NLP Highlights is a popular podcast started by AI2 researchers that invites a variety of guests to discuss their research work in natural language processing. Check out our interview with host Matt Gardner, a research scientist at AI2, about the inspiration behind the podcast, his advice for aspiring podcasters, and what’s next for NLP Highlights.
What inspired you to start NLP Highlights?
I listen to a lot of audio, and because I listen at 2.5–3x speed, I can easily get through 3 hours of content a day, sometimes several times that. I found there was very little content I could listen to that was directly related to my work, and nothing that was specifically focused on NLP [natural language processing]. One podcast that I listen to suggested that when you find yourself in a situation like this, you should start your own podcast, so I did.
How do you choose your topics or interviewees for each episode?
At first, it was just papers that were on my reading list, mostly because they were related to my work. We’ve since tried to be more deliberate about choosing topics, trying to make sure we’re covering a wide variety of topics from a diverse crowd of people. Occasionally listeners will suggest topics, and we do our best to accommodate those requests (if you have something you’d really like us to cover, let me know on Twitter!). Sometimes we hear from corporate marketing departments wanting us to interview some CEO; we always say no to those requests. We want this podcast to be focused on research, and the folks doing that research.
As NLP Highlights nears 100 episodes (!) — what’s been the most surprising or rewarding thing about creating this podcast?
The most rewarding thing has been having several people that I look up to tell me how great they think the podcast is. Even though this podcast features in-depth technical discussions on research topics, we regularly pass 3,000 listens for each episode at this point—that’s over 50% bigger than the EMNLP conference attendance this year! It’s pretty humbling. I guess one of the most surprising things was my wife posting on Facebook about how our podcast is a good way to put yourself to sleep :).
One piece of advice you’d give aspiring podcasters?
If you are passionate about a topic that you think other people might be interested in, go for it. It’s a great way to learn, and a great way to gain some recognition in the community around that topic. People tend to like podcasts that involve interviews and discussions rather than monologues, and interviewing people gives you the opportunity to learn from someone else. As for the practicalities of actually producing the podcast, it’s really not hard to get started. Find yourself a good mic, and use Audacity to do whatever editing is needed. Try to have each person on the podcast use their own mic, with headphones — audio quality is significantly better that way.
What’s next for NLP Highlights? Any special plans for your 100th episode?
No special plans for episode 100; what’s next is just more episodes! We recently had a slow patch with Waleed (former AI2 research scientist) moving to Google and with me being very busy with a bunch of paper deadlines, but we’ve recently added Pradeep Dasigi as a co-host, which should help smooth things out when one of us gets busy. We are also adding transcriptions to the podcast, including transcribing all prior episodes. We’re not sure yet where exactly these will live, but you should see them go live in the near future.