By: Holly Rushakoff
With a significant need for professionals to communicate science, discoveries, and innovations to the general public, a flexible hybrid/online program—with a focus on science and technology—will be offered through the journalism master’s degree beginning Fall 2023.
Students can earn the Master of Science in Journalism degree with a focus on science and technology journalism entirely online in as few as two semesters full-time or can tailor a part-time schedule over additional semesters. Students also may opt to take courses that “stack” to a professional credential, and those courses can later be applied to a degree.
The new program is a collaboration between the College of Media and the IGB and was one of 10 projects selected this year to be funded by campus’s Investment for Growth program, to enhance the visibility and impact of the University of Illinois.
“The Department of Journalism is proud to expand our curricula to train current and future journalists how to communicate important scientific and technical information to the general public,” said Mira Sotirovic, head of the Department of Journalism and associate professor and Karin and Folke Dovring Scholar in Propaganda. “We have seen a growing interest in, and a growing need for, science communication and are thrilled to receive Investment for Growth funding to begin meeting the demand.”
The new curricula will also offer a science and technology communication certificate for undergraduates, and the online 400-level courses in this track will expand paths to degree completion for undergraduates.
“Scientific research and innovation are present in our daily lives, in seen and unseen ways,” said Claudia Lutz, outreach manager at the IGB. “As the last few years have reminded us, this is particularly true of the field of genomics, which intersects with almost every aspect of both life sciences and society. We are excited to help give future science journalists an inside look at how science is done and a broader awareness of its impact.”
The timing of this program coincides with needs voiced by the science communication industry for such training, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to report on critical stories of our time including climate change, nuclear and chemical warfare, and health and wellness. For example, Scientific American published “How the Pandemic Remade Science Journalism,” (2022), NiemanLab reported on “Reporting That Hits Home: Covering Science for Local Audiences” (2022), and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences covered “Science Audiences, Misinformation, and Fake News” (2019).
The online master’s program and individual course modules are ideal for journalists and prospective journalists who want to improve and specialize in science writing or to gain a competitive advantage in the field; scientists and their academic colleagues who wish to be more effective in communicating to lay audiences; and communications professionals who work for nonprofits, government agencies, or science- or technology-focused corporations who are interested in boosting their skills and understanding.
Courses will cover writing science stories in plain English; the basics of data journalism, including building databases and analyzing data; visualization in newsrooms; humanizing data through video storytelling and humanizing science communication by harnessing virtual reality; and more. Students will also examine the science of genomics and its applications to environment, health, and technology through course modules. See a sample course sequence for the master’s degree and sample course modules.
As part of the preparation for enrolling students next fall, the Department of Journalism is hiring a new professor in science, technology, data, or digital journalism to supplement the course offerings.
“They will have an important role in the new concentration,” Sotirovic said. “The new faculty member will teach courses in science journalism, as well as some combination of courses in data journalism, social media analytics, and other courses based on their own expertise and interests.”
Additionally, the IGB is hiring a postdoctoral fellow in science communications curriculum coordination. This position will help develop course materials and oversee experiential learning for students in the program.
To learn more about the program and the application details, see media.illinois.edu/master-science-journalism. The deadline to apply is March 3, 2023.
By: Holly Rushakoff
Photos By: Fred Zwicky