Science writing minor joins list of studies

Science writing minor joins list of studies
A student writes on a laptop. Photo by Unsplash/Thomas Lefebvre.

The university’s center of interdisciplinary studies added science writing to their list of minors on Oct. 26 to fill the gap between the sciences and the humanities. The first classes will be offered next fall.

The minor is intended for students who want to connect science and journalism. It will be 20 to 22 credits consisting of science, journalism and communications courses.

“[Science writing] is for students who are passionate about science and discoveries and want to help explain to the general public the importance of those discoveries and how science is done,” Jennifer Gubbels, an associate professor of biology, said.

Jeffrey Miller, co-director of the center of interdisciplinary studies, said he first conceptualized a science writing minor at the 2021 Boe Forum, where Robert Green, a medical geneticist, spoke to journalism students. Miller said he felt the minor needed to be offered at Augustana.

“I think it’s truly the best of liberal arts in that we can bring subjects together that seem different but are really easy to connect,” Miller said.

Like environmental studies and the medical humanities and society minors, the program will not be an English or biology minor, Miller said, but rather it will be an interdisciplinary studies minor.

“Liberal arts promotes holistic critical thinking, and interdisciplinary studies are the best way to employ that in an academic setting,” Miller said.

Gubbels said she believes that science writing is an important part of relaying scientific information from researchers to the general public and that sometimes science needs checks and balances, too.

By educating students about science writing, she said she hopes students will educate the public about topics and issues in science so that the public can have a deeper understanding and be more critical of practices when necessary.

“If we have people who have a toe in both areas, then they can help communicate science to the public,” Gubbels said.

The science writing minor will also benefit both science and non-science majors, Gubbels said.

“For science majors, this will give them an opportunity to deepen their writing skills and learn how to write in a way that’s not so technical,” Gubbels said. “For non-science majors, [scientific intersections] courses are designed to confront some of the major discoveries of the field, and they can also talk about ethical issues that are involved with some of those discoveries in science.”

According to Miller, the journalism department will offer a new gateway course for the minor — JOUR 216 — titled Science Writing.

Both Gubbels and Miller said they are looking forward to the work students will produce out of this class.

“I’m curious to see what kinds of writing comes out of this minor,” Gubbels said. “I would love to see what the students write about. Our students are so thoughtful.”

Gubbels said a majority of the science courses needed to satisfy the minor are scientific intersections courses aimed at teaching the scientific method to non-science majors.

Miller said the journalism courses are aimed at teaching science majors how to write technical papers, such as lab reports, for the general public.

The minor will also include a one-credit capstone project during students’ senior year that will demonstrate the acquired knowledge they earned throughout the program, Miller said. This is similar to the other interdisciplinary studies programs.

The project is a concrete way for future employers to see the work students have done in their interdisciplinary pathway.

“They’ll be able to leave here with something concrete that they can show in the market as to their abilities,” Miller said. “Even if you’re in the sciences and going on to graduate school, you’ve got something that other people coming in aren’t necessarily going to have.”

Sam Erickson, a junior biology major, said she appreciates the minor’s specificity.

“I looked at English for a while, but I wanted to make it more focused [towards research],” Erickson said. “I want to write in a way that the research community can understand but also be able to pull it back and explain it to people or patients. I think it’s really cool when smaller schools can help you create more individualized programs.”

Miller will conduct a prototype of Science Writing in spring 2023.