HELIX is both a digital magazine and a training program to help scientists build public science communication skills.
Any scientist at Northwestern can participate. Our editor works with all contributors to hone writing skills and develop storytelling techniques with the ultimate aim of presenting scientific content to general readers in engaging ways. Training concepts include:
- communicating effectively with a public audience
- employing rhetorical techniques to unpick complicated scientific topics
- developing narrative skills to engage lay-readers with complex ideas
- honing writing skills over multiple drafts and revisions
- sharing science enthusiasm and curiosity by developing the author’s voice
- celebrating Northwestern research and other advancements in science
"I would recommend this to every student, professor and faculty member. It was invaluable to have personalized feedback on my writing. The HELIX experience provides an amazing opportunity for growth as a writer and communicator." – Andrew Lai, PhD Candidate, Biomedical Engineering
Recent research shows that while U.S. science and engineering doctoral students learn cutting-edge research methods, they often lack key professional and interpersonal skills required for success in academia, nonprofits, government, and the private sector. Yet few graduate programs offer formal writing instruction as part of research training. Even fewer programs offer instruction in writing for non-expert or public audiences, despite broad calls for scientists to improve their science communication skills.
The Science in Society blog was launched in 2008 to provide researchers with the training and skills needed to communicate their work to a lay audience. Almost immediately demand outstripped supply and the magazine editors have been operating a waitlist of eager Northwestern scientists ever since.
In 2008, the editor also began working with the Science in Society course offered through Feinberg School of Medicine to award the Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences (DGP) Distinction Award and the winning essays are published in HELIX each year.
In 2014, with a steady stream of writers and a growing reader base, HELIX spun out as its own independent publication. It is still operated by Science in Society but with dedicated staff and a discreet audience and publication arm. HELIX magazine now boasts a readership of science-curious audiences the world over.
The writing experience ... set me apart in my job search. It not only showed potential employers that I was interested in writing outside of a technical lab setting, but that I was willing to work on developing my skills and build my communication tactics for translating complex topics. – Lisa Qu, PhD Candidate, Driskill Graduate Program
- HELIX magazine had 240,000 unique readers in 2016, primarily young science-curious readers with more than 30% of our readers visiting from abroad.
- Writers receive 10+ hours of individual coaching and feedback
- 93% of HELIX writers say the process has influenced their writing practice and techniques.
- 65% report they are already applying their learning in the lab and professional lives and 71% report they expect this learning to be useful to their career in future.
- Writers can be faculty, staff or undergraduates but about 70% of contributors are graduate students
- Articles have been syndicated widely and translated into other languages. Some are even used in college courses both here at Northwestern and at other universities.
- Our writers have gone on to publish in outlets like the Sacramento Bee, New Scientist and Discover Magazine’s blog – with many more landing jobs and internships in the industry and/or creating their own podcasts, blogs and science communication projects.
"[Writing for HELIX] was a very educational and positive experience. The editor was very helpful throughout the entire process - from drafting the initial concept to helping to revise the text over the next few rounds of editing. I felt that the feedback provided during the process helped to make me a stronger writer." – HELIX writer
Northwestern students, faculty, and staff in the sciences and social sciences are welcome to be a part of the magazine's writers corps. Find out more about the program on the magazine’s masthead, where you can also sign-up the next new writer orientation session (usually held quarterly).