New Matter: Inside the Minds of SLAS Scientists

SLAS2024 Keynote Speakers | A Conversation with Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke of This Podcast Will Kill You (Sponsored by Benchling)

January 15, 2024 Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke Episode 165
New Matter: Inside the Minds of SLAS Scientists
SLAS2024 Keynote Speakers | A Conversation with Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke of This Podcast Will Kill You (Sponsored by Benchling)
Show Notes Transcript

In this special episode, the hosts of the popular podcast "This Podcast Will Kill You" and SLAS2024 International Conference and Exhibition Keynote Speakers Erin Welsh, Ph.D., and Erin Allmann Updyke, M.D., Ph.D., join host Hannah Rosen, Ph.D., for a riveting discussion!

The duo, both disease ecologists, delve into the intricacies of science communication, the challenges scientists face in admitting uncertainty and the importance of demystifying the scientific process for a broader audience.

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Hannah Rosen: 

Hello everyone and welcome to New Matter, the SLAS podcast where we interview life science luminaries. I'm your host, Hannah Rosen, and today I am absolutely thrilled to be speaking with Erin Welsh and Erin Allmann Updyke, the host of the popular podcast This Podcast Will Kill You and our closing keynote speakers for the SLAS2024 International Conference and Exhibition. A big thanks to both of you for joining us today. 

Erin Welsh: 

Thank you, I'm so excited to be on this podcast. I can't wait to sort of chat about our podcasts, about the keynote, everything. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Same. Having never, ever been called a life science luminary, I’m thrilled. 

Erin Welsh: 

I know, that's amazing. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Ohh, awesome. Well, you absolutely are. I'm gonna, up front, huge, huge fan of your podcast, have been since the beginning, so this is like, I can check this off my bucket list. I'm just real excited. So, to start us off, could each of you just kind of provide us with a little bit of your professional background? 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah. So, this is Erin Welsh, I don't know if we will keep distinguishing ourselves or not, but I started out actually doing my bachelors in nursing, and then I had to take as part of the, you know, requirements of microbiology class. It was at 8:00 AM, the worst time in the world, as we all know, for a college class. I did not want to be there initially, and then I found myself like, wanting to wake up, wanting to ride my bike to this class, excited to be there. And that's something that I hadn't really experienced before in any of my classes. Like, I was like oh, the content is interesting, but this one was like, no I want to be there. So that prompted me to switch my major to biology and to join a lab studying plague, which was really cool. And of course, I like, immediately went out, bought a plague book. But I found myself wanting to understand more than just like, the surface proteins of a bacterium, I wanted to understand population level effects. That led me to do a masters in epidemiology.  

Then I started to ask questions about the parasites that I was studying for my masters and the environment and how they related to one another. A committee member said hey, what are you doing after this? Epidemiology? And I was like, yeah, probably. And he's like, have you considered ecology? Because that's really, those are the questions that you're asking. And so then I pursued a PhD in disease ecology where I studied the... where I studied... I can't believe, it's been so long that I'm like, my elevator pitch is completely gone. I studied the potential effects of climate change on tick borne disease risk in Panama. And then I continued on to a postdoc in Finland, studying rodent associated diseases. And then I left the world of academia for the world of science communication. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

This is Erin Allmann Updyke, and I always describe Erin and I’s journeys as like, same same but different. There's a lot of similarities, but also a few differences. So, I started my undergrad career doing marine biology like, very aggressively, wanted to be a shark biologist, still dream about it sometimes, but then I took a parasitology course that wasn't actually a medical parasitology course at all, which I think is why I ended up loving it so much. It was an ecological parasitology course, and that is really what hooked me and kind of got me into this world that I now exist with. And from there I ended up doing a masters in public health after taking like, a year off in between undergrad and my masters, and then wanted to work for the CDC doing the Epidemic Intelligence Service outbreak investigation. That was like, the dream goal at the time.  

