The curriculum for our program is:
21W.826 Advanced Science Writing Seminar II (12 units)
21W.824 Advanced Science Documentary (12 units)
21W.THG Graduate Thesis (12 units)
21W.823 Lab Experience for Science Writers
Elective (9 or 12 units)
21W.892 Internship (12 units)
GPSW has its own publication, Scope, for which all writing assignments are considered. Scope is treated as a professional publication – not everything every student writes is published. Rather, the magazine is top-edited as mainstream publications are.
The Advanced Science Writing Seminar forms the core of the GPSW curriculum. In it, students develop the diverse range of expertise needed in the field of science writing: reporting and researching, interviewing and working with archives, developing beats and conducting quantitative analyses, and more. Other “life skills,” ranging from pitching stories to keeping track of assignments as a freelancer, are addressed by both faculty and guest speakers and are also integrated into specific assignments.
In the fall, the Seminar meets for six hours a week — the equivalent of two regular classes. It begins with in-depth training in daily journalism; once that foundation has been established, students go on to learn the tools of investigative reporting, data-driven journalism, and podcasting.
The spring seminar, which meets for three hours each week, begins with a lengthy section on essay writing that trains students to write with a distinctive voice and a strong point of view. The spring also includes lessons in explanatory journalism and the conclusion of investigative projects that were launched in the fall.
Lab Experience for Science Writers
Each student spends 15 hours in three of MIT‘s hundreds of laboratories, seeing its work up close and absorbing its life and culture. The student must then report back to the class in both written and oral form on the workings of the lab. These reports are sometimes published in Technology Review magazine.
In the spring semester, the Advanced Science Writing Seminar focuses primarily on the prose facet of science writing. Advanced Science Documentary focuses on the non-linear multimedia methods of storytelling. Students create audio and video works of a variety of lengths. Because the class is a hands-on video production class, the Science Writing Program maintains an inventory of equipment for the students to check out and use, including video cameras, tripods, lighting equipment and digital audio recorders. The students edit using Final Cut Pro.
The program’s electives help accommodate the wide range of education and experience of our students. Electives might fill a specific hole in the student’s background; allow him or her to pursue a scientific area of particular interest; or provide a humanistic or arts perspective that will enrich his or her writing. A student with a strong background in the necessary mathematics might wish to enlarge his exposure to the hard sciences through coursework in physics. Another student might study science fiction or creative writing. A third student with a special interest (for example, the colonization of space), might take an ethics or philosophy course in the fall, aerospace engineering in the spring. You may see a partial list of subjects taken by previous students here.
Each elective choice emerges through discussions among student and faculty, sometimes in consultation with the department in which a student hopes to take a subject. Many students will find that offerings from MIT‘s Science, Technology, and Society program, which includes courses in the history of science and technology, are particularly appropriate.
The thesis is a piece of long-form narrative science writing of at least 6,000 words. While demanding the intensive research of a traditional academic thesis, this project is written for general audiences. It can be journalistic, literary, investigative, historical, even personal—so long as it meaningfully bears on science, technology, or medicine. It requires greater depth and thoughtfulness and a higher degree of polish and refinement than any other assignment in the GPSW curriculum. Most students travel to conduct interviews and field reporting for their theses; small travel grants are available for this purpose.
Much of the work on the thesis takes places in the Thesis Seminar, a two-semester class focused on the craft of feature writing. Here, in addition to working on (and workshopping) their theses, students will develop, report, and write a feature story of between 2,000 and 3,000 words. Further instruction occurs in regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with students’ thesis advisors, professional writers who serve as mentors, editors, and sounding boards.
Candidates for the GPSW should be prepared to discuss potential thesis topics in their applications to the Program.
With the help and under the direction of an advisor from within the program, the student secures an internship for the summer following the regular academic year. Tailored to the background and interests of the student, and intended to broadly complement his or her classroom experience and career goals, the internship can take a variety of forms but must always include substantial writing. The student might find a place with a newspaper or popular magazine, a television or radio station, a science publication or website, a science institution, or a museum. Another alternative is to secure a regular science writing position, the first ten weeks of which would satisfy the internship requirement. The internship is monitored by the faculty advisor during the summer, earns academic credit, and is graded pass-fail. Students have recently interned at:
- Atlas Obscura
- BackPacker Magazine
- Boston Children’s Hospital
- Boston Globe
- Boston Museum of Science
- Brookhaven National Laboratory
- Canadian Geographic
- Discover Magazine
- European Molecular Biology Lab
- Harvard Science
- IEEE Spectrum
- Inside Climate News
- Inside Science
- International Centre for Theoretical Physics
- Joslin Diabetes Center
- Living on Earth Radio
- National Geographic
- the National Institutes of Health
- National Public Radio
- New England Aquarium
- NOVA Next
- New Scientist
- PBS Nova
- Popular Science Magazine
- Science News
- The Scientist
- Technology Review Magazine,
- Toronto Star
- WBUR CommonHealth Blog
- Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab