Getting started… with Getting Brighter

In the first of our “Getting started…” blog series, where we talk to former attendees of our podcast training workshops about their podcasting journeys, we catch up with the team behind Getting Brighter – Dr Emily Hughes and soon-to-be Dr Masha Remskar.

This exciting venture is supported by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) and aims to shed light on the science of health, wealth, and society by translating the latest psychological research into actionable insights for your everyday decisions.

Emily is a social psychologist, lecturer, and postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Exeter and Masha is a behavioural scientist and doctoral researcher at the University of Bath.

Krissie Brighty-Glover, our Director of Training, caught up with the friends last week:

Thanks for talking to us today for our Getting Started series, could you tell us a bit more about your podcast and why you decided to do it?

Masha: Getting Brighter is a science communication podcast where we draw on psychological science, but also science from medicine and other related disciplines to give people advice and actionable insights into what we can all do better based on the science that we have. Part of the reason we thought we might be well placed to do this is because we’re both psychologists, and we have access through our institutions to a lot of research, and academic literature, which otherwise is unfortunately, often hidden behind paywalls or is massively complicated, and uses scientific terms and lingo which is simply inaccessible to an everyday person.

Emily: Also, we both love podcasts as a medium. We both listen to podcasts, and it is something that we talk about between ourselves often. And in terms of using science to solve problems, taking insights from research and trying to translate them into our daily lives was something that we would often do and chat about together. We’d be like, ‘Oh, we just read this thing, and how can we apply that to what we’re currently talking about?’ That’s something we’re always doing. And so, I guess those ideas merged together – we love podcasts and we love talking about this ourselves so why not create our own?

Masha: For example, something that really personifies how we got to where we are now is we were on our way to a spa day and we were talking about how a sauna is really great for you. And then before we know it, we started looking at research and on our way to the spa, I was reading systematic reviews. And we thought it would be great to hear about this in a format that wouldn’t require me to use my institutional login and dig into p values to get to this knowledge.

I love your thought process. We all ask ourselves why do I do these things? What’s the benefit of doing these things? I think going to the sauna is good for me but I don’t really know why and your podcast can help fill that gap with research. Could you tell us a bit more about the format of your podcast and why you choose that approach?

Emily: Podcasts as a medium can be long form at times; there are longer podcasts that are really well researched, really detailed, but are still a time commitment to listen to. You have to sit down and have a high baseline level of interest to get to the end of those podcasts because of the level of commitment required to dissect them. And on the other end of the spectrum, there’s these shorter chatty podcasts, which are perhaps more informal, more conversational, and that we really love listening to, and are way easier to engage with as a format. We thought that there was a gap in the market to merge that more conversational style with informative science-based content, which is more accessible for a general audience. So we knew from the outset that we didn’t want the podcast to be super long and we’d always toyed with the idea of 30 minutes as being a good kind of length of time. Anything longer than 45 minutes and you’re getting close to an hour, it becomes something that again, you might have to listen to in parts. Working back from that we thought about different sections that would fall within that timeframe that we’d be able to cover. For those who haven’t listened to the podcast, we have three main sections: digestible, debateable and doable. The first is digestible, which is not necessarily named in the podcast, but is where we make science digestible; we break down research findings, current and classic, in relation to that topic area. And then a slightly briefer section in the middle is debatable, and that’s looking at points of contention. For example, gaps in the research, things that people might be asking once they’ve heard us cover that first section, so you know, open questions. And then finally finishing with doable, which are takeaway, actionable insights from what we’ve discussed. Luckily, it’s fallen nicely within that 30 minute time slot after all the editing.

Talking of editing, let’s move to the more technical side of things. How are you recording your episodes? Is there much planning involved? And how much editing have you found yourself doing in post-production?

Masha: There was a lot of planning involved would be the first thing. There is a whole lot of work that goes into a podcast before you start recording, and after you stopped recording, and I think that’s maybe been the biggest lesson for myself. So in terms of the planning, we started with just throwing episode ideas out, based on conversations we’ve had with people that we know, our target demographic and what they might be interested in, we even did a little bit of market research where we sent a short survey out to, I don’t know, up to 50 people, I think, based on would you find these suggested topics interesting? And then we condensed these topics down to 10 episodes, which we thought was doable, within our time constraints we started doing research for them. We divvied the episodes up, wrote a draft section of each, including research, links to lots of different research papers and so on. And then had meetings to work through Okay, so we have this draft, what do we feel about it? Rework through it together? It’s been a very kind of collaborative process, and then ended up with a script or kind of bullet pointed script, which we then turn into a recording.