So, I decided to go on to pursue an MD-PhD because I thought that would make me a great candidate for such a such job. Little did I know that life continues to happen as you are doing grad school and things, so plans ended up changing. But I did meet Erin during my MD-PhD at the University of Illinois. And my PhD was in entomology, but studying kind of vector borne disease, ecology and epidemiology, looking at Chagas disease risk factors across land use gradient in central Panama. And then finished that up, finished up my MD a few years after, and I'm currently almost done with my residency in family medicine. And so kind of at this point combining both clinical medicine and science communication and really like, public health work and outreach with what we do on the podcast. 

Hannah Rosen: 

I've always been blown away by people who are able to do the MD-PhD, that just seems, like, I can't even imagine. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

And it's just like, a lot of years where you're like, am I, is this what I'm doing? I guess I'm still doing this. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Just the lifelong student, which, yeah, in some ways sounds like a dream and in some ways it sounds like a nightmare. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Yeah, that's a good way to describe it. 

Erin Welsh: 

There sometimes I think like, oh, I would love to have gone back and do another PhD in X, Y and Z, and then I'm like, what am I talking about? Like, all I have to do is think about prelims, or think about taking another statistics class and I'm like, nope, I'm good, I'm good. I don't need to do that. That's fine. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

You have nothing to prove, Erin. 

Hannah Rosen: 

I had a brief moment of thinking about going back and wanting to be a pathologist and I was just like, I don't think I could do that. Having been like, an adult in the world like, I don't know if I could go back to that student life. 

But, I will say Erin, if you ever want to talk marine biology, I was, in a past life, a marine biologist. I did squid research for my PhD. So, like, we're gonna have to talk about that.  

So, I'd love to hear a little bit about, you know, what inspired you guys to start This Podcast Will Kill You? 

Erin Welsh: 

You know, it was a summer of conferences. I think is, the long story short, we were going into the last year of our PhDs, and the summer before that, you know, academic year started, we had gone to a bunch of different conferences, both together and separately. And conferences are great, right? Like, you get to learn so much about what people are doing currently in the field. You get to network with people, you get to just like, learn about really cool research. But at the same time, we were kind of going over the summer conferences while sitting at a BBQ, off by ourselves as we usually were, just antisocial. Once we found each other at a party, we were just like off chatting in a corner, probably obnoxiously to everyone else. But as we were doing that, we were talking about like, this conference that conference, you know, we started to express our frustration with having to use that really impersonal scientific language to describe this field that we were passionate about and that we got into because we were so interested in applying public health to, you know, actually helping to solve the global health problems, which is, you know like, a very lofty goal, but at the same time, you know, it sort of felt like, for us, that that language that we were using that kind of distance ourselves and our interest from the work that we were actually doing, it felt really frustrating. And we were like, why did we get into this field in the first place? We love disease, we think it's so fascinating to talk about, to research, to think about, and that is kind of what gave us the idea to start this podcast is to be able to have an outlet to talk about this field that we had always had an interest in, but we didn't really feel like we were able to pursue that in a way that felt genuine and natural to us. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Yeah. And I think that one of the things that makes your podcast so engaging, at least from my perspective, is that passion really comes through. You know like, you both get so excited still about all of these new diseases that you're talking about and like, the new discoveries that you make, and I think that that's really, it's infectious. You know, you guys get excited about it, and then the listeners are like, oh, if even the, you know, the experts think that this is really cool, it must be super cool. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Yeah, I think that's part of why we love making the podcast so much and why it felt so right to be able to try and share our love of this in this way, because I think we really were feeling like, we think everyone should be as excited about, you know, these diseases and these like, medical topics as we are because it's really cool. But it can feel very uncool when you are working so hard on things that end up so specific and nitty gritty that when you're trying to like, explain it to your mom or your uncle at Thanksgiving, they're like, what do you do again? You're just still a student? And you’re like, ugh, you know? And so I think that we just kind of really wanted to be able to share a lot of that, you know, interest and excitement and also the importance of public health as a topic in general, and kind of making it more of an approachable conversation with something. That just felt... fun?  

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah. Fun question mark? No question mark. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

No, no question mark, that's true. 

