response to a direct classroom assignment, JoHannah and Shay frequently introduce and expand on knowledge they cultivated from Professor Wells-Oghoghomeh’s course teachings. Shay and JoHannah produced this podcast because they wanted to address the discrepancy that exists between the campus demographics and the content produced by Student Media.

The pair draws on knowledge from Dr. Wells-Oghoghomeh’s course teachings and her written articles to ask open-ended questions that create an informed dialogue between themselves and the Vanderbilt faculty member. Specifically, the women reference her article, “the Gendered Ethics of Female Enslavement: Searching for Southern Slave Women’s Religions in the African Atlantic”, which was published in The Journal of Southern Religion, Volume 18. The citation of and the link to a free, online-published version of this article can be found at the end of these show notes. The research and planning involved in the creation of this podcast is evident and is a beautiful representation of how learning can be extended through podcasting, and, in particular, the podcast-interview format.

When asked about their process for creating a podcast, the women said that the first thing they do is create a list of the different components they want to include, for example a self-care section or a quote of the day. Once this list is completed, they divide it into an introduction, main section, and a conclusion; this results in the core structure of the podcast. However, the women go above and beyond this and give their podcast personality and soul by choosing a communication style, integrating relevant music, and creating smooth segment transitions. JoHannah and Shay revealed that they center their sound around “an almost ‘gossip-like’ conversation” that gives the podcast its relatable feel. In addition to the conversation feel, enticing music and soundscapes, like the tea preparation sounds and the African American spirituals, were used create seamless transitions that support the overall messages of the content.

The research, planning, and creativity, of Black Tea truly makes it a masterful piece of student produced audio, and once again shows how interview-style podcasting is an underutilized learning tool. JoHannah and Shay use the software Audacity to edit their podcasts and upload them through the Anchor.fm platform. Links to these tools, and more episodes of Black Tea, can also be found below.

Alexis S. Wells, “The Gendered Ethics of Female Enslavement: Searching for Southern Slave Women’s Religions in the African Atlantic,” Journal of Southern Religion (18) (2016): jsreligion.org/vol18/wells [http://jsreligion.org/vol18/wells/]

Black Tea: https://anchor.fm/johannah-chanteria/episodes/Black-Tea-Politics-of-Black-Gender-eadlaq

Anchor.fm, the platform Shay and JoHannah use to distribute their podcast: https://anchor.fm/

Audacity, the free software JoHannah and Shay use to edit their podcast: http://www.audacityteam.org/

Episode 5 – “Writer’s Block Tango” by Sarah Eidson

In this episode, we feature a short audio story by Vanderbilt undergraduate Sarah Eidson about Maurine Watkins, the American journalist who wrote the play Chicago in 1926. Sarah produced the audio story for an assignment in the provocatively titled course “Women Who Kill,” taught in the women’s and gender studies program by English lecturer Robbie Spivey. The course provided a critical look at classical and contemporary representations of women who kill. Maurine Watkins, the subject of Sarah’s audio story, wasn’t a woman who killed, but she covered the murder trials of two women as part of her work at the Chicago Tribune, then wrote her play Chicago about women accused of murder based on that experience. In Sarah’s audio piece “Writer’s Block Tango,” Sarah blends fact and speculation to explore Watkins’ motivations.

For those interested in using audio assignments in their teaching, here’s a little background on Robbie Spivey’s podcast assignment for her course “Women Who Kill”…

Robbie asked her students to make a podcast episode of 8 to 13 minutes in length, using the audio format to respond to the following prompt:

“When we talk about women who kill, we need to talk about X because Y.”

Before scripting and recording their audio pieces, students were asked to conduct preliminary research to identify a topic, then collect sources and write an annotated bibliography. Here’s how Robbie framed the audio production piece of the assignment:

“Support your claims with good reasoning, valid evidence, and when appropriate, good story-telling. Take advantage of the podcast medium to convey your message in ways you would not be able to in a traditional research essay or classroom presentation. For example, strategically use pacing, music, sound effects, ambient noise, other voices, etc.”

Robbie also helped shape her students’ expected audience:

“Address an audience made up of both college students and professors at Vanderbilt and other universities like Vanderbilt interested in conversations about “women who kill.” Your audience is interested in the conversation, but has not participated in the conversation with the sustained attention that we have over the course of this semester, nor has your audience considered the significance of your chosen topic. They may not even be aware that your topic is relevant to conversations about women who kill… As you design your podcast, think about what you want your audience to know, believe, understand, ask, or do.”