Doctoral students Megan E. Conrow-Graham and Jamal B. Williams co-host a podcast focusing on unsung heroes in medicine and science.

Podcast Focuses on Unsung Heroes in Science, Medicine

Published June 14, 2021

Two students in the doctoral program in neuroscience have created a podcast that shines a spotlight on unsung heroes in science and medicine.

“We hope to uncover the ugly truth about how racism and other prejudices were used as tools in scientific discovery, while also highlighting those who managed to overcome those obstacles and make meaningful contributions of their own to science and medicine. ”
Jamal B. Williams
Doctoral student in neuroscience and co-host of Reclaim the Bench podcast
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Reclaim the Bench is the brainchild of Megan E. Conrow-Graham and Jamal B. Williams, co-hosts and writers for the podcast that was the result of a heartfelt conversation in the summer of 2020.

“We were experiencing an extraordinarily chaotic time,” Conrow-Graham says. “COVID-19 had left us working from home, which was a challenge on its own, but then the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans left many of us wondering how we could get involved to uplift communities who have been historically marginalized, mischaracterized and overlooked.”

Combining Science, Social Justice Through Storytelling

The pair found these unsung heroes were often women and people of color who have been slighted throughout history.

The theme of the podcast is a combination of science and social justice through storytelling.

“We hope to uncover the ugly truth about how racism and other prejudices were used as tools in scientific discovery, while also highlighting those who managed to overcome those obstacles and make meaningful contributions of their own to science and medicine,” Williams says.

“Even today, many of these individuals’ contributions are underrecognized in the field,” he adds. “We believe that our approach can help answer questions about how we arrived at the imperfect system we have today in science and medicine, and how we can overcome those mistakes as we move forward.”

Heralding Unsung Pathfinders

Seven full episodes have been recorded thus far and profile such trailblazers as:

  • Rebecca Lee Crumpler, MD, the first African American woman to become a doctor of medicine in the United States
  • Charles Drew, MD, the most instrumental pioneer of blood banking
  • The Freedom House Paramedics, a group of 26 Black men from Pittsburgh’s struggling Hill District, who patrolled the streets in an unprecedented way, trained in advanced pre-hospital medical procedures never seen before
  • Vivien Thomas, born in a family of former slaves and with no formal secondary education, who went on to become one of the most important cardiac surgery pioneers in America

Conrow-Graham and Williams are already somewhat familiar with about half of the topics they discuss, and others come naturally, but while researching background information, they always stumble on new material.

They also take requests and recommendations through their social media channels and through the podcast’s website.  

Mirroring Societal Problems at Large

After many hours of research, the co-hosts develop a comprehensive outline for each podcast episode.

“Sometimes one of us picks the topic and will teach the other person about what was chosen, and other times we are both eager to discuss a topic, so we’ll do our own separate research and come together and discuss,” Conrow-Graham says.

The most common themes among the podcast’s topics are racism, sexism and the lack of accountability taken by those who have exploited various groups to get ahead.

“Somehow many of the topics we have talked about on the podcast are not known by most, and we believe that is by design. It really mirrors societal problems at large, as throughout history, those people in the ‘in-group’ have been able to get ahead, while others end up being actively exploited or excluded from spaces of power,” Conrow-Graham says.

“This includes biomedical science and medical practice, as these fields are mired in the traditional world of academia,” she adds. “It is not that long ago that people of color and women were barred from entering traditional medical universities, which only furthers the power hierarchy and paternalistic approach to patient care at the detriment of those excluded from the decision-making process.”

Real Diversity Encompasses Viewpoints, Ideas

The podcast hosts say they are empowered and encouraged by all the focus on social justice in many segments of society today.

“We are inspired by change-makers inside and outside of science. Many of us are fighting the same battles, but from different perspectives,” Williams says. “And in order for this to continue, we all need to understand that our views and strategies may be different, but we have to come together as one if we want to see change.”

“One thing that has been really empowering for us throughout this podcast is being able to meet so many incredible people in our field who are passionate about changing biomedical science and health care to promote true diversity,” he adds. “To us, real diversity means not just inclusion of people of different races, gender identities and backgrounds, but also diversity of viewpoints and ideas. We need to be open to new ways of living and new ways of performing science to really make positive change in the world.”

Recordings Take Place at Jacobs School Studio

The podcast has changed its recording location a few times, but now most episodes are recorded at a studio at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, which is the office of a faculty member generous enough to let the students borrow his recording space.

Other members of the podcast team include producer/engineer Prachetas Jai Patel, a student in the master’s program in neuroscience.

“He is an integral part of our team. His work varies from mastering and mixing our audio, to uploading new episodes on all platforms,” Conrow-Graham says. “Prachetas is also the webmaster for the podcast’s website. We could not have built this without him.”

Producer/editor Anwiti Singh is a writer living in India and assists with writing up summaries about each episode.

The podcasters are currently working on recruiting others to help with editing and social media promotion.

Interested parties can email them at business@reclaimthebench.com