It was the middle of July 2020. The world was gripped in the throes of COVID-19. It was a summer unlike any other. With schools across the country closed for the pandemic, countless summer learning opportunities also came to a standstill.. With a dearth of engagement and enrichment opportunities for high schoolers in the summer of 2020, Curious Science Writers Boot Camp rose to the occasion. Undaunted by the challenges, the program forged ahead. Despite the short notice, organizers were quick and nimble to adapt and transform what was once a traditional in-person class, so that it could be taught virtually.
By leveraging technology, Americans for Medical Progress, the nonprofit that runs the program, built a vibrant, diverse, and supportive community for students passionate about mastering the art of science communication.
Although the program was entirely-delivered online, the key elements remained true to the mission and vision of Curious Science Writers. The remote program covered the entire gamut of science writing and publishing. From paired mentorships of each student with an established industry expert in the student’s chosen field of interest, to interviews with Science communication professionals, Biomedical researchers, mentors, and guest speakers from eminent Scientific institutions to illustrators and editors; from training on networking, interviewing content experts, to communicating professionally through emails; from tips on working with editors and graphic designers, to getting the story published on the blog, the boot camp covered the entire spectrum of a scientific publication.
Typically, in the past years, the boot camp week that officially kicks off the year of training and publishing is held during the summer in the Washington DC area. This in-person gathering of students and industry experts provides an opportunity for participants to learn from some of the best and brightest minds. At the same time, students build relationships with like-minded peers and mentors that hopefully last a lifetime. Hailing from various states, time zones, and countries, some as far away as China and India, the cSw Class of 2020 was ready for an intensive week of training to advance their science communication skills. They would spend their week learning the art behind the science of scientific storytelling. They would train with leading science communication professionals on how to make complex biomedical science topics more easily accessible to a larger population. Throughout the week, they would learn the intricacies of how to communicate biomedical research through effective, engaging, and relatable storytelling using a variety of mediums, including writing, graphics, and social media outreach.
The program consisted of pre-program work, the one-week boot camp and post-camp writing and editing. Pre-program work consisted of choosing and researching a topic and pairing with a writing mentor to help guide our research and writing. The start of boot camp was an exciting time! It ran the week of June 13- 17, 2020 from 9am – 4pm with a short break for lunch. Engaging and informative virtual sessions included lectures by industry experts interspersed with breakout sessions, group activities, exercises and homework related to various aspects of story publication. Each day also featured skill-building exercises to practice developing various elements of our stories — from identifying credible sources; to the principles of editing; to analyzing and recognizing good scientific writing.
Hands-on experience to hone our interviewing skills with science communication professionals helped writers figure out how to ask the right questions to elicit interesting information from our content experts. We discussed how the role of social media in facilitating scientific awareness has never been more relevant than throughout this pandemic. Social media communicators provided insights into responsible science communication through social media in bite sizes. From Twitter to Instagram to TikTok, we examined various aspects of social media and how to best engage our audience effectively. Additionally, we received multiple opportunities to expand our network by connecting with the various scientists, science communicators, graphic designers, medical illustrators and editors who were gracious in donating their time to share their knowledge.
Post-program work consisted of utilizing all the skills taught during boot camp to research and write engaging science stories.
“If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.” was the concept that was drilled into us daily during the boot camp. Our individual mentors assisted during the research, interview, writing and editing process to help us learn and grow as writers . The writers then had an opportunity to collaborate with cSw’s graphic designers to brainstorm ideas for the art that would accompany each story. The entire collaborative process, which included the input of student writers, editors, and graphic designers, resulted in credible, engaging science stories that were then disseminated through a variety of traditional and trending media outlets.
cSw is a one-of-a-kind program that offers its students unique opportunities to learn about the many aspects of effective science writing. . This is why many students return the following year. . Some come back as writers because of their continued passion for writing, Others explore editing, graphic design or as social media managers.
After first hearing about the program from her English teacher during freshman year, Shivani Patel, a senior, has served as a writer, editor and now, Chief Editor at cSw. ““I continue coming back to cSw because I believe in it’s mission statement to dissipate science information to the public and the manner in which they fulfill that”, she explained. While Shivani most naturally associates herself with being a writer, she credits cSw for pushing her further. ”From learning how to be an editor with the help of Jim, Paula, and the last Senior editor, Sophie, I was also able to be a better writer. I really like having the opportunity to see the publication process from so many different perspectives.” She credits the program for providing her with the training necessary to be successful in all her roles over the years. “Seeing cSw grow into an international organization over time has been really amazing. I hope to see it grow more and to stay involved.”
Eeshaan Khurana has been a Curious Science Writer for two years and credits the program for his improved writing skills, while giving him an avenue to explore and share his interest in biomedical research with a wide audience through his stories. He chose to write about Llamas and their role in possible COVID-19 treatments because of the confusion he witnessed in the media over the coronavirus He wanted to engage and inform readers about the virus through his writing. He considers the articles written for cSw as accomplishments of an entire team of supportive people, not just the writer. Having attended the camp in-person previously, he considers this year’s virtual program to be very well run and comparable to the in-person program. Reflecting on his experience this year, Eeshaan is of the opinion that, “The guest speakers were very informative and interesting, and most importantly I was able to learn a lot about effective writing while enjoying the experience from my own home.”
This is the first year, Maya Hofstetter, Creative Team Manager, has been involved with cSw. She is excited to develop new skills and apply them to writing articles, interviewing experts and designing art for cSw along with managing a team. She has found a place where she can meet peers with similar passions and work to educate others about important biomedical issues. Reflecting on her time as a Creative team manager, Maya credits cSw with quickly adapting and forging ahead, amid the pandemic. “As far as I’m aware, this is the first year that the position of design manager has existed. This means that a lot of the things that I have been doing have been very new to both me and the program. Nevertheless, I feel that I have learned a lot about managing a team and have been able to help take some of the organizational load off the main editorial team.”
Social Media Team Manager Karishma Goswami’s love for science and writing led her to the program this year. With the rise of social media’s prominence during the pandemic, she is excited about learning new tools while applying her skills to maximize cSw’s science advocacy outreach through various social media platforms. “I love both science and writing and felt this program was the perfect culmination of those two interests. I am also involved in climate advocacy, and science communication is particularly critical in that field as you have to communicate complex scientific topics and legislation to the general public.”
Through leading cSw’s social media and creating cSw branding online, Karishma says, “My experience has prepared me for any role down the road in which leadership, communication, or social media skills can be harnessed.” She encourages people to stay engaged and connected by following cSw on various social media platforms as they are updated with new, engaging projects and content regularly. She is excited to continue her work with cSw in 2022.
Although the cSw Class of 2020 did not get to experience in-person activities, like last year’s tour of the National Institutes of Health, the remote experience was considered a resounding success. The passion and enthusiasm of the researchers that came across throughout the virtual sessions, Writing mentors and guest speakers were able to share their passion for powerful storytelling and graphic artists provided all of us with wonderful insights into their world of visual storytelling. Although we missed the chance to be together and socialize in an in-person setting, challenging times call for innovative measures and cSw excelled at providing a thoroughly engaging and educational experience to the Class of 2020!