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Syllabus Spring 2018

[You can download a copy of the syllabus here]

Comm 5660
Science Communication Workshop
Spring 2018
DATES: Friday, 9 March – Sunday, 11 March
[Last update: 28 February 2018]

This intensive weekend workshop trains graduate students and post-docs in the sciences (including natural sciences, engineering, experimental social sciences, etc.) to communicate effectively – especially about controversial topics, such as climate change or evolution – with nonscientists such as policy makers, political stakeholders, the media, and the general public. Activities include role-playing, mini-lectures, hands-on practice writing blog posts and other outreach materials, real-time practice being interviewed for the media, and discussion with invited speakers.

We will begin on Friday afternoon with a panel of speakers talking about opportunities in public communication. After the panel, we’ll have pizza and veggies for more informal discussion with the panelists.

On Saturday, we start right out with writing for the public through press releases and blogs.  You’ll get practice.  Plenty of practice.  Sunday is devoted to constructing a message and delivering it in a broadcast media interview. Throughout the weekend we’ll also meet other scientists and science communicators, learning from their experience.

This course is supported by the Department of Communication, the Cornell BEST Program, and an Engaged Cornell grant in collaboration with the Department of Biomedical Sciences Comparative Cancer Biology Program.

Course website

Professor Bruce Lewenstein
303 Morrill Hall
607-255-8310 (office) (e-mail)
Office hours: Thursdays, 1:00-3:00
and happily by appointment

Class location
Plant Science 143

Assignments and grades
You will write your own press release or blog post on the first day of the workshop, and you will both conduct and be the subject of a video interview on the second day.

Come with a brief (100-200 word) written summary of your own research.  You will use this summary as the basis for class activities.  If you are interested in science blogging, set up your own blog site in advance (Google’s Blogger service,, is pretty simple to use, but you’re welcome to try another service if you prefer).

You will need a computer or tablet (probably with a keyboard), as you will be looking at things online and writing during the workshop.


Friday, 9 March

4:30     pm       Panel: Opportunities for public communication of science

Lisa Kaltenegger, Associate Professor of Astronomy, director of the Carl Sagan Institute, and featured in IMAX film The Search for Life in Space. (,

Sarah Davidson Evanega, Senior Associate Director of CALS International Programs, International Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, and Director, Cornell Alliance for Science (

Ellen George, PhD student in Natural Resources, curator of

Mark Sarvary, Director of Investigative Biology Laboratories and public science event advisor for Ithaca’s Science Cabaret (

6:00     pm       Pizza & veggies, informal discussion


Saturday, 4 March

9:00     am       The basics of writing science for the public

10:30   am       Break

10:45   am       Developing and writing your own stories

12:00   pm       Lunch (on your own)

1:00     pm       Guest lecture:

Math on YouTube

Kelsey Houston-Edwards, PhD student in mathematics and founding writer/on-screen presenter of “Infinite Series,” a YouTube show science video writer/on-screen presenter (

2:00     pm       Break

2:15     pm       Writing.  More time actually writing, sharing ideas and drafts, getting comments from colleagues, etc.

3:45     pm       Break

4:00     pm       The science of science communication

5:00     pm       End of (organized) day



Sunday, 5 March

9:00     am       Critique of press releases/blog postings

10:15   am       Break

10:30   am       Developing and delivering media messages

Hands-on practical instruction and practice about developing messages

Melissa Osgood, Cornell Media Relations

12:00   pm       Lunch (on your own)

1:00     pm       Being interviewed

Hands-on practical instruction and practice in being interviewed

on camera

3:00     pm       Break

3:30     pm       What does it all mean? The science communication system

4:30     pm       Graduation (not really – this is what time we’ll end!)



