Failure is a big part of success…. If you’re not failing all the time, you’re not creating a situation
where you can get super lucky.… You have to go into (a story) knowing that you’ve got to get rid of a lot of crap before you’re going to get to anything that’s special. And you don’t want to be making mediocre stuff.

—Ira Glass, This American Life (PRI)

Science is one of the most powerful forces of change in the world. This applied course covers the fundamental elements of producing news reports about science events and issues. We’ll examine the principles of journalism, the scientific process and the differences between science journalism and science communication. Guest speakers—prominent science journalists and scientists—will explore key issues involved in communicating with the public about science. Readings, case studies and discussions will examine issues of balance, scientific uncertainty, accuracy and ethical codes for science journalists.


  • Communicate science clearly and succinctly to the public without dumbing it down.
  • Gather, evaluate and organize information in ways that will produce accurate, comprehensive science stories for newspapers, magazines and/or online publications.

This course is geared toward publishing science articles in newspapers, magazines and/or online publications. We’ll focus on writing and a little on photography and infographics. I am, however, open to the production of short documentaries, photo essays, audio slideshows and other Web projects.  If you want to produce a Web project, you must already have the photo, audio, video and software skills.

Science journalism calls for skills that can take years to hone and polish. This course is a first step in that process. At the end of the semester, you should be able to do the following:

  • Understand the ethical responsibilities of the science journalist.
  • Recognize excellence in science journalism.
  • Analyze how news articles differ from feature stories.
  • Explore different models and techniques for finding, framing, focusing and structuring science stories.
  • Hone research, interviewing and observation skills.
  • Carry a story from concept to publication. Conceive, research, report, write and revise several types of science stories on deadline for newspapers, magazines and/or online publications.
  • Apply literary techniques to factual feature stories.
  • Shoot, edit and tone publishable photographs to illustrate science stories.
  • Conceptualize, collect data for and create a simple infographic to accompany a science story.
  • Constructively critique the strengths and weaknesses of your own work and your classmates’ work.
  • Identify markets for science journalism and learn how stories are sold. Write an effective query letter.
  • Publish as many stories as possible!

Over the course of the semester you’ll write four stories for publication:

  • A science discovery story based on new/continuing research that illustrates your ability to find current research and translate a journal article into clear, concise English that helps readers understand cutting-edge science.
  • A Q&A with a scientist or a profile that illustrates your in-depth interviewing skills.
  • An exploratory feature and photos that illustrate your ability to explain a scientific subject using solid reporting, active verbs, strong quotes, on-the-spot description, color and sensory details.
  • A depth story, photos, a sidebar and an infographic that illustrate your ability to plan, research, report and write a profile, extended narrative, trend article or issue story.


More than anything, I want you to enjoy this class, to learn and to be inspired. If you have a question or concern, please let me know. This course is designed to be a rich learning experience, and I value your input.

Ask lots of questions. If you’re having trouble grasping something, don’t be discouraged. You’re synthesizing a lot of new information and evaluating problems in a type of writing you probably learned to do only recently. When you hit a rocky spot, let me know. If you have problems understanding the material, I’ll help you resolve them. I can’t help, however, unless you tell me. If you’d like to discuss your progress but have other commitments during my office hours, please email me or call to arrange an appointment to meet at another time.

Please feel free to email me about anything at any time. I check my email all too frequently and will get back to you ASAP. I want you to be successful in this class. I will do my best to help you succeed.

In 2002 I migrated west from Washington, D.C., after a long career at National Geographic. Over the years I edited and rewrote many science articles and book chapters on subjects ranging from geology and natural history to anthropology and archaeology. I was a senior text editor for National Geographic magazine, a senior producer for, a senior articles editor for National Geographic Traveler and an editor-writer in the National Geographic book division, where I wrote chapters for five books. I was also the assistant editor of two books and the editor of three—The Adventure of Archaeology, Our World’s Heritage and Discover America. I have a B.A. in American Studies from Smith College and an M.A. in Anthropology from George Washington University.

For eight years—from 2002 until 2010—I commuted between Tucson and Tempe/Phoenix, where I taught at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. My courses ranged from editing and advanced editing to magazine writing and advanced online media.

Now I’m happy to be living at home full-time with my husband, who’s a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an assistant professor at the University of Arizona. Our front yard is home to desert tortoises and box turtles, and part of our garage is full of snakes and Gila monsters (in cages). We also have two rambunctious Siamese cats.

The great teachers I’ve known have had three things in common: deep knowledge of a subject, passion for that subject and an intense desire to communicate that knowledge and passion to others. My goal is to emulate those masters. I encourage you to think in terms of possibilities, both in school and on the job. Believe that you can do what you want to do.