Science writing students: year one

Sara Grady
October 21, 2016

A year ago, we launched a new course for graduate student scientists to hone their writing and communication practice. Twelve months later, many of our students are embracing these skills and sharing their enthusiasm with readers across the country.

We built the course around writing for lay audiences. Working with colleagues at Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications and The Graduate School here at Northwestern, we wanted to focus on sharing complex science with general readers. How do you share complex information with novices? How do you describe materials and phenomena beyond the scope of our physical senses? How do you know what contextual information is helpful (and when you're too deep in the technical weeds)? How do you share the excitement of research frontiers without inflating the findings of basic science? 

Students in our third cohort are grappling with these issues as they write and refine magazine-style articles while their predecessors are making the most of these skills out in the field. Here are a few of pieces recently published with bylines from last year's students:

  • Hannah Gavin, studying molecular biology in the Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences, was recently published on the Discover Magazine blog with an updated version of her class article. The Editor of Discover met Hannah while guest lecturing in this class and helped her connect with the right colleagues to get it published.
  • Becky Barack, a plant biologist studying tall grass prairie, published a piece on prairie burning in the Chicago Botanic Garden blog.  
  • Kavita Chandra and Laura Rudge -- a materials scientist and virologist respectively -- each continued to work on their research-focused articles from class, which have since been published in HELIX.
  • While Carolyne Wilke and Alane Lim have gone on to write about various other science subjects in the same magazine. (Alane has also taken up satire and comedy writing, writing a spoof science listicle for the comedy blog Robot Butt!)

It's a diverse mix of outlets and formats, which speaks to the broad range of applications such training can support-- and the immense hard work and dedication of these students. We're thrilled their finding ways to share their stories and their science with the wider world. We can't wait to see what they (and our other alumni) do next!

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