PET offers opportunities for people interested in science communication, and in legal and ethical issues arising from scientific developments to gain practical news writing experience under expert supervision, through the BioNews Writing Scheme.
Since its inception in 2008, the course has received excellent feedback from the participants:
- 96% of participants scored the course either very useful in providing science writing experience.
- 98% of participants were more than satisfied that they had learned to write for a non-specialist audience, avoiding scientific jargon.
- 95% of participants were more than satisfied that they could now research stories and check accuracy by referring to press releases, original research papers, policy documents and reports.
Many of participants have continued to write for us long after finishing the course, and keep in touch with us via email and social media. They have become ambassadors for BioNews and valued members of our community.
Each writer has their own profile page on our website with a brief biography and links to all the articles they have written. See, for example, Dr Holly Barker.
'The feedback I received on my writing was detailed, specific, and motivated me to improve. One particular skill I developed was how to decide what is important to include in a news story and what details can be left out – a crucial skill when writing for a non-specialist audience.
I have already tried to apply this skill when writing conference abstracts on my PhD work, and have subsequently had two abstracts accepted for presentation at international conferences. The scheme has developed my interest in science communication, and I now hope to pursue a career that involves this in some way.'
'The intended aims of the course were met entirely. It was a very enjoyable introduction to science news reporting. It helped with understanding how research becomes a news story, in particular the importance of the press release, and the relationship between researchers and journalists. It has made me think differently about science stories I see reported in the press.
All the editors gave constructive feedback in a way that I found helpful in trying to improve my work each week. The pre-reading materials were engaging and interesting and the induction day was both fun and educational.'
At present, the course is only open to two University College London (UCL) graduate students per term or semester.
If you would like your institution or employer to fund places on the Writing Scheme, please contact us and we will explore this possibility with you.
The course lasts for a total of five days, spread over a nine-week period. After the initial induction period, the participant is expected each subsequent week to research and write a draft BioNews article, to be edited by the BioNews team before publication.
By the end of the course, the students will have acquired the following experience/skills:
- Critical reading and evaluation of media coverage of genetics, assisted conception and embryo/stem cell research, as well as related ethical, legal, social and policy issues.
- An understanding of the contrasting values of scientists and journalists, and the pressures faced by both in relation to science news coverage.
- Researching stories and checking accuracy by referring to press releases, original research papers, policy documents and reports.
- Summarising this information and prioritising key points.
- How to write an effective news story.
- Writing for a non-specialist audience, avoiding specialist jargon.
- Proofreading and editing skills.
- Writing copy to a weekly deadline.
We are often asked to provide references for our Writing Scheme participants, and we keep in touch with many of them about the organisations where they go on to work after completing their PhD. The wide range of employers and roles illustrates the transferable skills that the course provides.
Writing Scheme participants have gone on to work at organisations including:
Here are some comments from Writing Scheme participants who decided to work outside the research lab after their PhD.
'The opportunity to write for BioNews as part of PET's Writing Scheme for UCL students gave me a great opportunity to develop my writing skills outside the academic context of my PhD. The scheme gave me an insight to the world of science communication, and also helped me keep informed of scientific advances outside my PhD field.
I am now training to be a patent attorney and feel that the writing skills I developed through the scheme are undoubtedly an asset in my job. As a patent attorney, I need to be able to clearly explain improvements in new technologies in the life sciences sector, and the Writing Scheme helped me develop this skill.
I would recommend the course to any students who are considering a career in science outside of academia.'
'One of the best things about the Writing Scheme is that PET and BioNews are names recognised by potential employers. The scheme definitely helped me secure my first job as a science writer, as at interview they asked me about some of the pieces that I had written. These stories that I had a good writing style, and that I could follow a style guide and work to deadlines. As I had continued as a Volunteer Writer for BioNews throughout my PhD, I also had a large number of articles in different areas showing that I could summarise complex ideas for a lay audience.
The skills that I have learned are still valuable several years into my career, as they have enabled me to quickly pick up new styles of writing, write news stories for lay audiences and know what makes a good press release. I am tremendously grateful to PET for giving me the opportunity to train with them.'
Not eligible for the Writing Scheme?
Even if you are not eligible for the Writing Scheme, there may be other opportunities to write for BioNews by joining our pool of volunteer writers.
To apply, please contact us.