How to Become a Generalist

Renaissance (Hu)man

Once we’ve built a solid foundation of technique, we translators and interpreters get to spend much of our days diving into new medical research, following the latest business buzzwords and investment tips, contemplating the intricacies of legal theory (or, in Brazil, the legalities of a political quagmire), and learning about crop science literally on the ground. There are few branches of knowledge where we are not given at least a peek into the complex beauty within. Being generalists, we are precluded from the details and in-depth knowledge of experts, so you’ll often find good translators and interpreters making up for that lacuna by picking up one or another intellectual hobby that allows them to talk about a few subjects of interest for longer than the standard 10 cocktail minutes jokingly associated with our profession. Still, despite the shallow limitations of knowing just a little bit about so many topics… we actually know a little bit about so many topics.

Specialist friends and colleagues, ranging from hedge fund investors to oncologists, express awe that I can talk to them about the state of the art of their line of work (admittedly usually just for those established 10 minutes), and time and again ask how we do it and then how they can do it. I have a standard answer: assuming you’re not blessed with the dizzying professional command to hop from event to board meeting to international conference or to submerge yourself in wide-ranging texts (actually, even if you are), the absolute easiest, least time consuming and fastest way to quench your thirst to become a generalist in these times of omnipresent technology is very simply: listening to podcasts while driving/commuting/traveling.

There are literally thousands, covering all subjects known to modern humankind, many no longer than 30 minutes, all with transcripts online. What follows is a curated list of English-language podcasts, but I would be happy to suggest any one of the many other amazing podcasts I’ve found (in Portuguese, Spanish and English) in the comments section. For the sake of brevity (!), this list does not include podcasts featuring fiction, music or sports.

2DOCSTALK – a 15 minute check-up on current issues in medicine and health policy; A16Z– fintech; ALLUSIONIST – a podcast about language; FARMER TO FARMER – by farmers, for farmers; FREAKONOMICS – the hidden side of everything; GASTROPOD – the science and history behind food; GUARDIAN’S SCIENCE WEEKLY – discoveries and debates in biology, chemistry, physics, medicine and math; HIDDEN BRAIN – the unconscious patterns that drive human behaviour; MEMORY PALACE – short historical narrative; MORE PERFECT – how the Supreme Court got so supreme; PHILOSOPHIZE THIS! – philsophers and schools of philsophy served up by a witty 30 year old; PLANET MONEY – the economy explained; ROUGH TRANSLATION – how things are being talked about elsewhere in the world; SCIENCE VS – what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between; TWENTY THOUSAND HERTZ – the stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds.

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