Politics Under the Microscope: How four graduate students are making STEM more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing

Politics Under the Microscope is a podcast hosted by Elizabeth “Ellie” Thompson, first-year graduate student at the Rockefeller University, Naira Abou-Ghali, first-year pharmacology graduate student at Weill Cornell Graduate School, Nina Glenn, Master’s Student in Health Policy and Economics at Weill Cornell Graduate School, and Joanna Yeung, second-year graduate student at the Rockefeller University. Ellie, Naira, Nina, and Joanna, share their work expanding the accessibility of PUTM to the deaf and hard of hearing community with the help of the National Science Policy Network's Lifting Underrepresented Voices (LUV) Grant this Spring.


How will you be using your LUV Grant?

The deaf and hard of hearing community comprise >10% of the population, yet account for <0.2% of the STEM workforce. This startling statistic is what drove us founders of Politics Under the Microscope (PUTM) to make their content more accessible to this truly underrepresented community. Although we provide episode transcripts and closed captions for all podcast episodes, we knew our impact could go further. Beyond transcripts and captioning, we sought to provide ASL interpretation of the episodes of greatest interest to the deaf and hard of hearing communities. 


How did PUTM come to be?

While the PUTM team members had varying reasons for starting a podcast, we were all driven by a passion for education. We aim to educate and enhance access to insights about the role that science and scientific thinking play in shaping the solutions to societal and political challenges. PUTM also aims to encourage scientists and STEM students to go beyond the lab bench and find applications for scientific thinking in society.


At the intersection of science, society, and politics, PUTM has revealed the role that scientists can play in policy and science diplomacy through conversations with Caitlin Warlick-Short, Director of Communications at NSPN and AAAS Congressional Fellow Dr. Amrita Banerjee, PhD, respectively. We have also educated the public about the COVID-19 vaccine’s safety and efficacy with Dr. Adolfo García-Sastre, a governor-appointed member of the COVID-19 Clinical Advisory Task Force and given insights to the role of local community leaders in forging equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines with Reverend Diann Holt, the founder of Durham’s Maternal Stress-Free Zone and a member of the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force. In other episodes, we discussed how science informed pandemic legislation with Representatives Seth Moulton (MA-6) and Chrissy Houlahan (PA-6) and covered how epidemiological modeling informs policy with Dr. Ayaz Hyder, a translational data analyst, and Dr. Ashleigh Tuite, MPH/PhD, a communicable disease epidemiologist. Although we covered racially equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccines with Reverend Holt, we are planning to discuss vaccine access for the disabled, the topic of most interest to the deaf and hard of hearing communities. We are also thrilled about our upcoming episode series about mental health in the scientific community, where we will engage community advocates, licensed therapists, and mental health policy experts in discussions about institutional policies and feature graduate student testimonials.


Do you have any advice for aspiring podcasters?

Through the inception and growth of our podcast, we found that a team with at least one shared passion and one with clear goals is integral success. The most challenging part of podcasting is determining the scope of your content, but once you recognize, as a team, what your strengths and limitations are, you are in the position to be successful! The second challenge of podcasting is determining your target audience. While we first wanted to reach a wide, general audience, we found that our podcast naturally attracted young women in STEM, typically with a college degree. However, with the help of the LUV grant, we aim to reach underrepresented minorities in STEM. We have found that these communities are more difficult to reach, requiring more sustained outreach efforts and partnerships with local community groups. In attempt to make our podcast and content more accessible, we have considered offering our transcripts in different languages as well as creating YouTube videos with closed captions in different languages. However, we believe that the most effective means of increasing accessibility involves directly engaging with your target audience. To do this, PUTM has fostered a partnership with a local non-profit organization in New York City that provides hands-on research experience to underserved high school students. PUTM will give a lecture about the practical applications of science and scientific thinking in society and politics. This opportunity represents a direct connection between PUTM and our ideal audience.

You can follow Politics Under the Microscope on Twitter and Instagram

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