Hannah Rosen: 

And it is amazing the way that you guys are able to, cause so many of these things, especially, you know, when you get into that really, you know, specific research where it's like, I'm looking at this one specific protein or this one specific gene, it does get so hard to like, explain that in a way that's interesting. And I think you guys do such a great job of putting it in the broader picture like, I remember when you guys came out with the your episode on snake Venom, I had a coworker whose son was super into snakes at the time, and I sent it to her. But I'm trying to remember, I think he was, you know, five or six, and I was like, I don't know if this is gonna be too much for him, but like... and she said he loved. It like he was so, yeah, it was just like, that is impressive that you guys are able to communicate these complex things to a way that even like, you know, little kids are able to be with and engaged with. So, I wonder, I'd love it if you could talk a little bit about, you know, what is it that you try to do differently your science communication and outreach? 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah. First of all, that is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Best possible feedback like, I'm thrilled. 

Erin Welsh: 

Truly like, those are our favorite emails to get. Yet when it's someone who's like, oh, I never liked science or I never thought I was good at science, but I love your podcast. And it's like, this is something that like, Erin and I have no training, we have no formal training in science communication, and so I think this can be very difficult for us to articulate, and we've gotten better at it over the years because we think like, we have started to really dig into what is it that we are doing, what are the principles of science communication that we feel like we have learned. And I think a big part of it for me is that we're learning about this stuff for the first time before we start to research the episode and that, which sounds like it would be almost more difficult to do teach somebody something that you learned fresh, I think that's actually a much easier way to communicate science because you're not overexposed to it. You have to learn those building blocks of knowledge and you're putting them together much closer to the actual teaching part than, say, when you're doing a PhD program and you're learning about these complex proteins or whatever, and at some point you did learn those building blocks of knowledge in order to understand what that protein does, but maybe it's been so long or maybe, you know, you just know it so well it's hard to kind of reconnect like, those pieces and how they fit together in order to understand this part. And so, I think that a big part is just laying the foundations and having that advantage of not knowing it ourselves when we start. But I think another big part is the conversational aspect of it. Like, we get to have, with each other, real time feedback on, wait a second, what do you mean by that? Like, can you take a step back? What does that acronym stand for again? You know. And so, I think that really helps ground us in making sure that when we're teaching each other about something that we can kind of check in and say, can you break this down a little bit more? 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Yeah. I think one of the things that we really try and emphasize is explaining everything that we have learned about whatever topic it is that we are discussing in a way that anyone, the five-year-old who's into snakes, and hopefully like a snake biologist researcher who knows way more about snakes than I do so can both get something out of it. So being as accurate and detailed as possible, but also admitting when we don't know things and stopping short of trying to answer every question because it's impossible that we'll ever be able to do that. And I think, like Erin said, like, teaching each other as we go allows us to kind of have that very, very casual informal approach to science communication that I think isn't super common, and I think it ends up working out really well for us. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Yeah that’s actually, and I wonder if that is one of the big challenges of science communication is having that dialogue and making it so that people who are receiving the information can feel free to ask those clarifying questions. Because I remember, yeah, when I was in the midst of my PhD and trying to explain to friends and family, I forget what are people who are not thinking about this every day like, what do they know? What's the baseline for this that everyone should know? And I think it's so important to create that environment where people can ask questions. So, do you have any advice as to how to make it so that people don't feel intimidated and feel like they can ask questions that they don't know? 

Erin Welsh: 

Good question. Yeah. I feel like, and this sounds so cheesy, but practice like, just doing it over and over again, really finding different people with different backgrounds and explaining your work to them and seeing what works and what doesn't. Maybe doing something where you say, OK, here's what I do, can you explain it back to me? And then see how well they can, you know, piece together those stories. What are they missing? What are they not emphasizing? And then kind of doing that in like, in an iterative way where you can build upon like, where is the story going? And that's another crucial part, I think, is having a narrative. There is always a narrative with any sort of bit of science, the trick is just sort of finding the beginning, middle and end. And I think that showing and letting your passion shine through is also really key. But it is like, I think Erin and I both found that when we have covered topics on the podcast that are closest to our PhD work it has been the most difficult. They're the most difficult and kind of the the least, I think, initially fun ones to do because we're like, wait, what, why are we interested in this again? Like, it's been years of over exposure to, I don't want to talk about Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but ultimately that was a really fun episode to do, and Chagas was and everything. But I think it is sort of like, that taking a step back, reminding yourself why am I interested in this? And working with someone to kind of put the pieces together. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

