Editor’s Note: Many paths lead to a career in science writing, but one of the most common is to go back to school. This post continues an ongoing series that highlights graduate programs in science writing. Each installment features basic information about a program and an email interview with the program’s directors. (Previous installments featured the UCSC science communication program and the MIT Program in Science Writing.) Prospective applicants should plan ahead: Most of these programs have deadlines in January or February.
BU’s Graduate Program in Science Journalism: “For those with talent, curiosity, and tenacity”
Since 1990, more than 200 science writers have graduated from Boston University’s Graduate Program in Science Journalism and gone on to have careers in the field; between 8 and 10 students finish the one-year program each year. Most of them receive some sort of financial aid.
How should a prospective applicant prepare for the program?
We prefer students with a strong demonstrated interest in science and/or technology (engineering) who’ve also shown a demonstrated interest in communication. By that we mean completing relevant coursework or doing writing or production in or out of college.
Do most students in your program already have an advanced degree (master’s or higher) in science?
Not necessarily. Most have at least an undergraduate degree in science, psychology or engineering. We certainly consider those without the degree but with demonstrated interest
Any tips on the application process?
It’s pretty straightforward. We do encourage prospective applicants to get in touch with us before actually applying, to get a sense of whether this program is right for them. Because we enroll a small number of students we like to get to know each applicant personally.
Are students required to complete an internship as part of the program?
Yes, in the summer after the second semester.
Are students required to complete a large project, such as a thesis or master’s project, to graduate?
During the program, the students manage and contribute to the science page of the Boston University News Service. By the end of the program, the students’ contributions to the page comprise a professional portfolio. As well, in the course of the program students learn the basic elements of narrative non-fiction and are expected to produce at least one major work in that genre.
More than half of the 600+ respondents to a recent NASW survey self-identified as freelance writers. How does your program help prepare graduates for a freelance career in science writing?
Students graduate from the Program equipped with a complete skill set for starting their careers, including writing, documentary production—both radio and video—and web production. Students also learn to conceptualize and propose projects, which are important elements of any freelance career.
How does your program’s curriculum incorporate multimedia like podcasts and videos?
They’re an integral and essential part of our Program.
Do you require students to blog or tweet?
Yes. Blogging has become almost an expectation in the field.
How have you seen the field of science writing change in the last few years?
There’s been a shift in hiring opportunities, from legacy news organizations to scientific institutions wishing to communicate directly with the public, and an increased emphasis on communicating with the public via the web. We’ve adjusted our coursework accordingly.
What advice do you offer people who tell you they’re thinking about becoming science writers?
That depends on the individual, their background, interests, and strengths. Generally, anyone interested in becoming a writer must be a voracious reader, as well as a clear thinker and analyst. For those with the talent, curiosity, and tenacity, the world of science communication is wide open.