Emily: We have 10 episodes that we recorded in person over weekends. We’d record two episodes a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. On a typical weekend, that’s four records. And we were doing this over the summer period, when academia tends to be a little bit quieter when we had the headspace and time for it. Within about three weekends, we’d recorded most things. There were some things we went back to like we had to record a trailer episode, a mini bonus episode as well as intros, outros and everything that we used across the series. Then editing is still ongoing as we publish episodes.

We often encourage academics to use the summer months to block record as you did but you do lose the benefit of being able to fix mistakes and adapt to feedback. Were there any mistakes you made as you went along that maybe for a next series you might do differently? Are there any challenges that you came across?

Masha: I think it’s a trade-off. By block recording we could set up the studio, plan outfits as we have video recorded too and be more efficient with our time and travel. Also, by having some distance between recording and editing we can listen with fresh ears which we feel has made the editing process more effective creating better content. But equally it makes it harder to improve as you go as you don’t learn as much from each individual episode. You can’t take feedback on board as quickly. This was the only way it was feasible for us for now, but maybe going forward we might think about a different format. For me personally it was a bit difficult to go into recordings and try and do my best when I wasn’t sure how that was coming across – how that was going to look and sound when it was edited. But now, going into any future recordings, I know how I sound and what I might not like about it and how I might be able to improve based on that.

Emily: There’s an alternative world where we have all the time, we’re full-time podcasters, we can record one, and then have it all edited. And we listen to it. And then we go into the next one. But balancing recording alongside working full time – this was the best option for us.

I think that is the key for podcasting – you have to pick the format that best fits your schedule and you clearly made the right choice for you both. I like that you waited to publish though – in part I presume this is because editing takes time but also, we would always say not to publish in the summer as academics and policy makers are not as engaged. Throughout the process were there any surprises that popped up as you went along? Good or bad.

Masha: How much work and time goes into post-production. Not just editing, publishing and publicising. We are very fortunate to have a technician and producer working with us, Rhannan Lacey, who is doing the heavy lifting on the editing and production. He is our audiographer, videographer, producer and brings his experience in live sound engineering, editing and production to the team. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to achieve the current standard of editing and audio quality without him! We don’t even have to give that much time to editing bar kind of listening to drafts and giving notes and that kind of thing. But even just releasing an episode, uploading it to an RSS platform, and then publishing it on social media, and then making sure that that it’s shared, and that it’s timely. And what captions are you writing? What are keywords we should be using? For us, as well, it’s a collaborative process with multiple people, that then also means going back and forth a lot and being ‘Oh, you’re happy with everything?’ So yeah, I think just the amount of work and kind of the breadth of skills you need, and gain from doing something like a research podcast.

You can really tell there’s a team behind your podcast – from your branding downwards, it’s very professional, it’s very well done – you can tell you’re not just sat in your bedroom recording. So, thinking of that wider team, have you had much support to get off the ground from your institutions or DTPs? Because like you’ve said, it’s not just you two, there’s multiple people behind you.

Masha: I am currently still a doctoral student, and I’m funded by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership, who are funding my PhD. But they’ve also got additional small pots of money for side projects like this. We applied for a small budget, which we were very lucky to get, which was essential to getting off the ground in terms of buying the equipment we needed, paying for music, licencing and distribution, platform and all of that. SWDTP also arranged podcast training with you at Research Podcasts that wasn’t specific to our podcast but was more an introduction to the medium for researchers. And that was really, really helpful to help me map out the process and understand how many steps there are to podcasting. We talked about where we were at in our planning, what have we thought about and what have we not and what might be some good resources to use. I remember that section being particularly helpful because when you’re starting out, you don’t really know where to turn. Some of the exercises where also really helpful in shaping the way we thought about our podcasting process. And I was able to pass that on to Emily, as well as the editor/producer we work with.

I am glad you found the training helpful Masha and have received support from our friends at SWDTP – it really is a great DTP that actively supports their students in public engagement activities like podcasting. Turning to you now Emily, how have your colleagues responded to it?

Emily: They’ve been really supportive. My manager was really supportive and behind it. But it’s kind of been an entirely separate endeavour from that role for me. It’s something that I’m very much doing alongside of everything else. It has been really valuable though alongside my nine to five kind of research work because we’re not marketers, we’re not experts in branding. So, there’s all those things to learn that you don’t necessarily have to do in your day job, that, but it’s also interesting, because it is completely new, it’s something different. And those are skills that you’re picking up and learning along the way that you don’t have to use every day but are still nonetheless useful skills to have. I found it refreshing and interesting to learn all of those new things.

