Last Updated on January 18, 2023
Graduate Certificate Programs in Science Writing and Communication
Graduate certificate programs are academic programs that are designed for bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral program graduates, mid-career professionals, and others who hold a college degree and are interested in pursuing formal graduate studies at an accredited college or university without having to enroll in a full degree program. Science writing graduate certificate programs offer targeted, career-oriented training in the principles and practices of scientific and/or medical writing and editing. These programs consist of a relatively small cluster of graduate courses – three, four, or five courses is common – that can be completed on a part-time basis in roughly one year.
Thus, graduate certificate programs in science writing offer qualified students a relatively convenient, flexible, and cost-effective means of cultivating professional writing proficiencies, completing graduate coursework that may be transferrable to an eventual master’s degree program, and acquiring skills that can lead to advancement in careers in which scientific/technical writing and communication skills are highly valued.
Science Writing Explained
Science writing is a field that encompasses writing professionally about complex issues in scientific and medical research and practice, developments and breakthroughs in technology and engineering fields, and other topics that require a command of scientific methodologies, quantitative data, and research protocols. There are a number of important contexts for science writing, including writing in scientific journals and institutional publications for readers familiar with technical terminology and concepts; writing for magazines, newspapers, and digital platforms that cater to general audiences who do not have technical or scientific backgrounds; and textbook and instruction manual writing for people who may or may not have a technical background.
In addition, writers who have expertise in science, medicine, engineering, and other technical fields play important roles in the mainstream media as commentators, pundits, and subject matter experts, as well as in the production of science documentaries, museum exhibits, and other informational, cultural, and educational resources that bring attention to important issues in science and medicine, such as space exploration, health concerns, medical innovations, environmental threats, natural disasters, and technological advances. Finally, within scientific fields there is a demand for skilled writers and editors who can craft grant proposals, mission statements, press releases, and other professional materials that are crucial to the function and advancement of science and technology enterprises.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Science Writing
Science writing graduate certificate programs are generally designated as such, although there are several common variations in the names of these programs. For example, graduate certificate programs may be formally designated as post-baccalaureate post-bachelor’s, or graduate certificate programs in science writing or science communication. In addition, some graduate certificate programs in technical writing/communication may include coursework in science writing. Most of these programs accept applicants who hold a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, but may require or prefer candidates who have some prior scientific or technical experience. Programs designated as post-master’s or post-graduate certificate programs are designed for students who have already completed a graduate program and typically require at least a master’s degree for admission.
Graduate certificate programs in science writing or science communication are programs that consist of a relatively small cluster of courses that are designed to prepare bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral program graduates for work in the field of science writing through training in the principles and practices of professional editing, non-fiction writing, journalism, and/or digital content creation. These programs are offered by accredited colleges and universities, commonly through divisions and departments of communication, English, journalism, and media studies, often by schools that offer master’s programs in science and/or technical communication and journalism.
Note: For students interested in technical communication, please refer to our Graduate Certificate Programs in Technical Communication page.
Science Writing Graduate Certificate Coursework
As noted above, science writing graduate certificate programs generally consist of a relatively small number of courses that focus exclusively on knowledge and skills designed to help students develop professional science writing proficiencies. Course names, course descriptions, and the specific composition of these programs vary by school. However, a typical science writing graduate certificate curriculum includes required and elective courses in which students learn scientific and/or medical terminology, cultivate journalistic and non-fiction writing strategies for various media, hone their quantitative literacy skills, and practice writing about science for specific audiences. For example, a graduate certificate program in science writing might include the following types of courses:
- Techniques of Science and Medical Writing
- Principles of Editing Technical and Scientific Writing
- Current Issues in Science Writing
- Writing About Science for the Public
- Research Proposals and Grant Writing
- Scholarly and Academic Journal Writing
Depending on the focus of a program and elective coursework offerings, science writing graduate certificate programs may also give students the opportunity to take courses that address specific areas within science writing, such as biotechnology, climate science, environmental science, and/or medical science.
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Science Writing and Communication
Most graduate certificate programs are designed to accommodate a wide range of students, including mid-career professionals who intend to continue working full-time while taking classes. One way that programs accomplish this is by offering all or most of their coursework online. Programs that can be completed without any required campus visits and programs that require three or fewer campus visits per year are classified by GraduateCertificates.com as online programs. Programs that require more campus-based sessions are classified as blended or hybrid programs and may not be practical for students who do not live within commuting range of the school offering the program.