I agree, and I think too in terms of like, how to create, you know like, a learning environment for listeners or readers or whoever, friends and family that you're trying to explain things to that is comfortable. I think one of the biggest things is the true acceptance that you might not know everything, because I think that creates a kind of trust level with the person that you're explaining things to that like, you are not going to think that any question that they ask is a silly one or a stupid one, because I think that that, you know, that's something you hear sometimes, like there's no stupid questions, but like, truly believing that there really aren't any, because every question whether, we know the answer to it or we don't yet know the answer to it, it's a great question. Like, let's figure it out together. And so, I think that coming, like, explaining your science or whatever, it is from that perspective of like, there are so many possible questions and they're all great questions, no matter how basic or how complicated. I think that that perspective on it really creates that environment where people feel comfortable asking those questions if they don't understand something or questioning like, are you sure about this? Like, maybe not, I don't know. 

Hannah Rosen: 

So, why do you think it is that there is so much of that pressure on scientists to always have the answer and why so many of us have such a hard time saying I don't know?  

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

It's a good question. 

Erin Welsh: 

I feel like, you know, it's years of, you know, being tested on things, years of having to prove yourself that you know X, Y and Z, that you are qualified enough to answer these questions, that you can say I am a scientist, I am a, you know, I have a PhD in this field. I mean the whole process of grad school is that it does not encourage saying I don't know. Prelims, like the sheer amount of pressure in not saying I don't know, but at the same time having to admit where your knowledge ends, I think it's a really hard thing for us as scientists to kind of become comfortable with and realizing the limits of our knowledge, and that it is OK to have those limits. It's just our entire background is built on being an expert and so it doesn't, you don't feel like an expert when you have to say I don’t know. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

I think, I feel very lucky in a lot of my training, I actually did a lot of education and outreach like, informal education type work throughout undergrad. And I remember very distinctly an interview that I had really early in undergrad, like freshman year, to work at an aquarium of all places. Doing, you know, aquarium work, but also like, outreach K through 12 education. And during this interview they started asking me these questions that were just ridiculous. They were like, what's the mountain range back here? And this was in Santa Barbara, I was from Orange County, and I had no idea. I was like, I don't know, I have no idea. Is it, is it like, the Santa Anas? I had, it wasn't by the way, but I didn't know and I was like, yeah, I don't know, I don't know what that mountain range is, I could look it up. And then they kept asking all of these types of questions. And I thought for sure I bombed it. I was like, they asked me all these things and I didn't know the answers, but what I didn't do was make up an answer. And they called me immediately. Like, I hadn't even gotten on my bike to like, bike back to my dorm and they called and said you've got the job, please come work here. The reason why is because you admitted everything that you didn't know. And when it comes to education, that is something that's really emphasized because the importance of knowing your limits, knowing how to find those limits and then, together, find the answers to those questions is something that, at least from that perspective, was really valued. And so, I think that that was something that really stuck with me. And so, for me personally, has made it easier, despite the fact that scientific work itself doesn't make it easy to say I don’t know, I think that's one of the lessons that really stuck with me in kind of the importance of admitting the limitations of your knowledge, but not ending there, saying let's then find out what the answer to this question is. And I think that that's the beautiful part of science is that there's always another question that we're not going to know the answer to, so let's figure out how we find it. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Yeah, that's a great anecdote, but I think that, yeah, that that sort of liminal space can be really uncomfortable to a lot of people. So, to that end, you know, how, you know, you talked about how you're, a lot of times talking about topics that you maybe aren't subject matter experts in and you're really, you know, stretching yourselves and pushing yourselves. How do you combat fears of maybe, like, accidentally getting something wrong? 

