This October, three first-year students sat down with hot beverages and interview questions, prepared for a casual conversation with University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83. But Eisgruber is only one of many high-profile guests these students — who have yet to experience an in-person semester — have spoken with over the past few months.
For guests who come onto “Tiger Cafe,“ a podcast hosted by Jen Estes ’24, Antek Hasiura ’24, and Nastya Shybitov ’24, the first question is always the same: “What’s your cafe drink of choice?” Several administrators, including Eisgruber, Dean of the College Jill Dolan, and Provost Deborah Prentice, have joined the group to discuss topics ranging from new quarantine hobbies to past struggles and failures.
The podcast began as a project for their freshman seminar, “FRS 109: The Other ‘F’ Word — Success and Innovation’s Sibling?,” and is now a place where listeners can discover everything from Eisgruber’s morning coffee routine to Dolan’s latest Netflix binge.
“We really try to humanize the faculty,” Shybitov said. “It’s important to explore what makes them normal people like us.”
Just a few months after its inception, the podcast has already become popular among students and administrators; their first episode received over 300 listens. Even Eisgruber offered his praise for the project when he appeared on the fourth episode.
“I love the imagination that produces podcasts like this one,” he said.
Such imagination has inspired other podcasts. Archika Dogra ’24, Alaina Joby ’24, and Stephanie Yen ’24 connected via Instagram DMs after learning that they were all incoming Princeton first-years set to attend the National Youth Science Camp. When the program was canceled due to coronavirus, the three began calling every Wednesday night to stay in touch.
Joby is a contributing columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
After becoming fast friends, Dogra, Joby, and Yen wanted to create similar connections with other Princeton students, whom they would not be able to meet in person for months. Although their schedules filled up with Zoom meetings and problem sets, they wanted to experience the social side of college life. So they committed themselves to hosting and recording conversations with their peers. As a result, “Outside the Orange Bubble” was born, a podcast that features a conversation with a new undergraduate every episode.
For Dogra, the podcast provides a way to “get to know our fellow students in a casual and fun environment.” In the era of Zoom classes, which can feel impersonal and detached, Joby noted that recording the podcast has helped her “get a better sense of people outside of the classroom.”
They’ve conversed with students in different fields of study from all over the world. Although the episodes last no longer than half an hour, their conversations typically continue long after, unrecorded. Often, the hosts and guests will stay in touch.
“We wanted it to be really easygoing and easy to listen to, something that students could passively consume while they’re studying or taking a break,” Dogra said. “We wanted to simulate that environment where you’re studying in the library and hear conversations around you.”
While new podcasts like “Tiger Cafe” and “Outside the Orange Bubble” popped up during quarantine and the online semester, some undergraduate podcasts started pre-COVID. Last February, Susan Baek ’23 started “P’s in a Pod,“ Princeton’s first undergraduate-run, discussion-based podcast. More than anything else, she just wanted to foster some casual conversations.
“From the beginning, I imagined a conversation podcast — I never imagined an interview podcast,” she said.
Baek began with the intention of representing students as humans beyond their resumés or transcripts. In her view, “There was a lot to be shared among students that wasn’t being shared as thoroughly as it would in something like a podcast.”
Episodes are structured around the three P’s: Princeton, Platform, Pitch. For Princeton, guests discuss their Princeton experience. Platform gives guests an opportunity to promote anything they deem to be in need of attention. During Pitch, guests answer questions submitted by listeners via Instagram. And yet, while the podcast has a predetermined plan, the host still strives to have conversations that are candid, spontaneous, and genuine.
Baek also reminds us that it’s not just the guests who get to be human. “I shaped the podcast with my own personality,” she said. “I laugh when something is funny, and I won’t stifle my own opinion.”
Since the publication of its first episode in February, the “P’s in a Pod” network has grown from Baek and her producer, Alisha Somani ’23, to a whole team of hosts, editors, managers, and producers. The series is currently in its third season and hopes to continue for the foreseeable future.
Although “it was never the goal to be a business,” Baek hopes the podcast will generate consistent funding through ad revenue and paid promotions in the future. Since they are not sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students like other student groups, all of the existing funding for equipment and platform usage has come from Baek and her team, and two recent episodes have been supported by an independent sponsor.
“We want to fund ourselves,” she said. Beyond that, they’ve pledged to donate any leftover funds to organizations that have been promoted by guests for their Platform segment.
From chatting with Eisgruber about his coffee beverage of choice — French roast with cream, no sugar — to candid conversations with fellow classmates, student podcasters have found a way to transfer the interactions that occur on campus to the virtual realm, keeping the University community connected through months of separation.