Course Descriptions

MA in Science Writing

The following courses are offered online for Science Writing students, who receive enrollment priority by concentration.

Requirements (9 courses): Two Cores, two Workshops, two Electives, one Residency, one student choice, followed by Thesis & Careers in Science Writing.

  • Core Courses

    490.658 - Techniques of Science-Medical Writing

    This core course develops and hones the reporting, creative, and explanatory skills demonstrated by the best science-medical writers. The course features writing assignments and exercises in journalistic and literary writing, plus interviewing, ethics, and the use of scientific journals and databases. In some cases, students may be able to choose from a range of writing topics, including nature, technology, health, space, biology, medicine, or other technical or scientific issues. Science Writing students should complete this course before enrolling in any writing workshop. Enrollment is encouraged by other students interested in this growing professional and creative field.

    490.703 - Principles of Journalism

    Many of today's finest creative writers have backgrounds in journalism, with its emphasis on research, accuracy, clarity, ethics, and public responsibility. This elective course features intensive study and exercises in these and other elements, including news writing, interviewing, journalism history, objectivity, deadlines, competition, and professional standards. The course includes frequent writing assignments, lectures from practitioners, and exercises in-class and off-site, with analysis of online and print newspapers and newsmagazines, plus news broadcasts, blogs, and other forms. Students in nonfiction and science writing without a background in journalism are urged to consider this course as an additional foundation for their broader creative writing goals. In some cases, this course may satisfy a core course requirement, or it may serve as an additional core course. This course will be offered online and onsite in future terms.

    490.750 - Contemporary Science-Medical Writing: Creative and Professional Forms

    This core course provides a broad foundation in the diverse forms and venues encountered in contemporary science writing careers. Students learn elements of classic forms such as essay, profile, news article, and op-ed, and examine the range of venues for science writing, including magazines, institutional publications, literary journals, blogs, speeches, and even museum exhibit text. The course covers the differing goals of various forms and how they might be used in multimedia, social networks, and other digital communication. Guest speakers present real-world expertise, with students engaged in discussion, exercises, and writing assignments.

  • Thesis

    490.802 - Thesis and Careers in Science Writing

    This course involves the revision of a program thesis and a final capstone experience that prepares a student for a science writing career. If possible, students should enroll in this final program course after completing all other cores, workshops, and electives. Thesis: Each student's thesis is created from writing in earlier courses. Students revise and refine an individual portfolio that includes creative writing, journalism, and communication writing. Students submit a Science Writing Thesis Planning Form at least one month before the course begins. Student should prepare a thesis draft before the course starts; the term is spent revising that work. Capstone: The group experience of the course requires each participant to develop a career plan that includes personal goals such as publication, job applications, or job advancement. Other capstone experiences may include attending science writing events or seminars, publication of a course magazine or journal, and discussions of the changing business of writing. The Science Writing Program also may propose an optional mini-residency that includes a series of final onsite experiences at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Washington. (This thesis course applies only to the MA in Science Writing; for the MA in Writing, see 490.801.)

    490.888 - Thesis Continuation

    This course is only for Writing Program thesis students who completed 490.801 Thesis & Publication or 490.802 Thesis and Careers in Science Writing, but failed to finish an approved thesis and were not approved for an Incomplete. If both conditions are met, students must register for this course and pay its accompanying fee for every term (including Summer) until a final thesis is approved.

  • Workshops

    490.666 - Combined Workshop & Readings in Science-Medical Writing

    This innovative new course allows students to earn either workshop or elective credit in Science-Medical Writing, in a single, combined course. Students seeking workshop credit submit writing in the usual manner; enrollees needing elective credit will complete extensive reading and exercises. At times, all students will engage together in workshop discussion or reading analysis. At other times, the two groups might separate for special attention to reading or the workshop. Students must complete Techniques of Science-Medical Writing or Nonfiction Techniques before enrolling in this course. (Registration Note: Science-Medical Writing students may enroll in this course if they need either workshop or elective credit toward their degree.)

    490.673 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific or medical knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times, or by combining any sections.)

    490.674 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific or medical knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times, or by combining any sections.)

    490.675 - Science-Medical Writing Workshop

    In a writing workshop, students receive professional guidance in translating complex scientific or medical knowledge and research into graceful, lucid prose. Students submit individual essays or articles, or parts of a larger work in progress. Writing submissions are critiqued by peers as well as by the instructor, then revised. Students are encouraged but not required to take this course from different instructors. (The three section numbers designate the term in which the workshop is offered. Students earn workshop credit by taking any section number multiple times, or by combining any sections.)

    490.754 - Specialized Science Writing Workshop

    This writing workshop follows the format of 490.673 Science-Medical Writing Workshop, but students will focus their writing on a special topic such as technology, science profiles, or science books. The topic for a Specialized Workshop will be announced in advance. This course may be taught by a visiting writer or other special instructor.

    490.756 - Advanced Science Writing Workshop

    This writing workshop follows the format of 490.673 Science-Medical Writing Workshop but is designed for students who have completed one or more earlier workshops and who want to focus on more sophisticated reporting and writing projects. This course may be taught by a visiting writer or other special instructor. At times, admission to this course may be based on a special application process.

  • Elective Courses

    490.696 - The Nature of Nature

    This reading course focuses on Mother Nature, human nature, and the nature of the beast. Students analyze books, essays, and articles from writers who tell gripping, true stories about topics ranging from outdoor adventure to personal reflections on illness. Readings include authors such as Richard Selzer, Diane Ackerman, E.O. Wilson, Kay Redfield Jamison and John McPhee.

