Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
Like other scientists, medical researchers and clinicians must be capable of presenting their work to an audience of professional peers. Unlike many scientists, however, physicians must routinely translate their sophisticated knowledge into lay terms for their own patients and for the education of the public at large. A surprising number of physicians write for less utilitarian reasons as well, choosing the narrative essay as a means of exploring the non-technical issues that emerge in their clinical practice. Over the course of the semester we will explore the full range of writings by physicians and other health practitioners. Some of the writer/physicians that we encounter will be Atul Gawande, Danielle Ofri, Richard Selzer, and William Carlos Williams. Students need have no special training, only a general interest in medicine or in public health issues such as AIDS, asthma, malaria control, and obesity. The writing assignments, like the readings, will invite students to consider the distinctive needs of different audiences. Assignments will include a critical review of two articles from The New England Journal of Medicine , a review article geared toward an audience of health professionals, a report suitable for general publication, two oral presentations, an autobiographical narrative, a resume and a job application letter. Students will learn to respond constructively to the work of others and to revise their own work in the light of comments from the instructor and from their peers.
Any number of themes can provide a point of departure for an introductory writing course. My hope is that each of you can find something personally engaging and intellectually challenging in our joint exploration of "perspectives on medicine and public health." While some of you may contemplate a future in medicine, I suspect that all of you can draw upon a personal experience that heightens your interest in some particular aspect of medicine. In any case, you need no special expertise to prosper in this course. We will begin by reading a series of essays about doctors and patients. Later in the semester, you will have the opportunity to follow your individual inclinations and to investigate a topic that intrigues you.
The writing assignments will begin with those things that you know best-your own experiences and your own opinions-and move toward topics that are less personal and less familiar. If the going gets tough, you can count on the companionship and sympathy of your fellow students. This is a shared enterprise.
Please see readings . There is one required text for the course:
If you do not own a writer's handbook of some kind, you should buy one before you begin writing for this course. The following would serve you particularly well:
At times, you may also want to consult The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing.
This is not a classic textbook course. You cannot do the work at the end of the semester and hope to pass this course. More importantly, you cannot hope to alter the way you approach writing if you remain a passive spectator in this class. MIT's introductory writing courses are designed to help you develop writing strategies that will serve you throughout your career. By the time you reach college, old writing habits are already deeply rooted. Weeding out the unproductive ones requires hard labor. New, improved varieties will only take root if you nurture them. You will find this process more manageable if you take advantage of the experience, insights, and support of your classmates. If all of you participate actively, you can turn a rugged task into a satisfying collaborative venture.
You have the right to miss up to three classes without penalty, but you should use that right sparingly. If you miss more than five classes, you will not pass the course. Repeated tardiness will be treated as an absence. Exercises and papers must be handed in promptly whether or not you attend class on the due date. If you are unable to attend class, you may submit an exercise by email. Papers, however, must always be printed out. Find a friend or classmate to hand it in if you must miss class. (A more complete guide to course policies will be handed out next week.)
Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community, you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension or expulsion from the Institute.
The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to acknowledge them properly. When in doubt, consult with me.
You can find more information on this topic on the MIT Writing Center Web site.
You should write out a brief response or commentary upon each of the essays and stories that we read in February. These entries can be informal. Explore an idea, develop a critique, or consider a related event from your own life. Please do not summarize the content. Be sure to post your notebook entries before the class in which the readings are due. I will not grade the individual entries, but I will check your postings regularly. The first group of entries should be completed by Ses #4.
In each case, you should feel free to take your work to MIT's Writing Center for assistance in formulating your ideas and revising your writing.
This class offers ample opportunity to refine your oral communication skills. You will be expected to express your questions and your insights in every class discussion. In addition, you will be asked to make several informal oral presentations and one formal presentation.