Fun Side Gig: I'm the More-or-Less Official Google Hangout Host for the MIT Alumni Association

Six times a year for the last several years, staff from the MIT Alumni Association have interviewed top MIT faculty in a series of live, registration-only webcasts from MIT under the title Faculty Forum Online. It's one of ways the association keeps MIT alumni up to date about the latest R&D on campus and how Institute researchers are helping to find solutions to important problems around the world. 

In March 2015, MITAA's new director of alumni education, Joe McGonegal, introduced a variation on the webcast formula called Faculty Forum Online, Alumni Edition. The main differences were that the new show would feature MIT alumni rather than faculty, and would use Google Hangouts rather than more expensive and elaborate live webcasting technology.

Joe wanted to find a journalist to host the series, and he invited me in for a tryout. I've since hosted all but one of the sessions. They occur every month or so and typically feature a panel of three researchers who did their undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral fellowship work at MIT and are now teaching and researching at other universities. We start with introductions and a short dive into the topic at hand, guided by questions from me, the moderator. Then we open up the conversation to Q&A from the live audience. Viewers, who register in advance via e-mail invitations from MITAA, send in their questions via a Google form below the Hangout window on the MITAA site. I read the questions from a live Google spreadsheet that's updated in real time by MITAA staffers as they're submitted.

It's a little bit like a radio call-in show, and during the Hangouts I do my best to channel the on-air aplomb and acuity of veteran public-radio interviewers like Tom Ashbrook of WBUR's On Point or Michael Krasny of KQED's Forum. The Hangouts platform makes this kind of production amazingly easy and cheap to pull off. We're able to bring in guests from anywhere in the world with no need for expensive remote studio connections. Hangouts provides professional-looking titles or "lower thirds," and participants can even show graphics and slides using Google Hangouts' built-in screen share function. 

It's been fun working with Joe to come up with forum themes and prepare scripts to guide the discussions. And I've especially loved meeting so many smart MIT alumni. My favorite shows, so far, have probably been the November 12 discussion on the future of diesel technology in the wake of the Volkswagen fuel-efficiency scandal, and the November 23 panel on the neuroscience of music appreciation.

You can view recordings of all eight of the sessions below or on this MITAA YouTube playlist. We've got five more Faculty Forum Online, Alumni Edition shows mapped out for the spring of 2016, and I hope you'll join us. If you're an MIT alum, keep an eye out for invitations from MITAA. If you're not, keep an eye on my Twitter feed—I usually tweet a link to the Hangout page on the morning of the broadcast.

March 18, 2015: Course 6 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science)

July 24, 2015: Bio Lab Tours

August 11, 2015: The Internet of Things

September 22, 2015: The Sharing Economy

October 29, 2015: Advances in Nanotech

November 12, 2015: Is Diesel Dead?

November 23, 2015: Music and the Brain

December 15, 2015: After Iran, Nuclear Energy's Future

January 28, 2016: The Problem with Patents

February 19, 2016: Should We Go to Mars?

February 22, 2016: Celebrating LIGO

March 22, 2016: Industry or Academia?

Wade Roush

10 Museum Way, Cambridge, MA, 02141, United States

Science and technology journalist based in San Francisco.