    490.697 - The Literature of Science

    In this reading elective, science-medical and nonfiction students analyze current and classic books, magazine articles, and newspaper series to discover how the best science, medical, nature, and environmental writers create compelling, entertaining, factual literature. Assignments may include craft reports, individual and team presentations, and extensive class discussion. The course covers a range of important writers from the past and from the contemporary era such as Erik Larson, Atul Gawande, Rachel Carson, John McPhee, James Gleick, Lewis Thomas, Elizabeth Kolbert, and Jonathan Weiner.

    490.707 - Prize Winners: The Best Writing About Science, Technology, Environment, & Health

    Whether the prize is a National Magazine Award, a Pulitzer, a Peabody award for electronic media, or other honors, the work in this course offers lessons in reporting and writing for any student. A special feature will be sessions with prize-winning authors, by video or tape, to discuss how they created their winning work. Readings and guests for each section of this course will be announced, but they might include Pulitzer-winners Diana Sugg, Siddhartha Mukherjee or Natalie Angier, Peabody winner Christopher Joyce, or National Book Award finalist Lauren Redniss. Students in this course join in team or individual presentations, with several options for a final writing assignment. Readings may include articles, essays, or books.

    490.719 - Technology Tools, Multimedia, and Digital Publications for Writers

    This course is a practical, hands-on experience that teaches students tools and theories for multimedia and online writing and publication. Students learn basic design and digital tools for text, audio, photography, video, and social networks, with a special emphasis on adapting to changing technologies. To better understand websites, literary journals, magazines, and other digital publications, students will create their own digital sites or publications. This course also showcases various digital publications and sites that might offer publishing opportunities. This course may cover general writing topics and fields, or, as announced, it might focus on a specific field such as science writing, nonfiction, technology writing, or fiction.

    490.752 - Advanced Reporting & Writing in Science

    This course continues to build skills in writing and reporting about science, medicine, or technology. This elective course expands into more advanced techniques and also expands knowledge of longer or more sophisticated forms such as magazine essays, narrative nonfiction, and investigative reporting. Students will engage in reporting and writing exercises, which may be discussed in group workshops.

    490.800 - Independent Study in Writing

    An independent study is a special project that an advanced student proposes to complete within a single semester, for either elective or workshop credit. Most independent studies in the Writing Program involve a student working one-on-one with a faculty member. The project must involve writing or writing-related work equivalent to a full-semester, graduate-level course, and the project must not duplicate any course or other part of the program’s curriculum. Students usually are not eligible to propose independent studies until they have completed at least five courses, including at least one workshop. The tuition for an independent study is the regular, single-course rate for the term in question. Proposals for an independent study must be submitted in writing to the program’s independent study coordinator no later than 60 days before the start of the target semester. Proposals are evaluated competitively after that date, and only a small number of proposals will be approved.

    490.805 - Writing Internship

    "Advanced students in the Writing Program may propose an internship to receive on-the-job experience in writing or a writing-related profession. An approved internship receives one full course credit toward the MA in Writing degree. Students may propose to participate in existing internship programs, or they may arrange an individual internship. In most cases, students should have completed four or more courses toward their degree before seeking an internship, and proposals must be submitted in writing to the program’s internship coordinator at least 60 days before the start of the target term. Proposals are evaluated on a competitive basis. Only a limited number will be approved, and priority will be given to students who have completed the most degree-level courses and who submit proposals that demonstrate the best internship experience. Internships may be paid or unpaid. Because students receive course credit for internships, they pay tuition levels equal to one graduate course. "

  • Residency Courses

    490.691 - Science Policy, Funding, and Politics

    This Residency course, intended to be onsite in Washington, D.C., explores how science, medicine, and technology can be affected by politics and practices within government, the private sector, and within the fields themselves. Students use the evolution of science policy as context for discussion, research, and writing about contemporary issues. Students will meet with leaders from Capitol Hill, the White House, and federal agencies.

    490.708 - Medicine in Action

    This special Residency course based at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore allows writing students, program alumni, and others to experience the front lines of medicine. Participants spend time observing doctors and nurses in action and may be assigned to follow a practitioner during a full work shift at the hospital. The course also includes meetings with doctors, nurses, and patients, plus a final writing project. Previous sections of this course included meetings with winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize.

    490.709 - Science in Action

    This residency course takes students to the front lines of science, labs, and current research, with a focus on developing writing ideas, reporting skills, and the craft of explanatory writing. Science in Action focuses on fields beyond medicine and health, including space, environment, energy, climate change, and other topics. The course involves field trips and lab visits, plus video and other links with visiting or out-of-town scientists. This Residency course may be held in Washington and Baltimore or in other locations, as announced.

    490.710 - In the Field: Science Writing in the Woods,Coasts, & Labs of Mt. Desert Is., ME

    Mount Desert Island, Maine, home to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, is a place of exquisite natural beauty. With thriving environmental science centers and a world-class genetics laboratory, the island is also a hub of cutting-edge research. This Hopkins Conference on Craft science-medical writing course allows participants to immerse themselves in the region's stimulating natural and intellectual environments while honing their reporting skills, refining their writing artistry, and gathering information for stories. Extensive field excursions will be announced. This condensed course provides residency credit for students enrolled in the online / low-residency Science-Medical Writing concentration.