STS.034 | Fall 2011 | Undergraduate

Science Communication: A Practical Guide


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Aims

  • To provide an introduction to popular science communication in the broader contexts of (a) the role of communication in science, and (b) the cultural, practical and policy-related role of science communication in wider society;
  • To provide intellectual resources for constructive critical analysis of popular science communication in a variety of real-world settings;
  • To cultivate students’ practical communication skills, with particular emphasis on effective speaking, writing and exhibiting on scientific and science-related topics to a variety of audiences;
  • To provide students with a range of resources and skills for effective communication of complex material;
  • To provide students with the opportunity to undertake a substantial practical project in either science writing or science exhibiting.


Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Publishers, 2011. ISBN: 9781400052172.

Other required readings (and required audio, video and exhibition materials) are listed separately on the readings page.

Course Requirements and Assessment

The course will comprise two 90-minute seminars per week, at 11:30am – 1:00pm on Mondays and Wednesdays throughout the fall semester. The Monday seminars are devoted mainly to seminar discussion of key topics, and the Wednesday seminars are devoted mainly to work (individually, and in groups) on practical communication projects.

Students are required to attend and participate actively in the seminars. Students who are unable to attend a seminar for medical or other reasons should inform the professor in advance. Unexplained poor attendance and failure to participate actively in seminars will affect the overall grade on the course.

Assignments (which may involve reading, listening to or viewing relevant sources before class, written composition, or exhibition-related work) will be set on a weekly basis. It is essential that students should complete pre-class assignments, as this will be essential to effective participation in the relevant seminar discussions.

This is a communications intensive (CI-HW) class. CI-HW subjects are a subset of CI-H subjects concentrating more particularly on the writing process. Given how important revision is to composition, many assignments will be revised. The emphasis in all the CI-HW sections is on writing: the writing process, from pre-writing through drafting, revising, and editing; and the rhetorical dimensions of writing: the audience for whom one is writing, and the purpose for which one is writing—to argue, inform, persuade, explain, convince, and so on.


Grades on the course will be based on the following marking scheme:

Attendance at and active participation in seminars 20%
Assessed speaking assignments 10%
Assessed writing assignments 30%
Practical Project 40%

Class Calendar and Overview

1 Introduction: Why Be A Science Communicator?
2 In the Elevator or the Hallway: Talking Informally About Science
3 Workshop: Talking Science
4 Workshop: Talking Science (contd)
5 What Does It Mean to Write About Science for the Public?

Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers in the Greater Himalaya

Guest speaker: David Breashears, director of Glacierworks

7 Telling a Tale, Painting a Picture: Writing About Science Using Special Techniques
8 Workshop: Writing Science
9 Workshop: Writing Science (contd)
10 Exhibiting “Unfinished” Science
11 Critiquing Science on Display (reviews of exhibits)
12 Put Me Through to Washington: Communicating Science to Policymakers
13 Workshop: Projects
14 Guest Speaker: David Goldston
15 Science in the Blogosphere

Seeing is Believing: Visualizing Science for Communication

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

17 Workshop: Projects
18 From Cancer Cells to String Theory: Communicating Complex Material
19 Workshop: Projects
20 Communicating Controversy
21 On the Record: Communicating to the Media
22 Workshop: Projects
23 On the Witness Stand: Communicating Science in the Courtroom
24 Workshop: Projects
25 Final Projects
26 Final Projects

Course Info

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