Erin Welsh: 

Erin? Because I still have those fears all of the time. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Yeah, I don't know if we combat them or we just, like, embrace them a little bit. Especially because with what we do, everything that we record is on the Internet. It's there forever, you know, and the same is true if you're writing a paper that ends up getting published or something, it exists forever, and so that fear is very real and it is inevitable that we get things wrong, whether it's that we found wrong information that has like, since been overturned or something, or if we just interpreted things incorrectly because we're not experts on topics. And so, it's definitely a fear that I know I always have when going over whatever episode it is, especially when it's something that feels really outside of my depth. And so, I think one of the things that I try and do is recognize that I will probably get something wrong. I will try my best with the research that I'm able to do to understand what I'm talking about and really just explain what I think I understand and not try and reach beyond to try and like, really hypothesize on things that are outside of what I actually understand. And sometimes we do, you know like, for fun hypothesize on the podcast, but I think we try and really make it clear like, where what we know ends and what we think or guess begins. And I think that's one of the ways, and then encouraging like, if we're wrong, can someone let us know cuz I'd love to learn more. 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah. Yeah. I think at the baseline, you know, and we always we have said on the podcast before and I think we've tried to, you know, reel it in a bit, we would always say we're not experts here, and that's still very true like we are not. But at the same time like, we have done all of this reading, and I think that's another big part that helps me sort of cope with the potential for uncertainty is all of those things that Erin discussed, totally agree, but then also fully immersing ourselves in the material and to try to get enough context for the story for what we're talking about and exactly like, you know, Erin, you said not wanting to explain something that we don't understand ourselves like, so we recorded an episode last night on tonsils. And I was all set to explore the evolutionary origins of tonsils, how they evolved, you know, what are some of the most, I don't know, ancient creatures like, do lung fishes have tonsils? What do they look like? What are the different types of like, you know, immune tissues that would be comparable to tonsils? And I started to read these papers and I was just like, I cannot understand what is going on here, I'm not going to talk about this like, I'm going to find the story elsewhere. And that doesn't mean that that story is not important, that that story is not important to tell, to share, to research. It's just that I don't want to do that story a disservice by completely butchering the interpretation of it and the significance of it and the story.  

And so, I think that like, we get to a point where we feel comfortable understanding something. And if there are challenges along the way, particularly, you know, I often delve into like, the evolutionary origins of, you know, this pathogen that pathogen X, Y and Z, and I will talk to someone about it before I record with Erin and say like, is this making sense? Does this seem like it's right? Am I interpreting this correctly? And then that, you know, and if I don't feel comfortable with that then I will go back to the literature and try again and try to get more information and then if I don't ever feel comfortable that I'm going to either, you know, I'll do a little bit of hedging. I think we try not to do too much hedging because I think that can kind of take the like, the drive or like, the clarity out of a story, but at the same time, it's like we want to share stories that we feel comfortable sharing. 

Hannah Rosen: 

It's a great perspective and I like that idea of, you know, just kind of know your strengths and focus on that, don't feel like you need to be able to explain everything and know everything. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. 

Hannah Rosen: 

So why do you feel it is so important to have these sort of, types of discussions or, you know, communications about these important scientific topics for a lay audience? 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

I think there's a lot that we could probably touch on in terms of why we think it's important. Part of it, I think, is demystifying science a little bit. I think a lot of what happens in, like, science can feel like a black box if you aren't a part of science or whatever. And so, I think that kind of demystifying the question and answer the hypothesis and experiment process I think is really helpful to just like, understanding the ways that science actually works, especially if you are someone who's been removed from it since like, high school biology class, you know, where you're really just, like, memorizing a bunch of stuff anyways. I think that's one reason, and I think the other is that, you know, our podcast started out of a desire to explain topics of public health importance and public health relevance. And so, I think that we both feel really passionately about the actual subject matter that we're covering, being something that is worth people knowing about, even if they have no background in science. Because it affects people's everyday lives in ways that they might not even know, even if it's topics that maybe seem, sorry, my computer made a noise. But even if it's topics that maybe seem like they are very niche, or, you know, only affect a small subset of populations or something that, like, it is often much more universal than you would expect. 

