Friends’ conversations turn to fertile ground for podcasting

Courtesy of Annie Xu and Zoya Qureshi

In the New Yorker last November, Rebecca Mead wrote, “Beyond the top of the charts, there are half a million other podcasts available, fashioned for every conceivable interest or taste.” When my friend Zoya Qureshi ’20 and I read that quote, it only strengthened our desire to create our own podcast, one that would amalgamate our eclectic interests. Before becoming co-hosts of our new podcast “Cortado Cafe,” the two of us became friends through the Life Fitness boxing classes offered at the Athletics and Fitness Center. At the post-boxing dinner table, Zoya and I discovered that we shared interests in podcasting, films, technology at large, hot beverages, impressionist art, baroque sculptures, science and medicine. We delved into these various categories and engaged in stimulating discussions—ranging from the latest research in neuroscience and films from Francoist Spain, initiated by Zoya, to fertility tracking apps and bioethical dilemmas, initiated by me. She was effortlessly sociable and affable, and I tried.

One dinner, Zoya and I agreed that our conversations were engaging enough to take place on-air and engage others. “How about a podcast?”, we asked ourselves. Later, at a coffee shop in New York City, we began to sketch out the description of our podcast. We threw out all sorts of questions: What would the style be? What kind of tone would we take? What would we cover? In our brainstorming notes on my iPhone, we threw in dynamic words: “A series of….culture; science; collision; a space for conversation and divergent thinking; challenging; surfacing new ideas.” We finally landed on this: “A series of freeform podcasts that blurs the line between science and arts, melding together topics from current events to neuroscience to architecture to everything in between. From the perspective of two skeptical undergrads who somehow manage to have their minds blown by new discoveries several times a week.”

All of our podcasting preparation was precipitated by a post from Baynard Bailey on Moodle’s Site News. In that post, Baynard described what Vassar has to offer in terms of audio recording: “If you need to record an interview or some voiceover, we have a sound treated space in the basement of Chicago Hall that has two great microphones.” If we had any doubts about where we would record before, they were swept away. This would be the place!

We enlisted the help of fellow student Matheus Simoes ’22 to teach us, with great patience, how to use the audio editing software. After the episode was recorded and edited, we began the process of getting our podcast approved by iTunes, which took several weeks and was less circuitous than expected.

Our first instalment of “Cortado Cafe” is now out on iTunes. It covers my fertility app research and Zoya’s reaction to a neuroscience discovery. Our next episode is in the works—Zoya’s in Madrid for Junior Year Abroad and I’ve been finishing my thesis and preparing for graduation. We’re attempting to use gaming software to record our podcast and figure out the perfect time to record, Madrid being six hours ahead of Poughkeepsie. Zoya will share some of her insights about traveling and studying abroad in Spain (she’s taken new classes like Urban Studies, so maybe some Walter Benjamin?) and I will share some items on the multiple-universe theory in theoretical physics, from an STS perspective.

Neither of us had podcasting experience nor tech-savvy audio recording and editing skills. Yet we were able to turn conversations into “Cortado Cafe.” We supported and encouraged each other along the way, coming away with a closer friendship, new skills and personal growth. But ultimately, we found an interest and boldly pursued it, and before we knew it, a boxing class led to an iTunes-approved podcast.

Listen to Episode 1 of “Cortado Cafe” here!

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