Writing on the Wall: More Writing Classes Needed for Science Majors | Last | NDWorks

Deanna Ferrell, Senior Deputy Director of Marketing Communications for the College of Science (CoS), is what you would call a team player.
When the college identified a need for more writing courses for CoS majors, Ferrell asked if she could help.

After all, Ferrell had relevant teaching experience at Notre Dame. She has developed and taught a one-credit course entitled Principles of Science Communications for the
Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at the College of Arts and Letters. The class was created to teach students how to present easy-to-understand stories about science topics.
“It’s being able to write without jargon, being able to write concisely, and being able to write descriptively,” Ferrell said.

The Associate Dean asked him to develop a curriculum for a 3-credit version of the course for CoS and present it to the Deans and Directors of Undergraduate Studies, who unanimously supported Ferrell’s proposal. It then went through the Core Curriculum Committee for approval and was added to the course list.

Ferrell has organized the broader course into three distinct units that introduce scientific writing skills in journalism, marketing communications and instructional writing. For each unit, Ferrell has invited a guest speaker who is an expert in the field to speak to the students. In general, she describes the course as a “capstone class” because there are many deeper and specific niches in the world of science writing to explore further.

The course is offered to science and journalism students.


“If you are a science student, you are able to decipher all this science a little better and understand it more. So science students have that to their advantage where they can describe some of the stuff there. The downside of having a scientific background is that they tend to rely on more jargon and get bogged down in details.
“If you’re a journalism student, you might have a better idea of ​​the structure of how things should be written. You’re less likely to get bogged down in a lot of detail that, to the lay reader, wouldn’t be meaningful.

“Both sides have advantages and disadvantages, and it is worth helping students on both sides.”

Ferrell wasn’t always a science writer. She studied journalism at Indiana University in Bloomington. After graduating in 1993 and having two daughters, she gained experience in various fields of writing. Most notably, she worked as a newspaper reporter and then spent many years working as a freelance editor, which allowed her to work and take care of her children. She loved crafts — she even studied art during undergrad — and started a blog that led her to write a book about making hair accessories.

Then, at the age of 45, Ferrell decided to go back to school for another degree, choosing to attend Johns Hopkins University to pursue a master’s degree in science writing. When asked what sparked her interest in the field, Ferrell said: “I’ve always been interested in science, and I think one of the main reasons I didn’t get into it originally pitched is that math wasn’t my strongest subject in school, and I could do it, but I wasn’t as fast as I was with writing. I like to learn a lot of things, and it seems like science writing bridges the gap between the interests of writing and science. Once I realized there was a career out there, I realized that was what I wanted to do.

One of the biggest things Ferrell wants his students to take away from the course is, in general, to become better writers, beyond writing research papers and journal articles.

“There has been almost no time in history that is more important for explaining science than it is now,” Ferrell said. “There is a lot of science denial, as well as misinformation, as we have seen particularly with COVID-19 vaccines. It’s crucial to be able to read studies and speak directly to the public saying, “These are the scientific facts”, without making people feel bad because they don’t understand something.

The media and the way people consume news and information have changed dramatically over the past few decades. At present, not only do people get their information from news channels, but social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok have also become prominent news platforms. However, anyone can create a page or their own website to share information.

“A lot of these different stations are all very segmented. You will have a lot of spinoffs, a lot of programs, websites that are very right. You also have some that are very left-wing. So I really want students to understand that there are sources in the middle and ways to write and communicate in the middle that can educate and help people understand things that are happening in the world without hype or misinformation. I think that was really a big thing for me.

Additionally, there are many careers for students interested in getting into science writing in a myriad of specialties, including but not limited to science journalism, technical writing, marketing communications, copywriting and publishing textbooks. The course is also a fantastic asset for potential medical school applicants. For students interested in improving their skills and learning more about the many opportunities, Ferrell’s course will be offered again in the fall.

If there’s another lesson to be learned from the course, it’s this: take risks when opportunities present themselves. So said
Tammi Freehlingthe college’s senior associate director of marketing communications and Ferrell’s supervisor.
“Deanna heard of a need in college for more intensive writing courses, asked how she could lend her expertise as a science writer to help fill a gap, and now teaches in addition to writing for college . It fulfills a college need while providing Deanna with other opportunities for career satisfaction,” Freehling said.

Accomplished is exactly how Ferrell describes his career.