Erin Welsh: 

I think it's also good just to get in the habit of being able to talk about your science with someone who's not a scientist. Like, that is really important to understand how to talk about your work and also to, yeah, demystify and kind of take those scientists off this pedestal where they're like, wearing these white coats and they're doing these experiments and they're so smart that you couldn't possibly understand anything that they ever do and I would need a degree just to understand the title of that paper. Like that, you know, it's hard because precision in science is really important, precision in language. Having jargon is important, like, and I would never argue that it's not, that we should just write scientific papers in, you know, conversational formats, although I would love that as like, you know, someone to require that, as like someone to require that. Like, they have now, some papers have, like, abstracts that are for the general public, which I love.  

But I think that there's so many different reasons why it's important and, you know, we could go into statistics on vaccine hesitancy or vaccine compliance for people for their pets, like, it is growing to such a degree and a lot of it is not just coming down to, you know, the problems with science and scientists and the lack of science communication. The problem is much larger than that and probably beyond the scope of like, it would require, you know, grants and proposals after proposals and decades of research to kind of untangle what is going into that. But I think a big part of it is sort of that science has been misrepresented by both scientists and by popular media in terms of what science does, how science progresses and what the purpose of science is. And so, I think that there is just a disconnect between what is perceived as science and then what science actually is. And there's a delay in that process too, right? And in understanding that, like, facts are not facts, facts change. Science works on, you know, improving those facts or changing those facts. And I think that we think of it as a static field, or I think that it's thought as, I think it's portrayed as a static field and unchangeable, and maybe that's because, you know, the textbooks that you read in 2000 are the same ones that some, you know, that you were reading in 2015 as well. But yeah, I think it's really important just to kind of get a better grasp of what scientists actually do, and that it's not so scary. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Do you think that there's a concern among scientists that it's like, OK, if we let out the secret that maybe we don't always know the answer, or oh, what we think is true today may not be true tomorrow, that it will cause the general public to maybe like, lose some faith in the scientific process. 

Erin Welsh: 

Totally. I feel like oftentimes people who are very confident about their science, about their, not just their science, but like, a field of science, tend to overstate their knowledge. And when you display that level of confidence, I think that that does engage the public in a certain way. To not show nuance and not hedge, that is like, people want to put their trust in that, because that person knows the answers. They know what to do, they know what the right thing is. But as a scientist, that sort of extreme confidence is scary. Like, that shouldn't exist. This is why we have like, statistics and P values and stuff like that. And I think that that is seen as weakening the facts or weakening a story or weakening a narrative. And that's not true, but I do think that that is kind of part of the fear of losing that connection or like, losing that feeling of expertise. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

And I think too, it comes where you have so many layers, sometimes, of communication, where things can get simplified or changed or kind of, maybe not twisted, but portrayed in ways that maybe you didn't intend as the scientist doing the work, but because it makes for punchier headlines and things like that, then it can end up being portrayed in certain ways. And I do think that it's a valid concern, given that our attention spans collectively are shorter and shorter, and so, you know, the fear that if I say something, but then we have to change it, are people going to listen next time or will it be the boy who cried wolf type of situation? I think that's not an unfounded concern and what it comes down to is then being able to explain a level of nuance that we maybe aren't used to having explained, especially in popular media sources, because it takes more time to explain nuance than it does to just hit you with fast facts, pitchy headlines. 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah, like, one of my, I'm mostly transitioned to audiobooks exclusively, I just love audiobooks. But I, and so I feel bad as a podcaster, to not listen to too many podcasts, but one of my biggest pet peeves in some, you know, popular science podcasts is reducing the story down to like, and ohh my gosh, this reveals everything about this one thing and this research is the answer. And I just have to turn it off. I'm like, this is so irresponsible, is what it feels like sometimes. And I don't think that it's done with malicious intent. I think it is just sort of a lack of grasp of nuance, but I really find that deeply frustrating when that nuance is not represented because, you know, nuance is lost so that the story can be clearer and catchier and more memorable and that the, you know, the conclusion can be stronger. Like, this research answers the question that we have asked for millennia and it's like, no research is going to do that or like, very, I can't think of a single paper that would do like, that would achieve that sort of, I don't know like, revelation. 

Hannah Rosen: 

What is some of the feedback that you've gotten from your listeners about what they think makes your podcast so successful? 

