MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing
Curriculum Curriculum Curriculum

The Graduate Program in Science Writing is designed to train students in a wide array of science communication styles and media. Our curriculum focuses on teaching students how to create tightly written, elegantly constructed science pieces in print, audio, video, and interactive formats. Our goal is to provide students with a structured curriculum that focuses on the basics of reporting, storytelling, and multi-media creation, along with the freedom to explore subjects and projects that best align with their interests.

Graduates of our program complete the following curriculum:

Fall Semester

Note: MIT weighs classes in terms of MIT units instead of credits. A typical class consists of 12 MIT units. Thus, a typical four-class semester course load consists of 48 MIT units.  Master’s degree candidates must complete a total of 66 graduate units, not including thesis, to earn a degree.

21W.825 Advanced Science Writing Seminar I (24 units)
21W.822 Science Writing Thesis Development and Workshop (12 units)
21W.823 Lab Experience for Science Writers (3 units)
21W.THG Graduate Thesis Seminar (12 units)
Elective (9 or 12 units) – These may be taken at either MIT or Harvard

Independent Activities Period (IAP, January)

Although there are no required classes during IAP, students often take this time to travel for thesis research.  They can apply for a Kelly-Douglas grant, which is matched by the program, and together provides up to $1,000 to help defray travel and research expenses.

Spring Semester

21W.826 Advanced Science Writing Seminar II (12 units)
21W.824 Advanced Science Documentary (12 units)
21W.823 Lab Experience for Science Writers (3 units)
21W.THG Graduate Thesis Seminar (12 units)
Elective (9 or 12 units) or Spring Semester Internship

Summer Semester

21W.892 Internship (12 units, required regardless of whether the student did an internship during spring semester)

The Advanced Science Writing Seminar

The Advanced Science Writing Seminar forms the core of the GPSW curriculum. Here, 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, podcasting, navigating controversies, pitching stories, building a science writing career, and more. The Seminar is taught by GPSW faculty and by prominent journalists, editors, researchers, and producers who serve as guest speakers. Past guest lecturers have included:

  • William J. Broad, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist for The New York Times
  • Matt Carroll, data journalist and former member of The Boston Globe‘s Spotlight investigative team
  • Sarah Childress, senior editor for FRONTLINE
  • David Corcoran, former editor for The New York Times
  • Lisa De Bode, freelance reporter, former CNN field producer covering ISIS
  • David Dobbs, freelancer for National Geographic, The New York Times, the NYT Book Review, Slate, and Pacific Standard. Winner of the AAAS/Kavli Prize for Magazine Writing
  • Dawn Fallik, investigative reporter with bylines in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Neurology Today, Neurology Now, and The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Rachel Gross, former digital science editor for Smithsonian Magazine
  • Alan Guth, pioneering theoretic physicist and cosmologist
  • Zahra Hirji, science reporter at Bloomberg and GPSW alumna
  • Sabrina Imbler, New York Times reporting fellow and former staff writer at Atlas Obscura
  • Carolyn Y. Johnson, science reporter at The Washington Post (GPSW ’04)
  • Roxanne Khamsi, freelance medical writer, former chief news editor at Nature Medicine
  • Robert Kirshner, Harvard astronomer
  • Corby Kummer, senior editor at The Atlantic
  • Apoorva Mandavilli, health and science reporter at The New York Times
  • Amy Maxmen, NASW Science in Society Award-winning freelance science journalist
  • Maryn McKenna, author of Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats. Winner of the 2018 Science in Society Award
  • Kendra Pierre-Louis, climate reporter for Bloomberg, former climate reporter at The New York Times (GPSW ’16)
  • David Quammen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
  • Rebecca Skloot, New York Times best-selling author
  • Ashley Smart, senior editor at Undark Magazine and former features editor at Physics Today
  • Michael Specter, staff writer at The New Yorker and former senior foreign correspondent at The New York Times
  • Jodi Rave Spotted Bear, executive director of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance
  • Lisa Song, Pulitzer Prize winner, ProPublica investigative reporter (GPSW ’09)
  • Nicola Twilley, New Yorker contributing writer and co-host of Gastropod
  • Todd Wallack, investigative reporter and data journalist on Boston Globe’s Spotlight team
  • Robert Weinberg, MIT biologist and National Medal of Science recipient
  • Robert Whitaker, investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist
  • Wudan Yan, freelance journalist and journalism coach
  • Ed Yong, science journalist for The Atlantic
  • Carl Zimmer, New York Times columnist and author

