Future Scientists and Engineers Try Science Journalism

Graduate students Tommy Tong (foreground) and Terrence Dobrowsky during the Science Writing for Scientists and Engineers course.
Graduate students Tommy Tong (foreground) and Terrence Dobrowsky during
the Science Writing for Scientists and Engineers course. Credit: Mary Spiro / JHU

Interviewing a scientist, writing a press release, and working with reporters were just a few of the tactics students learned during the Intersession 2008 course, Science Writing for Scientists and Engineers. Intersession is a Johns Hopkins University program on the Homewood campus that gives students opportunities for academic exploration and experiential learning. The course, presented by the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, taught students the professional development skills needed to explain complex research to general audiences.

Several invited speakers provided diverse perspectives on the importance of communicating science to the public. During one class exercise, students practiced being interviewed by “reporter“ Gail Porter, director of public and business affairs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. INBT affiliated faculty member Edward Bouwer, professor and chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering in the Whiting School of Engineering, conducted a “press conference“ in which he fielded questions from student “reporters“ about his new book, The Illusion of Certainty: Health Benefits and Risks, which he co-authored with Erik Rifkin.

Joann Rodgers, director of media relations and public affairs for Johns Hopkins Medicine, told the students that since most science is funded by public dollars, scientists have an obligation to communicate their work to society. Davide Castelvecchi, a writer for Science News, demonstrated how the same scientific research may be presented in very different ways by diverse news outlets. Mary Spiro, course instructor and science writer for INBT, lectured on writing techniques and provided feedback on the students’ written assignments. Homework included writing a news article, press release, faculty profile and an opinion editorial.

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