Erin Welsh: 

That's a good question. You know, I don't know like, I think that we get such a wide range of feedback that is very, you know, very positive feedback from a wide range of listeners, right. There are people who are like, I spent, you know, 40 years as a nurse and I love your podcast, and I've seen a lot of the diseases that you've covered, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I love those. I also love when we get an e-mail from like, a 12-year-old who's like, I love your podcast, you've inspired me to want to pursue public health. And I think that it's presenting as much knowledge as we can find and reasonably explained. I think it's, you know, being able to engage with the content in a way that feels like low pressure because they're just sort of overhearing a conversation between me and Erin rather than being lectured.  

That, and also one of the things that we get good feedback on is that we post all of our sources for each and every one of our episodes. And so, when we research an episode we will read papers, will read books, will find YouTube videos, something like that and we will post a link to all of these things on our website on like, the post for the episode. And so, we've gotten a number of people who reach out and say, oh, I read further on this topic, thank you for posting that, that was really interesting. Or we've gotten people who say, like, I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with this, and I didn't understand, but I listened to your episode, and now I understand better and thank you for the additional reading. And so, I think it's hard to articulate exactly like, what those things are. But yeah, maybe Erin, you have a better, more eloquent way to put it than I do. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

I don't. I doubt it. I'm hardly ever eloquent, but I think maybe what a lot of it comes down to is, like Erin said, the very informal, conversational nature of what it is that we are discussing, no matter how high level or detailed the topic itself may be. And so I think that what that leads to, hopefully, and it seems like from feedback that we've gotten, is a comfortable learning environment where people are interested in what we're talking about because we try and have a narrative and tell a story, because nobody is forced to listen to our podcast, right. So, we wanna tell something that's actually engaging. That, yeah, maybe some classrooms are forcing it on people, I don't know, but... 

Hannah Rosen: 

I may have forced it on my husband a time or two. 

Erin Welsh: 

So it does happen. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

I have tried to do that, but he won't even listen. But I think that's part of it, you know, is telling a story that people are interested in and trying to think of what parts are interesting and then explaining it in a way that doesn't assume that anyone can't understand high level detail, but also doesn't assume that anyone already knows all of that high level detail. And I think that that is a lot of what feedback from listeners has been kind of across the board whether, you know, no matter how much knowledge they have of a subject coming into the podcasts. I think we've gotten a lot of feedback that people get something out of it regardless of where they started from.  

Hannah Rosen: 

Do you guys have any plans to expand your science outreach efforts? 

Erin Welsh: 

We would love to. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

We’re coming to SLAS. 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah, I feel like Erin and I over the years have had so many times where we want to kind of like, break past our usual format, whether that means like, releasing a limited series on different body parts is like, what we've talked about like, let's do an episode, let's do a series on the heart and all of the different stories that can happen with this amazing organ that we have. We've been putting together or we're starting the process of putting together stuff for like, a science communication workshop and hoping to kind of tailor that to different fields, different people who are in industry, people who are in academia, like, how do you, if you want to learn how to communicate your science to a lay audience, you know, how do you do that? What are the steps to do that? But yeah, I mean, I think that like, there are, we are... So, we started this podcast thinking, uh, we've got maybe two seasons at most doing this. We've got, we'll probably do like, 20 diseases is the most that we could ever cover. And last night when we recorded our episode on tonsils, I think that was episode 134 that we've done of just our regular season episodes, and then we've done dozens of bonus episodes on top of that. And so, I think that we've learned that there is so much that we could do and that we want to do to just keep bringing our love of infectious disease and human health and public health and the history of medicine to the general public. So, so many things. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

We're also working on convincing Erin to write a book, so be on the lookout for that. 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah, yeah, I'll get on it. 

Hannah Rosen: 

Well, I can't wait to read it. Well, it has just been a thrill talking to you guys today. I can't wait to see you guys presenting at SLAS2024 and for all of the great stuff you guys have on the horizon. And for any of you listeners who are intrigued and want to know more, you can find both the Erins at This Podcast Will Kill You, and I encourage you to, if you haven't already, to go and start listening cause you will never stop, I promise. 

Erin Allmann Updyke: 

Thank you so much for having us. This was a blast. 

Erin Welsh: 

Yeah. Thank you. This was so much fun. 

 

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