Online graduate certificate programs in science writing may represent a more convenient and flexible alternative to traditional, campus-based programs for students who have difficulties attending campus-based classes for personal or professional reasons. Students in an online program take the same types of courses and cultivate the same general skillset as students in a campus program, but online programs allow students to do so without having to commute to a college or university for in-person classes. Thus, students who cannot or who would prefer not to commute to a physical location, or students who do not live near a college that offers a program in science writing, have the option to earn a graduate certificate through an online program.
Students should note that not all online programs are the same and that differences in instruction methods can impact how students access course materials and lectures. Some programs utilize synchronous instruction, which means that lectures and virtual class sessions are held live at pre-scheduled times, much like campus-based classes. Students typically log onto a class portal where they participate using a web conferencing software. Asynchronous instruction is the other major mode of online learning and it does not have a real-time component. Students access course materials and pre-recorded lectures whenever they have time, as long as they complete assignments and readings by set due dates.
Synchronous online instruction offers less flexibility than asynchronous instruction but provides students with a more structured learning experience. Asynchronous instruction is less rigid than synchronous instruction from a scheduling perspective, but typically requires more discipline and self-motivation as students work more independently on their studies. Students who think they would prefer one type of instruction over the other should look for programs that offer the type of instruction that works best for their learning preferences.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Science Writing and Science Communication
As graduate certificate programs in science writing and communication are not as common as other graduate certificate programs (there are approximately 10 schools that currently offer a program), there are not that many programs offered online. The schools listed below currently offer online graduate certificates in science writing and communication.
Johns Hopkins University offers an online Certificate in Science Writing program through its Advanced Academic Programs division. The program is 100% online, so it does not require students to attend any campus-based sessions, and it is designed for bachelor’s program graduates and graduate students who are interested in cultivating science writing proficiencies. Students in the program are required to complete five courses that are part of an online Master of Arts (MA) in Science Writing program offered by Johns Hopkins. The certificate program curriculum consists of one required core course that covers basic scientific and medical writing skills and techniques, one writing-intensive workshop, and three electives that cover topics in areas like nature writing, climate change, subatomic writing, and editing for science writers. Students may also choose to complete a credited internship in lieu of one elective course. For additional information on the program, visit Johns Hopkins Advanced Academic Programs division at advanced.jhu.edu.
Kansas State University offers a graduate certificate in Technical Writing and Professional Communication through its Department of English. This program features a flexible curriculum wherein students take one core course in technical communication before choosing three electives in various areas of technical communication. Students interested in science writing/communication can take courses in science communication, grant writing, environmental communication, scientific writing, and health communication. This program is available on campus but also has online course options. Therefore, students interested in science writing should speak with a program advisor to determine that their desired electives are offered online before enrolling. Learn more about this program by visiting Kansas State University at www.k-state.edu.
The University of Maryland offers an online Graduate Certificate in Science Communication program through its Graduate School division. The 12-credit program consists of four courses that overlap with an online Master of Science (MS) in Health Sciences program offered by the University of Maryland. These courses cover topics in the principles of science writing, writing for scholarly journals, grant writing, and scientific writing for general audiences. The University of Maryland program is designed for colleges graduates who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. It can be completed in 12 months with no campus visits. For more information on the program, visit the University of Maryland’s Graduate School at graduate.umaryland.edu.
The University of Chicago offers an online Medical Writing and Editing graduate certificate program through Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. This program trains students according to the American Medical Association’s Manual of Style, and uses real medical publications and manuscripts to help students refine their medical communication skills. Students take five core courses and one elective, which cover topics such as medical copyediting, medical communication ethics, visual medical communication such as charts and graphs, interpreting and reporting on biostatistics, regulatory writing, medical research writing, and medical writing freelancing and consulting work. Courses are delivered entirely online and there are no required campus visits, though students can opt to take a few of the classes in-person if desired. This program combines asynchronous, self-paced learning with weekly synchronous sessions. Learn more about this program by visiting The University of Chicago’s Graham School at grahamschool.uchicago.edu.