Podcasting is so much more than recording content, if you want to do it well that is. Masha, what about your colleagues and peers? Have you had any feedback?

Masha: What I have had has been really, really positive. Of course, I realise that whoever maybe didn’t have a positive response perhaps wouldn’t say it to me. People are saying it is interesting, it’s pitched well, to kind of a non-expert audience. They have said that we have got a good chemistry as presenters, which I assume, comes from us to being friends and just being quite natural that we do talk about these things a lot, generally – we’ve just put a mic in front of our faces and that’s kind of it. We’ve even had what I thought was a great compliment. It was someone asking us if this was our plan for a career going forward. I don’t think that is the case at the moment. But I mean, never say never.

That’s amazing. Are you thinking about series two? I mean, you are really early in series one so I don’t know if you’ve even discussed it yet but could it be a possibility?

Emily: We’ve definitely toyed with the idea and spoken about what that could look like. We’ve thought about maybe having a different format, where we invite guests on and we are the hosts but learn more about their work. We also have only managed to fit 10 topics into the first series and there are so many things we are really passionate about and want to talk about, and also so many researchers who we would just love to pick the brains of on those topics. It’s definitely something that we would love to do, but there aren’t really any concrete plans as of yet, mainly because we would need to work out logistical things like timings and other commitments that we need to juggle but yeah, stay posted, I guess.

Well I hope you do maintain momentum because I have enjoyed it so far. My last question for you is do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start a podcast based in research – whether that’s a PhD student or an early career researcher, or even an academic 20 years down the line?

Masha: I’d probably say that it is worth taking the plunge. And it might feel scary, and it might feel like, if you’re only talking about your own work, for example, it might feel like you’re bigging yourself up, which we don’t generally tend to do. It’s kind of against the social norm to toot your own horn too much. But there are ways of doing that, where you can promote other people’s work, which I think people generally have less of a problem with. I would also argue it sets you apart from other researchers when applying for academic jobs as it shows you are passionate enough to start a new project, get funding for it and demonstrate wider soft skills that are crucial to successfully engage the public and have meaningful impact with your research. And I do think it’s a brilliant way of getting your work out there maybe raising your own profile. And even just being able to say, look, this is roughly what I do. Like in the podcast, we have one episode that corresponds to almost all of our general PhD area. So for me, for example, I can send that episode to my family, or you know, to a friend who’s not in academia, and they are so much better able to understand what I do day to day, than if I were to send them a research paper or just trying to even explain, you know, this is what I do. It’s not always easy. So for us, it’s has been a really good skill to develop and a really nice way of just bringing your research out into the world that’s beyond Google Scholar.

Emily: I actually had a family friend say to me at the weekend that they really loved listening to our podcast because they finally understand what I do now. I was a first gen student, no one in my family had ever been to university, so the idea of a PhD and working in academia was a complete mystery – what do you do? What does that job involve? Nobody knew. And obviously they’re not going to read a research article, so a podcast is a really accessible means of understanding what we do and what kind of things we’re interested in working on. That feels really great. And it’s almost the feedback from peers in that sense, who don’t already have a baseline interest in psychology, that I find most valuable. It is so lovely to hear about, because if we can get one person who wouldn’t have read a textbook, wouldn’t have read a psychology book, definitely wouldn’t have read a journal article to understand and be interested and engaged in some of that science, then that feels like mission accomplished to me. It’s like we’ve taken psychology and bought it to the masses. And now that they’ve taken some insights from the podcast, they can incorporate them in their life, which I just think is super cool. So, it’s worth it in that respect.

Just to give you another example – I listened to your exercise episode earlier and it has inspired me to head out and do something this evening. It has been an absolute pleasure to talk to you both, thank-you for giving up your time and good luck with the rest of the series!

You can listen to Getting Brighter on all major podcasting platforms and follow Emily and Masha’s journey on X, Instagram and Threads.

In the next instalment of Getting started we will be talking to Gemma Rides and Gaia Giampietro from Royal Holloway, University of London who, with support from the Doctoral School and a team of other researchers, are launching The Other Kind of Doctor this year.

If you are interested in training for researchers with tangible outcomes like Getting Brighter and The Other Kind of Doctor reach out now to our Director of Training Krissie Brighty-Glover at

Krissie Brighty-Glover, Director of Training

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