UC Santa Cruz journalism

Last Updated on January 18, 2023

About the Program

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Outside our home at UCSC’s Kresge College. Credit: Emma Hiolski ’17

“The UCSC Science Communication Program has set a high bar for training standards and the highest level of quality in science journalism.”

—from a 2013 external review of the program

Do you enjoy explaining your work, and science in general, to non-scientist friends more than you like working in the lab?

The women and men who popularize science enjoy a career that satisfies their intellectual restlessness. They report on science trends, discoveries, personalities, and policies, often from the lab or in the field. Science writers choose from myriad career options: online or print journalism; staff writing at university news offices, federal agencies, national labs, museums, and zoos; and multimedia work on the Internet and in radio.

The science writing program at UC Santa Cruz has produced professional science writers since 1981. The program is one academic year long, focusing entirely on practical training through rigorous coursework and diverse internships. It’s the only graduate science writing program in the U.S. that requires a degree in science and experience in research.

Our alumni, more than 350 strong, work as reporters and editors at the nation’s top science magazines, online news services, research agencies, universities, and medical centers. About half of our graduates freelance, mainly to live where they wish and to cover the science that captivates them.

The Science Communication Program has received generous support for scholarships and instruction from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Hearst Foundations, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the David and Dana Loury Foundation, Roche Molecular Diagnostics, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Helen and Will Webster Foundation and numerous private donors.

“The Science Communication Program is widely regarded as one of the best science writing programs in the world; we believe that reputation is well deserved. Its graduates are making strong contributions to the public understanding of science.”

—from a 2006 external review of the program

The Science Communication Program bestows a master’s degree. The program:

  • consists of nine months of coursework and a final summer internship
  • requires part-time professional internships throughout the academic year
  • does not require a thesis
  • offers practical training with professional journalists and editors as instructors
  • emphasizes news, long-form writing, and multimedia skills, with an eye toward substantive reporting on research and policy
  • features small class sizes (10 students) in every course, ensuring extensive feedback from lecturers
  • stresses original writing and editing for the public, rather than theory and critique
  • subjects all projects to rigorous editing at the highest standards, with some peer review by students

Our students practice science writing as a fine art as well as a craft. They emerge from their year in Santa Cruz with dozens of published stories, a broad set of journalistic skills, and distinct voices as writers.


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An intensive academic year of classes in science reporting, writing, editing and multimedia

Each student takes a required six-course sequence (fall-winter-spring) in science journalism. Classes meet two days each week. Enrollment in the individual courses is limited to the ten students accepted into the science writing program, creating a warm, collegial atmosphere for our editing workshops.

The sequence introduces students to news, features, investigative reporting, and multimedia. We believe this mixture of traditional and forward-looking courses prepares our students to compete for jobs in an ever-changing journalism industry. Here is our lineup for 2020-21:

Fall quarter: Reporting science news; writing and editing workshop. These courses introduce our former scientists to the foundations of journalism for newspapers, online news sites, and the front sections of magazines, as well as the fundamentals of visual and multimedia journalism. Students cover events, propose and report story ideas, conduct interviews, master AP style, and write in the styles of different science magazines and websites. Editing focuses on overall content, structure, tone, and technical level. Many articles appear in regional and national publications, such as the San Jose Mercury NewsMongabayEos, and Science. Visual journalism and multimedia instruction includes photography, social media and video fundamentals.

Lecturers: Erika Check Hayden, Robert Irion, Lisa Krieger, Lisa Strong.

Winter quarter: Science feature writing; Multimedia reporting and storytelling. Students deepen their journalistic training by conceiving of a novel magazine feature, proposing it in a query letter, and doing original research and field interviews. Features appear in our annual magazine, Science Notes. In our multimedia classes, students go into the field or labs to record the sights and sounds of science in action, augmenting their Science Notes publications with still photography, podcasts, slideshows, and videos. They learn the fundamentals of data journalism and using data to construct data visualizations. Attending the AAAS meeting is part of the winter curriculum; students interview scientists there and participate in the annual NASW internship fair.

Lecturers: Erika Check Hayden, Peter Aldhous, Christopher Schodt.

Spring quarter: Multimedia reporting and storytelling; investigative and policy reporting; profiles. In the third quarter of multimedia instruction, students develop a podcast linked to their Science Notes feature. In the concurrent classes, students and explore creative and distinctive forms of science writing through profiles of researchers. Style comes to the fore as the students develop their voices as writers. The investigative stories require students to go beyond research news and explore issues of public policy, political influence, societal ethics, and funding. The writers file public records requests and track down sources using database-driven reporting. Our students have published many of the resulting stories in regional and national publications. 

Lecturers: Peter Aldhous, Martha Mendoza, Erika Check Hayden, Evelyn Strauss.

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