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Lots of people like to listen to music as a way to distress, and I’m no different; there are few things more fun than impromptu jam sessions between problem sets and projects. However, sometimes I’m in the mood for something a little less, well, melodic, and a little more comedic or thought-provoking.

Enter podcasts.


What’s in a podcast?

Podcasts are like the modern radio show; from comedians to academics to storytellers just like you and me, podcast make you laugh, learn, and reflect. They’ve helped me get through the daily walks to and from class, long drives on the road, and even nights when I’ve had trouble falling asleep.

There are so many advantages to podcasts: they can convey all the excitement and suspense of a movie or TV show, but through audio, which means you’re not constrained to watching a screen and can therefore easily multitask. Some people listen to them while driving, others while doing laundry; the choice is completely up to you.

Podcasts are also free (which is harder and harder to come by these days!). In addition, many radio segments have also been turned into podcasts, so you can catch up on your favorite radio broadcasts at any time, anywhere.

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you of the wonderful benefits of podcasts, here are some must-listen shows based on my own recommendations and other podcasters’ favorites!


1. Invisibilia



Ever think about all the invisible forces that shape and/or influence our thoughts, actions, and decisions? Probably not, or they wouldn’t be so invisible. One episode explores how much we subconsciously buy into the idea of “categories;” another looks at how our personalities, once thought to be relatively stable, are actually surprisingly fluid and subject to change over the course of our lifetime.


2. Revisionist History



From the author of New York Times bestsellers such as Blink and The Tipping Point, Revisionist History is for anyone who is curious about lesser-known viewpoints regarding a wide variety of historical events, from the decisions of famed basketball players to an artist’s overnight rise to fame.

In the words of the show’s host, Malcolm Gladwell, this podcast will “go back and reinterpret something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.” I think that’s more than enticing enough to give it a listen.


3. Gilmore Guys



So I realize this caters to a very niche audience, and as such most of you probably won’t be all that interested, but I am biased because Gilmore Girls is one of my favorite shows and I had to include it on here. It’s just two guys gabbing about their unabashed love for the show Gilmore Girls, which not only makes me nostalgic for when I experienced the show for the first time, but their commentaries also include insights I never noticed before.

I’m not just here to plug my favorite show though; I wanted to use this example as a chance to point out all the other wonderful podcasts about TV shows. Some focus on one specific TV show, such as “Best of Friends” about, you guessed it, the iconic decade-long show Friends. Other television-oriented podcasts consist of more general commentaries on current television shows, such as “Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan.” Many of these shows also bring on guests from time to time, including producers and even actors from the shows themselves.


4. Lexicon Valley



For any aspiring linguists or grammar nerds out there, or just anyone who wants to explore the intricacies of language use, this is the podcast for you. From accents to syntax to the relationship between music and language, hosts Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo delve into every aspect of language use and history, revealing all the complexities within not just the English language, but languages all across the world.

Like many other shows, “Lexicon Valley” isn’t limited to only two hosts; each week, a variety of guests are invited to talk about their work, from prominent authors to conlangers such as David J Peterson, who helped create languages for the TV show Game of Thrones.


5. TED Radio Hour



Anyone who’s ever watched a TED talk before will know that these are some of the brightest minds and best speakers in the world today. TED Radio Hour, a weekly series from NPR, goes beyond the fifteen minute speech on the TED stage and interviews the speakers behind some of the most popular TED talks of all time, such as Amy Cuddy’s “Does Body Language Shape Who You Are?” and Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts.”

The host of this show interviews these TED speakers, gaining insight into the experiences and research that went into their TED talks, what they are currently working on, and what they hope to see accomplished in the future in their fields. This podcast is a great way to go more in depth for TED lovers, and you can even learn a fun fact or two along the way.


6. Serial



Chances are you’ve probably heard of this podcast already; I’d honestly be pretty surprised if you haven’t! It’s essentially a series-long Dateline show about controversial cases, the first season of which took the country by storm two years ago.

Each season focuses on the investigation of one case that is happening in real time, complete with interviews from the defendants, commentary from various friends and family members, and thorough investigation into all sides of the story. An extremely smart way of running the show, I have to say, since each new episode brings the latest breaking developments, so listeners have to come back for more.

Serial brings the best that the creators of This American Life has to offer (another great podcast to check out!); these are stories you don’t want to miss.


7. Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!



For all trivia fans out there, I’ve got just the podcast for you! This show’s participants consist of regulars from NPR, guest panelists, and even listeners themselves. There are a variety of segments, but all games involve that week’s news one way or another. Favorites include “Bluff the Listener,” which is basically Two Truths and a Lie, except all three statements are about unusual stories centered around a common theme from the news, or “Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank,” which tests the contestant’s knowledge of that week’s biggest headlines in a fast paced manner.

This podcast is a fun and lighthearted way to keep up to date with the news, supplemented by witty side comments. You can even catch the show live, in person, during their recording sessions in Chicago’s Chase Auditorium.


Have I convinced you??

Whether you’re an avid podcast listener looking for suggestions, or someone new to podcasts looking for a place to start, I hope at least one of these podcasts has piqued your interest and I encourage you to check them out!

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.