This list will be posted on the class website and periodically updated



Baron, Nancy. (2010). Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Bowater, Laura & Yeoman, Kay. (2013). Science Communication: A Practical Guide for Scientists. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell

Blum, Deborah, Knudson, Mary, & Henig, Robin Marantz (Eds.). (2006). A Field Guide to Science Writing: The Official Guide of the National Association of Science Writers (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Dean, Cornelia. (2009). Am I Making Myself Clear? A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Gutkind, Lee. (2012). You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between. Boston: Da Capo.

Hayes, Richard, & Grossman, Daniel. (2006). A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Menninger, Holly, & Gropp, Robert. (2008). Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media. Washington, DC: American Institute for Biological Sciences.

Meredith, Dennis. (2010). Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olson, Randy. (2009). Don’t be such a scientist: talking substance in an age of style. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Olson, Randy. (2015). Houston, We Have a Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Wilcox, Christie, Brookshire, Bethany, & Goldman, Jason G. (Eds.). (2016). Science blogging: the essential guide. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wilkinson, Clare, & Weitkamp, Emma. (2016). Creative research communication: Theory and practice. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.


“How to” Websites (produced by longtime science writer Dennis Meredith to accompany his book, Explaining Research) (produced by American Association for the Advancement of Science, includes webinars, tipsheets, etc.) (tips from the American Geophysical Union) (online science journalism course, developed by World Federation of Science Journalists; primary audience is science journalists in developing countries) (’s “Communicating Science” section, focused on science journalism for the developing world, but relevant for anyone communicating science; see especially the “practical guides” section)

Science Literacy Project (a workshop, currently inactive, for science reporters working in public radio; some resources online, especially the “tip sheets”) (a blog with comments and interviews from science writers about many aspects of how they report, write, and think about their stories and their lives as writers)


Social media discussion ABOUT science communication

Twitter: #scicomm, #gradscicomm

The #SciComm Daily,


Science outreach websites (the “informal science education” community) (a resource and online community for informal learning projects, research and evaluation; it provides access to a wide range of material)


Science news commentary (from MIT’s Knight Science Journalism project, a variety of stories probing science journalism) (published from the late 2000s until 2015, “a lens on the science press” from the Columbia Journalism Review) (from the UK, a scientist comments regularly) (a long-running blog on…bad astronomy!  Actually, mostly good astronomy, and sometimes comments on media coverage.)


Science news sites (just a few of the many, many possibilities…I’m not even sure this list is worth providing…let’s talk about that!)

New York Times (, especially the Tuesday “Science Times” section (you will need to register, but there is no cost)

Google News’s “Sci/Tech” category (

Yahoo! News’s “Science” category (

The Why Files (, RIP. An online science magazine published 1996-2016 (

Slate’s “Health and Science” section ( (a site specifically for science journalists in the developing world, but with relevance for anyone trying to communicate science),


Science blogs (one of the main sites for science-focused blogs) (some of the most prominent blogs; in the process of moving to a new structure, so may be hard to navigate) (still more prominent blogs) (still more prominent blogs) (not quite as prominent, but still pretty well known) (an interesting question about who this is for….)

…and many more available through


Science story ideas/press releases (Basic source for science press releases) (A European counterpart to EurekAlert!) (An independent alternative to EurekAlert! – site also has many topics besides science) (Another independent alternative to EurekAlert!)


Other sites to explore, International Network on Public Communication of Science and Technology, Media Evaluation and Visitor Research site, maintained by National Park Service, Natural Science Collections Alliance, a support organization for natural science collections (including museums and their staffs), Science Magazine’s careers page, which includes many stories about communication and outreach options, Nature’s equivalent to Science’s careers page, a list of science policy fellowships (outdated, but still a useful place to start), home of the Citizen Science Association


Organizations you might want to join

Many of the following organizations have extremely useful resources on their websites – guidelines, ethical codes, handbooks, etc., often available at no charge and without the need to join., American Medical Writers Association, American Public Gardens Association, Association of Health Care Journalists, Association of Science-Technology Centers, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Council of Science Editors, National Association of Science Writers, North American Association for Environmental Education, Society of Environmental Journalists

….and there are many others