MA in Science Writing Degree Details and Courses
This 36-credit Master of Arts degree is composed of 3 Required Core Courses, 3 Customizable Core Courses, and 3 Elective Courses. Within the Required Core Courses is the culminating experience of the “Thesis and Careers in Science Writing” course.
Core Courses - Required
Complete all 3 courses.
Core Courses - Customizable - Workshops
Choose 2 of these courses:
Core Course - Customizable - Residency
Choose 1 of these courses:
This residency course is a fast-moving journey into the world of public health. Over 7 to 10 days, students will come face-to-face with public health practitioners and researchers working on the world’s most pressing health issues, as well as with journalists who cover the critical work they do. Topics will include everything from how to explain confusing concepts such as prevalence vs. incidence and the uncertainty of disease modeling, to how to avoid sensationalizing or downplaying a public health issue, and tell accurate and complete stories that present diverse perspectives. This course will examine a specific timely public health issue as a case study for learning how to report and write about public health.
In presentations and meetings, public health researchers, practitioners, and advocates will discuss their work; and the instructor and guest journalists will describe the challenges of explaining public health and the tools and techniques they have used in writing articles, essays, or books in this field. Students will develop their own story ideas on public health, receive coaching on publishing their writing, and may have the opportunity to contribute writing to a class-produced news website or other group project. Most of the course’s work will take place during a residency or virtual residency, an intensive week to 10 days of real-time activities (delivered through Zoom, Blackboard, or in person when feasible). Some additional coursework will occur through an online learning platform before and after the residency period, and students will complete extensive readings.
With its snow-capped mountains, icy trout-filled streams, glaciers, bison, and grizzly bears, Montana is a land of rugged natural beauty. It is also home to a unique set of environmental concerns. Those glaciers are melting. Invasive species threaten native habitats. The range and population of the grizzly are hotly debated. Climate change appears to be increasing the size and intensity of wildfires.
Students in this residency course will meet with scientists -- wildlife biologists, ecologists, and wildfire management experts -- who use Montana’s lakes, mountains, forests, and animals as their laboratories to explore such issues. The class will take field trips to sites of active research, with possible excursions to a world-class ecology research station on a 30-mile-long lake; a fire science lab where scientists model fire behavior and develop tools for wildfire management; and the Clark and Blackfoot Rivers, site of a Superfund success story and the inspiration for Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.
During the onsite portion of the course, students will practice reporting skills and gather story ideas, engage in craft discussions and creative writing exercises, and be invited to take part in an open mic. Discussions will explore how writers can explain complex, nuanced environmental issues to broad groups of readers, and how writers can evoke the region’s lyricism in their prose. For inspiration, the class will study works by the many literary greats (Maclean, David Quammen, Rick Bass) who have used Big Sky country as their muse.
The class will be based at the University of Montana in Missoula, noted for its beautiful campus and as the nation’s premier institution for the study of wildlife biology.
You will choose 3 electives from the courses below. You may also choose to pull from the Customizable Core Courses above that you have not yet taken.
Students taking this course will compare a range of material representing contemporary climate change communication from books and magazine/newspaper articles to literary journal essays to gain an understanding of how science writers engage, inform and inspire the public. Students will also evaluate social science research that attempts to explain and overcome the challenge of engaging a public that can be in denial, disengaged, disheartened and frustrated. Students will practice effective journalistic methods for gathering information and will experiment with pitching ideas and translating those ideas into articles. They will demonstrate their own strategies for assuring accuracy and for gauging the credibility of their sources.
The course includes a lot of assigned reading as well as writing and writing-prep exercises, and extensive class discussion on Blackboard. This is not a course on the history of climate science, and nor is it a comprehensive survey of the field of climate science. The overall purpose of this course is to produce writers who can generate exceptional articles and essays about climate change. Course activities will help students publish their writing about climate in newspapers, magazines, podcasts, broadcasts, and other venues for the lay public.