In the fall, the Seminar meets for six hours per week — the equivalent of two regular classes. It begins with in-depth training in daily journalism. Once that foundation has been established, students learn the tools of investigative reporting, data journalism, podcasting, and archival research.

The spring Seminar, which meets for three hours each week, includes modules on essay writing, explanatory journalism, book reviews, and the conclusion of long-form investigative projects that were launched in the fall. Students in past years have sold projects they completed in the Advanced Science Writing Seminar to publications including Popular Science, The Atlantic, NOVA Next, Mental Floss, Hakai MagazineAstronomy Magazine, YES! Magazine, and MIT Technology Review.

Graduate Thesis Seminar

The thesis forms a second cornerstone of the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing, and provides students with the opportunity to dive deep into a scientific area of interest. The thesis is a long-form narrative science writing piece of at least 6,000 words written for a general audience. The thesis can be journalistic, data-driven, investigative, historical, even personal so long as it meaningfully bears on science, technology, engineering, or medicine. Students may complete a documentary or multimedia thesis project as long as the written length and original reporting requirements are met.

The Graduate Thesis Seminar is a required two-semester class focused on developing feature writing skills and helping students craft their theses.  Students meet one-on-one with faculty advisors and professional writers who serve as editors and mentors. Small travel grants are available to students conducting field reporting.

Candidates applying to the GPSW should be prepared to discuss potential thesis topics in their applications. Excerpts of recent theses are available  in MIT’s online archive, DSpace

Lab Experience for Science Writers

To provide a direct view of how science unfolds on a daily basis, the GPSW requires each student to spend a total of 12 hours in two of MIT’s hundreds of laboratories, then write profiles of each lab. The Lab Experience offers an opportunity for students to explore MIT’s vast scientific resources and access to researchers who often aren’t accessible to journalists.

Thesis Development and Workshop

In the fall semester,  students develop, report, and write a feature story of between 2,000 and 3,000 words in this course, leading them  through a long narrative non-fiction work and further developing their ability to work with editors, revise, and critique classmates work.

Advanced Science Documentary

In the spring semester, the Advanced Science Documentary focuses on multimedia ways of telling stories. Students write, shoot, and edit audio and video projects using GPSW’s inventory of cameras, lighting equipment, digital recorders, and editing software.  You can view past projects on our YouTube channel.


Chosen in consultation with faculty advisors, electives provide students with an opportunity to customize their education. Our students often use electives to gain background knowledge in a specific scientific beat, sharpen their storytelling skills within a certain genre or media, or simply explore one of their passions. Electives may be taken at MIT or Harvard.


GPSW students are required to complete a full-time summer internship following the regular academic year, and may choose to complete an additional part-time internship instead of an elective. Students work with faculty advisors to secure writing-focused internships at print or online science publications, museums, laboratories or research institutions, investigative journalism organizations, digital production studios, educational outreach groups, or television or radio stations. Spring semester internships must be completed in the Boston area (or by working remotely), while summer internships may be completed anywhere in the world.

In recent years, our students have interned at outlets including Atlas ObscuraThe Boston Globe, the Boston Museum of Science, Discover Magazine, Environmental Health NewsGastropod, the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting, Harvard Medical School, Inside Climate News, IBM, the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, NASA, National Geographic, National Institutes of Health, NatureNautilusNew ScientistThe New York Times, NOVA, NPR, Orion Magazine, Princeton University, Retro Report, ScienceSky & Telescope, Smithsonian, Smithsonian Natural History Museum, STAT, State Impact PA, Technology ReviewWired Magazine, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and many more. Internships are monitored and graded by faculty advisors.

Student Handbook