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Skills & Careers in Science Writing Class

Applications are now open for Northwestern STEM+ PhD candidates interested in developing science writing and communication skills.

“Skills & Careers in Science Writing” is a partnership between the Medill School of Journalism, The Graduate School, and Science in Society. In its fourth year, the course trains graduate students to distill scientific ideas into engaging, reader-friendly stories for lay audiences and provides networking and exposure to science writing and communication professionals. Students will work with former and current journalists and scientists-turned-journalists to develop a stronger understanding of narrative technique, story structure and the uses of metaphors and vivid language to convey complex topics.

The course culminates in an article written for the general public, developed through intensive one-on-one support from both course faculty and expert guest editors. (Editors in Fall 2018 included Becky Lang, Editor-in-Chief at Discover Magazine.) Previous students have published articles and blogs with several science and general interest publications including HelixDiscover, Vox and Scientific American (pending); some have gone on to the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) science journalism fellowship program.  

This course is offered twice a year, in Fall and Spring, with a deliberately capped cohort to ensure personal attention and the opportunity for interactive discussion and workshopping. In Spring 2019, the class will run Mondays 2:00 - 5:00 PM, in Fisk Hall, room 206. 

Applications for Spring 2019 are open until Monday, February 25

The course focuses on three key learning outcomes:

  • Develop science writing and communication skills appropriate for lay audiences.
    • Conveying complex scientific content in audience-appropriate ways.
    • Employing narrative and storytelling modalities to communicate information to non-experts.
    • Building a better understanding of non-scientist audiences including expectations and knowledge levels-- and how to design various approaches for effective, relevant engagement.
  • Gain greater understanding of and exposure to science writing and communication careers, models and opportunities.
    • Understanding feature writing story structures and learning to pitch articles.
    • Building your brand and portfolio through social media.
    • Building interviewing and reporting skills.
    • Working with a professional editor.
  • Build an iterative writing practice including 
    • Practicing self-editing and revision
    • Giving and receiving constructive peer feedback in dialog
    • Creating science communiques through several drafts and with external readers and feedback

All course alumni report applying their learning immediately and in a variety of professional and academic contexts. After taking this course, 96 percent of students reported being more interested in science writing and communication (regardless of their intended career direction). Eighty-eight percent also indicated a strong interest in further courses in science communication and writing, and 82 percent indicated an increased interest in this as a future career path. Several students have pursued science writing externally, with articles appearing in several mainstream publications including Vox, Aeon, AWIS, Nature blogs, and the Daily Northwestern. Students also report a wide range of original science communication undertakings including creating their own blogs, podcasts and social media streams. Remarkably, 26 out of the 44 alumni from the first three quarters have been in touch individually with instructors since class ended. These continued relationships overwhelmingly demonstrate that students are actively pursuing additional activities and learning, but also underline how our relationships as instructors and mentors are a foundational part of that experience.

"[The skills I learned in this course] will be helpful to convince people of the importance of scientific research and (hopefully) policy-making around science. I have found the techniques of storytelling and explainers useful for 'elevator pitches' as well as revising papers – yes, peer-reviewed papers as well." – Skills & Careers in Science Writing course alum 

Categories: STEM