Recording my first NASA interview for StoryCorps

Quote & photo of Dan Whitt: "It wasn't a big leap from there to the ocean."

It’s been exactly one month since I started my internship with the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute at NASA Ames, in California’s Silicon Valley. Working remotely from Scotland has been a bit of a nightmare! Sure, travelling during a pandemic is neither essential or responsible, but that doesn’t mean I’m not gutted about missing a three-month trip.

I’m now working with an 8-hour time difference. I’m naturally more of a night owl – my most productive period is around 3-6pm – but it’s tricky to plan interviews with researchers who are just starting their day as I’m finishing mine.

Around 75% of my time is spent science writing and recording interviews for the Ames Share your Science series on StoryCorps. I was so looking forward to meeting NASA Scientists in person. Video conferencing just isn’t the same.

Trying to find positives – I thought I’d save a lot of time when it came to transcribing interviews. Normally, I record meetings on my phone (often in noisy cafés) and then I’d type out the interview manually. But if I record using my Zoom account, I can use the auto-transcription function (check it out if you haven’t already, it’s pretty accurate).

Unfortunately, on my first day I found out that NASA employees aren’t allowed to use Zoom. Or any other video conferencing software I’ve ever used. I’m stuck using Google Meet and I don’t have the upgrade that unlocks their recording function. I also can’t ask my interviewees to download any software, so I have to record my screen with the Xbox Game Bar (it comes with Windows 10).

My first interview was with Dan Whitt, an oceanographer who started working at Ames about a week before I did. I was pretty apprehensive – my Wi-Fi kept cutting out and I was scared I’d lose connection at a key moment in our conversation. I also had serious doubts about the audio quality I’d get from screen recording. Plus, I’ve listened to enough podcasts where professionals have forgotten to press record!

Hit play to listen to an extract from my StoryCorps interview with Dan Whitt.

I asked Dan to record our conversation on his phone just in case I had problems. This turned out to be a great shout. I managed to remove a lot of background noise in the screen recording (I edit using Audacity) but there was some weird interference that I couldn’t budge.

I asked Dan to send me his phone audio and it sounded so much better. Initially, I tried to patch in his recording to replace the parts with interference, but I ended up starting from scratch using only that audio. I’m pretty pleased with the results considering I had background traffic, phone, dog and baby noises to contend with!

You can listen to the full interview on StoryCorps here – let me know what you think. And please comment if you have any tips for recording audio while video conferencing!

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