2024 Graduate Student Science Writing Workshop

Carl Zimmer
Event time: 
Monday, January 22, 2024 - 2:30pm
Monday, January 29, 2024 - 2:30pm
BASS 305, Science Hill See map
Event description: 

January 22, 2024
January 29, 2024

Location: BASS 305 (Science Hill, 266 Whitney Ave)

Instructor: Carl Zimmer
Email: carl@carlzimmer.com
Website: carlzimmer.com

Workshop registration: Registration opens November 13, 2023 to all graduate students and postdocs. To register, please complete the registration form.  If you need any assistance with the form, please email EEB Registrar kelly.pyers@yale.edu.

Workshop objectives: This workshop will introduce science graduate students to writing about science for a broad, non-scientist audience.

About the instructor: Carl Zimmer is professor adjunct, Yale MBB, a columnist for The New York Times, and the author of 14 books about science.

Course schedule:

First meeting: Monday, January 22, 2024, 2:30-4:30 pm

This session will begin with a discussion about science writing, considering techniques required for good science writing. We will use the assigned reading below as the basis for the discussion.

I will describe in some detail how I produced one of my own articles, starting with the paper on which it was based.

Finally, we will discuss the course assignment (details below).

(Note: Articles from The Atlantic can be accessed though Yale Library’s inistitutional subscription. Instructions here.)


Ian Bogost. “Scholars Shouldn’t Fear Dumbing Down.” The Atlantic, October 26, 2018 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/10/scholars-shouldnt-fe… (link is external)(link is external)

I highly recommend these two books:

Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. (Amazon page http://www.amazon.com/The-Sense-Style-Thlnklng-Persons/dp/0670025852 (link is external)(link is external)

Siri Carpenter, editor. The Craft of Science Writing https://www.theopennotebook.com/the-craft-of-science-writing/ (link is external)(link is external)

examples of science writing:

Natalie Wolchover, “Quantum Mischief Rewrites the Laws of Cause and Effect.” Quanta, https://www.quantamagazine.org/quantum-mischief-rewrites-the-laws-of-cause-and-effect-20210311/(link is external)

Ed Yong, “Why the Coronavirus Has Been So Successful,” The Atlantic https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/03/biography-new-corona… (link is external)(link is external)

from paper to article:

The paper:

Zhang, B., Lee, D.E., Trapp, A., Tyshkovskiy, A., Lu, A.T., Bareja, A., Kerepesi, C., McKay, L.K., Shindyapina, A.V., Dmitriev, S.E. and Baht, G.S., 2023. Multi-omic rejuvenation and life span extension on exposure to youthful circulation. Nature Aging, pp.1-17. https://www.nature.com/articles/s43587-023-00451-9(link is external)

The article:

“Blood of Young Mice Extends Life in the Old.” New York Times. July 27, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/27/health/mice-blood-aging.html(link is external)

Questions to consider: What in the paper is in the article? What is missing? How does the article go beyond the paper? How does the article portray the way science is done? What key concepts are required to understand the research? How does the article engage with the huge popular interest in immortality?


Pick a new scientific paper in an area of your choosing. Write a 600-word explanation of the research.

You are free to choose the style in which you write your assignment. It may be an opinion piece, a piece of straight news reporting as you’d see in a newspaper, or a more creative piece you might find in a magazine.

However, you approach it, you must explain why the scientists did the research, how they did it, and what they learned from it-and in such a way that a lay reader can understand it (and even enjoy it).

The first step towards good writing is good language. So, avoid all jargon, no matter how tempting. See here for an index of words I’ve banned from previous classes: https://irregardless.ly/style_guides/13?name=popular&collection_id=13 (link is external)(link is external)

To research your piece, read the paper, look for any commentaries in the journals, and find background reading for context. If necessary, try to find a grad student at Yale or elsewhere who can take you through the research.

Be sure to include the citation of the paper on your assignment.

Since the assignment is due three days after the first workshop, I’d recommend starting on it before we meet. It may look like a quick task, but many grad students who have taken my workshop have told me it took a lot longer than they expected!

Assignments are due by Thursday, January 25, 2024 at 5 pm. Email them to me at carl@carlzimmer.com

Please note that I will only be able to evaluate pieces by the first 20 students who registered for the workshop. However, all registrants are welcome to attend both sessions, complete the assignment, and participate in the discussions about the assignment in the second meeting.

Second Meeting: Monday, January 29, 2024, 2:30-4:30 pm.

We will begin this session discussing the writing assignment. Most likely, you will have encountered unexpected challenges, which you are encouraged to describe.

After discussing the writing assignment, we will survey the many opportunities for communicating science, such as magazines and podcasts. We should have additional time for any topics that students wish to discuss further.

Free but register in advance