Attending a conference requires more than just expertise in your field – it also requires soft skills like social skills and communication. You'll want to have something to talk about at a conference other than just your research topic. You can't work all the time!
One way to get better at interesting small talk is to broaden your knowledge so that you know a little bit about all sorts of topics, and can carry on a conversation about them, and a great way to do that is to listen to podcasts on diverse topics.
Load up your phone with these podcasts and listen to them while you travel, exercise, or fall asleep, and you'll find yourself ready to chat about a whole range of interesting subjects.
1. The Joe Rogan Experience
Top of any list of the best podcasts to listen to, whether that be for entertainment, education or simply expanding your mind, has to be Joe Rogan's the Joe Rogan Experience. The comic and martial arts fanatic went from a small-time actor in some television sitcoms and stand up comedian in local comedy clubs to a UFC colour commentator and household name due to the success of his podcast.
Joe Rogan's podcast has managed to pull some of the biggest names in comedy, martial arts, authors and artists, with guests that include author and neuroscientist Sam Harris, engineer and entrepreneur Elon Musk, astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil deGrasse Tyson and comedian and writer Doug Stanhope. Topics include everything from meditation to comedy to philosophy, and this range and the impressive status of the guests he's interviewed that has made him a household name. For these reasons, Rogan's podcast is essential listening for anyone interested in pretty much anything at all.
2. This American Life
This mainstay of American radio programming is also available in a podcast format. This gives you the opportunity to learn about all sorts of topics, from science to social issues, with a focus on a region in the US or internationally. The best thing about this podcast is that each episode covers just one topic, and goes into it in great detail. This puts it above other podcasts with educational material, as each episode is devotedly researched and is presented in considerable depth.
Recent episodes have included such diverse topics as the polygraph test, the history of piracy, the presidency so far of Donald Trump, and a discussion on the nature, practice, and presentation of magic tricks.
3. A History of the World in 100 Objects
This podcast might have been called “History for the rest of us”, as it covers a great deal of historical information but always includes enough background information for you to follow along, even if you don't know much about the historical period in question. This makes it excellent for the layman, or someone whose first subject may not be history (like an economist, for example).
The podcast's central conceit is that each episode, an object is presented which is representative of the questions, debates, or issues surrounding a particular time and place in history. It covers objects from all over the world, spanning from AD 1 all the way up to the modern era.
4. How Stuff Works
This set of podcasts is more casual and is good fun listening. Covering topics with a scientific bent, episodes look at biology, chemistry, and physics, presented for a general audience. The website also includes articles on things like tech, money, animals, the law and much more.
There are also enjoyable speculative episodes on topics such as how future humans could adapt their physiology to live on different planets, or how selective portions of a person's memory might be manipulatable or even erasable. This is a great set of podcasts for easy listening for those interested in getting started in science, or if you're simply looking to get more clued up on a wide range of topics.
5. Star Talk Radio
Is there anyone out there who isn't fascinated by astronomy and cosmology? Neil deGrasse Tyson's podcast is sure to appeal to everyone. Known for his enthusiastic and compelling science communication, this star scientist has his own podcast predominately about all things space, including topics like the history of the planet earth, the science of climate and weather, and replying to listeners' theories about deep space objects.
He also has guest interviews and bonus topics such as the role of physics in the game of baseball. Tyson has interviewed Sam Harris on free will, Dustin Growick on dinosaurs, and Heather Berlin on addiction, depression, PTSD and mental health. Tyson's podcast is essential listening for anyone interested in science, philosophy and beyond.
6. Rationally Speaking
This podcast comes from renowned scientist and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and is hosted by science writer Julia Galef. They discuss topics related to rational thinking, including science and philosophy, and tackle many skeptic's issues such as homeopathy, conspiracy theories, and religion.
Episodes have included ones on the relationship between voting behaviours and self interest, the psychology of why we are drawn to search for explanations about the world, and the surprisingly recent history of the role of ideology in politics. The podcast proclaims to explore 'the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, and science and pseudoscience. Any topic is fair game as long as reason can be brought to bear upon it, with both a skeptical eye and a good dose of humor!'
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