STS.034 | Fall 2011 | Undergraduate

Science Communication: A Practical Guide


1 Introduction: Why Be A Science Communicator? None assigned.
2 In the Elevator or the Hallway: Talking Informally About Science Come to class prepared to speak informally and briefly (maximum 2 minutes) about a topic in science, technology, or engineering that interests you. Assume your audience is intelligent but knows little or nothing about the subject.
3 Workshop: Talking Science Reflect on the feedback and discussion on Monday to refine your informal chat on a topic in science that interests you.
4 Workshop: Talking Science (cont.) None assigned.
5 What Does It Mean to Write About Science for the Public? The readings for this session are two different accounts on the discovery of the structure of DNA. When reading them, take into account the discussion we will have comparing and contrasting both what they say and their ways of saying it.

Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers in the Greater Himalaya

Guest speaker: David Breashears, director of Glacierworks

Find out all you can about David Breashears, President of Glacierworks Inc. Your starting point is:
7 Telling a Tale, Painting a Picture: Writing About Science Using Special Techniques Come to class with a first draft of a one-page description of a phenomenon in science for a public audience, a one-page essay on a topic related to science, or a one-page letter to the editor responding to a recent op-ed on a topic in science or technology.
8 Workshop: Writing Science Revise your one-page written piece to include the elements you learned about on Monday.
9 Workshop: Writing Science (cont.)

Come to class with a draft op-ed on a current issue in science of no more than 700 words. Potential topics include:

  • Justify the research budget for the NIH in response to objections from politicians and members of the public who wonder why the investments to date have not yielded a cure for cancer.
  • Explain why we should or should not act on carbon dioxide emissions if scientists are uncertain how the future will look under climate change.
  • Explain why we should allow or disallow greater use of genetically-modified crops in US agriculture.
  • Describe what you envision as a viable future for NASA’s space program that would inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

10 Exhibiting “Unfinished” Science None assigned.
11 Critiquing Science on Display (reviews of exhibits) Please tour the public galleries on display in the lobbies of the Broad Institute and the Koch Institute, which face one another across Main Street on the MIT campus. Then write brief notes (2–3 pages) that critically compare and contrast the approaches to exhibiting science of these two galleries.
12 Put Me Through to Washington: Communicating Science to Policymakers Revise your op-ed on a current topic to turn in today
13 Workshop: Projects None assigned.
14 Guest Speaker: David Goldston

Find information online about our guest speaker, David Goldston, online. Make sure you find out about his former work for Congress (as Staff Director of the House Committee on Science), and his current work at the National Resources Defense Council. Begin here:

Come with at least 3 questions for David about communicating science for policy.

15 Science in the Blogosphere Identify a science blog of your choice from the Discover Magazine “stable” of blogs available at:, follow it for at least three days during the week preceding this class, and write a short critical review of it. What is the blog trying to do, and how well is it doing it? Come to class prepared to give a short (2 minute) review of your chosen blog.

Seeing is Believing: Visualizing Science for Communication

Guest Speaker: Jonathan Corum, science graphics editor at the New York Times

View the following visualizations before class, and reflect on what you think are effective elements of using visualization to communicate science. Jot down your ideas for class.

17 Workshop: Projects None assigned.
18 From Cancer Cells to String Theory: Communicating Complex Material After completing the readings for this session, please write what you think did and did not work about the communication used.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2011
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Presentation Assignments
Written Assignments