Take by take: The making of a video course

I was standing in my office, surrounded by a jumble of recording gear I had enthusiastically purchased on Amazon. It was early August, and while the thermometer outside read a comfortable 30°C, my gadget-filled office was a sweltering 37°C.

Looking around, I felt a mixture of pride and apprehension. The room looked like a YouTube influencer’s hangout- a far too glamorous setting for a university staffer like me. But now was not the time for second thoughts. I had already spent three hours setting up the equipment; it was time to record the first video of my course.

Back in 2004: How it all started

Recording these videos was the last stage of a journey that had begun 25 years ago when I was a wide-eyed PhD student ready to conquer the world of academia. I had written my first paper, convinced it was nothing short of revolutionary, and submitted it to a high-ranking psychology journal. But instead of praises and invitations to come and work at Stanford or Harvard, the said journal replied with five single-spaced pages of criticism that would make Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada pass for a Teletubby.

That first rejection opened a new era of writing procrastination, which I mostly spent on New York City lifestyle mom blogs. As I reveled in the photos of smart women strolling around Tribeca with their J.Crew catalog children in tow, I realized that I lacked a systematic approach to writing. So, I started hunting for it on the web.

What I wanted was simple, or so I thought. I was looking for a website as cheerful and fun as my New York mum blogs, yet one that offered practical advice on scientific writing. In my ideal world, this site would also provide a course to guide me through the process of writing my articles, from a blank page to a world-class paper, one simple step at a time. But as I scoured the internet in pursuit of this academic unicorn, my frustration mounted.

Instead of discovering the revolutionary writing method I was seeking, all I found were websites run by retired linguistics lecturers dispensing tedious explanations about citation norms and grammar rules. If these professors managed to make language rules less interesting than the terms and conditions of my bank account, what could they possibly teach me about engaging writing? It seemed the method I needed didn’t exist, so I decided to create it myself.

16:00 – Scene 1: Take 1

I knew exactly what my blog should look like, but turning that vision into reality was a whole different ball game. It took me two years to set it up and another year and a half to develop my writing method and pretest it with a few PhD students. On that hot August day, as I stood in front of my recording gear, I felt both the weight and excitement of what I’d created. The workbooks that formed the backbone of my method were ready. Now, all that remained was to film the 12 video lessons explaining how to write each section. How hard could that be?

I fired up the camera on my laptop, positioned myself confidently in front of the microphone, flashed my best welcoming smile, and, full of what I hoped would be a communicative enthusiasm, blurted out:

‘Welcome to the material and methods muddle! Er, module… Welcome to the material and mettod… No, methods! Welcome to the material and methods module!’

Now I had the words right but they sounded neither enthusiastic nor communicative.

I paused, staring at the accusing camera. It dawned on me—I was carrying heavy baggage: the weight of centuries of French people notoriously butchering the English language. Clearly, winging it wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to rehearse my lines if I wanted to avoid turning my video lesson into a blooper reel.

17:00 – Scene 1: Take 12

After rehearsing my text a few times, I finally delivered what felt like a natural and engaging welcome. Relieved and hopeful, I eagerly checked the footage to see if it matched the vision I had in my mind’s eye. Visually, it was perfect; I appeared relaxed and confident. But the audio told a different story—there was none. I had forgotten to turn on the microphone.

‘Putain…’ A wave of frustration washed over me, but remembering that I teach resilience workshops, I pugnaciously decided to not let it get the better of me.

‘It’s okay! That happens to the best of us. I’m not a professional YouTuber, after all. I just need to learn the ropes!’ I reassured myself as I prepared for another take.

17:30 – Scene 1: Take 13

Wiping the sweat from my back—the room must have reached 42°C by now—I switched on the microphone, turned on the video recording again, took my position, flashed a smile, double-checked the microphone, and smiled once more. Just as I was about to greet my viewers to the methods section module, I heard my phone ringing through the laptop. It was Mani, my soon-to-be husband.

‘Coucou! I’m at Hofer. What do you want to eat tonight? I could make a salmon steak—the organic one is on discount right now—or we could go with a little quiche.’

‘I don’t know, darling, I’m in the middle of recording my course video right now. I’ve been at it for over four hours and still haven’t recorded a single usable minute. I don’t care about food right now; I just want to record that f** video. You can’t reach me. I’m going to put my phone on flight mode.’

Midnight – Recording ends… or does it?

Six hours, a checklist of pre-recording essentials, and one quiche later, the video was finally in the box. In the heat, I must have sweated off 5 kg, which made my hair frizz like a poodle’s. My eyeballs felt like they were retreating into my skull from exhaustion. And I felt downright depressed at the prospect of going through this calvary path again for the next 11 videos (actually 12, as I had to reshoot the first one because of a glare from the teleprompter that couldn’t be removed in post-production). I heard Mani’s voice in the bedroom:

‘Gaya, come to bed now! It’s late!’

‘I can’t, darling, I’m too tired to sleep. Recording these videos on my own is just too damn hard! I need help.’ I responded as I browsed the web, searching for an online course to help me record my online course.

Looking back

The most valuable lessons are often learned in the midst of the greatest debacles, and this experience is no exception. We ALWAYS underestimate the time required to produce high-quality work, especially on our first attempt. Observing the finished work of others might give the impression of effortlessness, but mastering any craft—whether recording video lessons or writing scientific papers—demands time and patience. The good news is that when it comes to writing your articles, you don’t have to face the same hurdles as I did.

My online course, “Scientific Writing Made Easy,” is designed to guide you from a blank page to a publication-ready paper, one step at a time. While recording my first few videos proved to be a huge pain in the neck, using the course to write your papers couldn’t be easier.

  • You enroll in the course, which encompasses 9 modules, each dedicated to a section of your paper.
  • You progress through each module: Watch the video lessons (I did record all 12 of them and they’re great! 🎉), take the quizzes, and follow the writing instructions in the workbooks.
  • Tada! Before you know it, your polished paper is ready for submission.

Publishing articles is too important in a researcher’s career not to have a good method. Scientists who use this online course not only write faster but they also publish their papers in top journals and gain a significant edge in their careers. So don’t wait until the 13th take—or rather, the 13th draft—to realize you need an efficient method. Take a look right now!

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