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Syllabus Fall 2020

[You can download a copy of the current syllabus: Comm 5660 syllabus.20201009.]

Comm 5660
Science Communication Workshop
Fall 2020
DATES: Friday, 16 Oct 2020 – Sunday, 18 Oct 2020
[Last update: 9 Oct 2020]

Will be offered entirely online, through Cornell’s Canvas system and Zoom.

This intensive weekend workshop introduces graduate students and post-docs in the sciences (including natural sciences, engineering, experimental social sciences, etc.) to communicating 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, in non-COVID times, we’ve had pizza and veggies for more informal discussion with the panelists. This semester, you’ll have to bring your own food and beverages, but I hope we’ll still be able to have some informal discussion time.

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 and the Careers Beyond Academia Program.

Course websites

Professor Bruce Lewenstein
303 Morrill Hall
607-255-8310 (office) (e-mail)
Office hours (virtual): Tuesdays, 1:00-3:00
and happily by appointment
Twitter: @BLewenstein; for this course, use the hashtag #Comm5660

Class location
Online, through Cornell’s Canvas system and Zoom

Learning Objectives
After participating in this workshop, students will be able to:

  • Discuss science communication opportunities, both within traditional scientific careers and as stand-alone careers
  • Begin identifying characteristics of potential audiences for science communication
  • Write drafts of short texts (such as blog posts, tweets, and similar items) for non-scientific audiences
  • Begin planning for media interviews
  • Discuss social, ethical, and scholarly issues associated with science communication

Assignments and grades
You will write some combination of your own press releases, blog posts, and tweets on the first day of the workshop, and you will both conduct and be the subject of a video interview on the second day. The course is graded S/U — I expect a reasonable effort.

We will have a Slack workspace during the weekend – I hope that some of the informal conversation that usually happens in person might happen there. [The workspace is I will send invitations to all students in the course. Don’t worry if you’re new to Slack – so am I, especially in a course-related setting!]

Students with special circumstances
Cornell University (as an institution) and I (as a human being and instructor of this course) are committed to full inclusion in education for all persons. Services and reasonable accommodations are available to students with temporary and permanent disabilities, to students with DACA or undocumented status, to students facing mental health issues, to students with other personal situations (such as family emergencies or religious observances), and to students with other kinds of learning needs. Please feel free to let me know if there are circumstances affecting your ability to participate in class. Some resources that might be of use include:

I would be glad to help you identify other resources if needed.

Prepare 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; WordPress,, is also useful if you want a full website). If you don’t yet have a Twitter account, you might set one up, too.

 View in advance the following mini-lectures:
Video 1: Science journalism 101 (identifying the news) (10.5 minutes)
Video 2: Science journalism 101+ (ledes and story types) (15 minutes)
Video 3: Intro to the science communication system (TO COME)
Video 4: Science communication models (TO COME)
Video 5: BONUS: End of the day fun (TO COME)
Video 6: Smile! You’re on camera! (the news system, the message box, being interviewed) (TO COME)

View in advance material from our guest-speakers:

Read in advance material from our guest-speakers:
* St. Fleur, Nicholas. (2020, 23 January). Annotated by the Author: ‘Tiny Tyrannosaur Hints at How T. Rex Became King’. New York Times, online only, at

During the workshop, in addition to the Zoom sessions themselves, you will be looking at various websites and doing some writing that you will send to the instructor. Plan your technology accordingly – for most people, a computer or tablet with a keyboard should work.


Friday, 16 Oct

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

ZOOM (note, this panel is open to the public):

(Meeting ID: 977 5350 1546, Passcode: 870981)

6:00(ish) pm    Virtual happy hour with informal discussion

Saturday, 17 Oct

ZOOM: You must enter Zoom through the link in Canvas. There is one Zoom link for Saturday, one for Sunday.

9:00     am       In advance: Watch “Science Journalism 101”

Discussion, writing, more discussion

Breakout rooms


10:30   am       Break


11:00   am       In advance: Watch “Science Journalism 101+”

Discussion, writing, more discussion

Breakout rooms


12:30   pm       Lunch break


2:00     pm       Writing for social media
Guest speaker: Ana Maria Porras, Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow, Cornell

Curator of #MicrobeMonday/#MicroMartes on Instagram and



3:00     pm       Break



3:30     pm       More time actually writing, sharing ideas and drafts, getting comments

from colleagues, etc.

Breakout rooms


4:00     pm       Writing about science – the nitty gritty

Guest speaker: Nicholas St. Fleur (Cornell, BS ‘13, Biology), freelance science writer, after 5+ years on staff at New York Times


5:00     pm       End of (organized) day




Bonus video: The science communication system

[In other years, this has been the final topic on Saturday. I’ve cut it from the syllabus because of the extra time burdens of an online course. But if you want to watch, and ask questions during or after the workshop, I’m always glad to discuss!]


Sunday, 22 September

ZOOM: You must enter Zoom through the link in Canvas. There is one Zoom link for Saturday, one for Sunday.


9:00     am       Review of yesterday’s material

Critique of press releases/blog postings

Rewriting, brainstorming, using images


10:00   am       Watch in advance:“The news system”

Discussion with Gillian Rose Smith, Cornell Media Services


10:30               Break


11:00   am       Watch in advance: “The message box”

Discussion with Gillian Rose Smith

Develop personal message box

Breakout rooms


12:00   pm       Lunch break


1:30     pm       Watch in advance: “Being interviewed”

Discussion with Gillian Rose Smith

Breakout rooms: Interviewing


2:30     pm       Discussion of interviewing


3:15     pm       Break


4:00     pm       Visual storytelling

Guest speaker: Dr. Jen Moslemi (Cornell, PhD ’10, Ecology & Evolutionary

Biology) Co-founder and managing partner, CaravanLab (“We create digital products that elevate science, people & the planet”). More info and examples available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all with handle @hellocaravanlab


5:00     pm       Graduation (not really – this is what time we’ll end!)