Science through a microphone

The music turns low, the mic turns on, and the “on air” sign at KBVR lights up. A feeling of calm washes over the studio as a seasoned DJ introduces “Inspiration Dissemination” hoping there are intrigued listeners about town.

Graduate research may seem like a strange topic for the radio. Blueberry root rot disease and applied economics in transportation may seem even stranger, but these are the topics that guests of “Inspiration Dissemination” bring to the table. The talk show that friends Joseph Hulbert and Zhian Kamvar have created really is an inspiration for researchers and listeners alike.

Inspiration Dissemination

“Inspiration Dissemination” is hosted at KBVR, Oregon State’s student-run radio station.

On a Sunday night in early November, John Yeo, a Ph.D. student in the College of Agriculture was on the air talking about his lab research. He said presenting the information was good practice, and did his best make his research on suppressing berry root rot disease relatable to listeners.

“I’ve given a few presentations, mostly on methods and results, but not really about my path here in the program,” Yeo says. “It was great! It was half an hour, but it seemed like five minutes. It was a great conversation.”

Oregon State University is Oregon’s land grant university and premier research institution, but with 80 graduate programs and over 4,500 graduate students conducting research, not every project finds its way into the spotlight. “Inspiration Dissemination” aims to alleviate that problem by providing an arena for graduate students to share their work outside of their own academic department. The show was created in January 2012, and airs on KBVR (88.7 FM in Corvallis) on Sunday evenings at 7 p.m.

KBVR is Oregon State’s student-run, campus radio station. The station airs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The platform allows students to explore becoming talk show hosts, sportscasters or DJs.

Hulbert and Kamvar, known as DJ Baby Kangaroo and DJ CATGAG respectively, both gained DJ experience during their undergraduate careers.

The two met at Oregon State where Hulbert is now a second-year Master of Science student in Botany and Plant Pathology and Wood Science Engineering and Kamvar is a third-year Ph.D. student in Botany and Plant Pathology.

“We thought, ‘Hey wouldn’t it be good to have grad students come talk about their research on the radio?’” Hulbert says. “We started ‘Inspiration Dissemination’ to target undergrads with this idea of showing them how awesome the research you can do as a student is.”

Hulbert

Joseph Hulbert is a host of “Inspiration Dissemination” and a graduate student in the College of Science.

“Inspiration Dissemination” invites graduate students to explain their scientific research journey in hopes of inspiring undergraduates to apply to Oregon State University Graduate School. The radio show also helps “humanize graduate research,” Kamvar says.

It aims to create an approachable ground for progressive topics that can help people like farmers, health professionals, geneticists, economists, and most importantly, the general public.

The short structure and length of the show allow scientists to speak in a general sense that is easy for listeners to understand.

“We like to keep the research talk as short as possible to allow their stories to shine through,” Kamvar says. “The Corvallis community offers limited options for students to share their research. We are just happy to provide an additional outlet and maybe reach people that wouldn’t normally be reached.”

Focusing on a different Oregon State graduate student’s research project each episode, Hulbert and Kamvar lead a dialogue about the student’s journey research objectives, and goals at Oregon State and beyond.

One episode featured Jeremy Hoffman who discussed his passion for the outdoors. Hoffman said on the show that his first geology field trip inspired him to study geology.

Kamvar

Zhian Kamvar is passionate about science communication. He says his experience hosting “Inspiration Dissemination” may influence his future career path.

“I got on campus that term, my first term on campus, declared my major, and never strayed from the course,” Hoffman said.

During his episode, Hoffman discussed funding three years of his graduate research through a fellowship, which included a stipend and cost of education account to help pay for anything from attending conferences to buying books. He said the ability to get the funding for his research solidified his Ph.D. at Oregon State. Like guests in other episodes, Hoffman gave advice about the process, how to maximize a learning experience at Oregon State and how his research will affect and benefit the Oregon State community.

“Be honest, be concise and be make sure your research methods are thorough,” Hoffman advised. “Have a very specific research strategy. Universities want to fund projects that are achievable. Think about the fundamentals of the problems and how you are going to solve them.”

“Inspiration Dissemination” is not a funded project. The program, like all KBVR shows, is entirely run by student volunteers, and the hosts continue producing the show because they have a passion for science communication.

“Nobody trains you to communicate with people who aren’t in your field, but that’s one of the objectives—to give our guests the opportunity to practice speaking to this audience and perform outreach,” Hulbert says.

Kamvar agrees.

“‘Inspiration Dissemination’ allows our guests to become more confident in explaining their research to anyone,” Kamvar says.

Inspiration Dissemination

Hosting “Inspiration Dissemination” has become a major commitment for Hulbert and Kamvar. They are thankful to their understanding advisors and faculty partners for helping them make time to pursue their passion for science communication.

Through production aspects of the show like audio editing and marketing, there are opportunities for volunteer freelance photographers, journalists, audio editors, web developers and graphic designers. The program is planned to extend till 2016 and will continue to generate content.

“We’re just grad students with a couple extracurricular distractions, but do it because we enjoy it,” Hulbert says.

The longer Kamvar and Hulbert continue the show, the more, “potential there is that one of our listeners might connect with one of our guests and realize that they actually want to do this research. It’s a lofty dream of ours, but its possible,” Kamvar says.

Tune in every Sunday at 7pm PST, or contact the hosts to get involved on radio or behind the scenes. Find info about past broadcasts and more at ‘Inspiration Dissemination’s’ website.

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