Science Writing Collaboration Provides Experience to Undergrads, Grads

A collaboration this spring provided the opportunity for undergraduate writing students to conduct interviews of researchers--and for graduate student researchers to be interviewed one-on-one and in a video recording studio. Allison Hutchison, instructor in the English department, Cassandra Hockman, faculty fellow for the Center for Communicating Science, Chris Valluzzo, multi-media director and producer with TLOS (Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies), and CCS student intern Nicole Elbin all played a part.

Undergraduate students enrolled in Science Writing, ENGL 4824, interviewed graduate student researchers who have been involved with the center's work through their participation in the graduate communicating science course or in the Nutshell Games, a 90-second research presentation competition.

The student interview stories are available on our website Research Stories page, and their class final project shows off much of what they learned and provides links to the interview videos.

This collaboration was initiated in the spring of 2016, with the Fralin Life Science Institute and the Department of English working together to provide authentic practice in writing for a public-audience based publication. A second important goal was to give science students authentic practice talking and thinking about their work for public audiences.

Hockman, then a university communications staffer with Fralin, worked with science writing instructor and then English PhD student Leonard Grant to develop the project. ENGL 4824 students, primarily English majors with limited science experience, visited Fralin, met with institute administration, toured labs, and gained training in interviewing, narrative structure, institutional language, stakeholders, and writing from observations. Science students gained experience being interviewed, explaining their work to non-experts, and providing in-person tours of their research either in the field or in their labs. 

In 2018, Hutchison took over the course, Hockman joined the Center for Communicating Science as a faculty fellow and lent her expertise to the project for the third year, Elbin recruited graduate student researchers and provided in-class feedback to students along with Hockman, Valluzzo facilitated a studio recording experience for each writer-researcher pair, and Hockman, Elbin, and CCS associate director Carrie Kroehler  added editing, feedback, and perspectives on science writing to the course content.

This spring's course students included science majors as well as English majors. The interview stories have launched our new Research Stories page, to which we will add in the future.

Hockman will begin work this summer as a PhD student in the English department, and we hope this collaboration benefiting writing students and student researchers will continue!