For students in doctoral programs in public health, there’s more to the day-to-day than learning theory and research methods. For many public health professionals, connecting with the community and sharing their research with diverse audiences is also an important part of the job. The UNC Charlotte Department of Public Health Sciences addresses this role throughout their programs, and recently stepped into new territory: public health podcasting.
As part of the coursework for a class called Communicating and Disseminating Research, teams of students created a short podcast on a topic of their choice. Many students took the opportunity to interview a UNC Charlotte professor on their research, growing closer connections with faculty in the process. Topics included everything from big data in public health to mental health and incarcerated persons.
Partners Phillip Zendels and Oluwaseun Adeyemi found a common connection between their individual research in sleep and cognitive performance and vehicle safety, respectively, to develop their podcast.
“After sharing some literature between each other, we found a few articles about drowsy driving, and how various aspects of sleep are key for driving performance and preventing accidents,” Zendels said. “This lent itself well as a way to spread awareness on the topic, interview each other about research, and delve into the literature. Both topics being relevant to everyday life also helped in making it an easy topic to communicate.”
The project was a favorite for many students.
“When I first read the syllabus for this class, I was most excited for the podcast assignment. The format is flexible enough to accommodate a variety of topics and levels of understanding,” said public health sciences Ph.D. student Jessica Hoyle.
Taking advantage of the resources in UNC Charlotte’s “Area 49” in Atkins Library, the podcast groups received a training session on audio and video editing and access to equipment. For Jan Warren-Findlow, interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences and the course’s instructor, it’s part of an effort to help future graduates gain a balanced skill set.
“It seemed like helping students to be more media savvy and to think about how to communicate their ideas in a more health literate way would really broaden the reach of their science,” she said. “Anything scientists can do to make research relevant to the community and have a more direct impact on the community's health is so important.”
The doctoral course, Communicating and Disseminating Research, also covers topics such as:
Writing for publication
Presenting at professional conferences and to the community
Writing abstracts and technical reports for funders
Working with the media, and a general introduction to the field of health communication.
“Being able to communicate complex ideas clearly and concisely to the public is such an essential skill. The difference in communication between events like anthrax and COVID-19 is night and day. You can see that public officials, at least at the local and state level have had some media training to be able to describe things in a truly thoughtful and meaningful way to the general public,” said Warren-Findlow.