From the MiSciWriters Editorial Board
“MiSciWriters is a student organization dedicated to training in science writing, with the ultimate goal of improving public understanding of science. We believe that communicating science effectively to lay audiences is an essential and much-neglected component of scientific training.” Over the past five years, our mission statement and overall goals haven’t changed much, but our organization has grown significantly and has become an important foundation for so many during their graduate and postdoctoral experience at University of Michigan.
Five years ago, our co-founders, the now Drs. Ada Hagan and Bryan Moyers, along with a team of PIBS students, recognized a gap in training during graduate school: how to communicate research effectively. Even now, we still recognize that it’s difficult to distill dissertations into something tangible that someone outside your lab understands, challenging to recognize the jargon in your field and translate it, and demanding to imagine where your audience is coming from to frame your research into a shared context. However, five years ago there wasn’t the same breadth and depth of resources and organizations geared towards training students in science communication. Where UMich now has many science communication and outreach programs at the graduate level, back then, the only other science communication group was RELATE, which focuses more on oral communication. As such, the small team of graduate students came together with the vision of “improving the written communication abilities of scientists, improving public understanding of science, and advocating for science communication as a field,” and created Michigan Science Writers.
Since our first blog post by Ada about how and why scientists should be science communicators, MiSciWriters has only continued to grow and has become a valuable scicomm resource to the UMich community. We have trained hundreds of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in writing and editing science articles for the general public with over 100 posts on our blog (Fig. 1). Over the years, we have fine tuned our editorial process so it benefits both writers and editors, and we have all learned so much from each other about best practices and pitfalls in how to write and edit. In addition, we like to share our expertise with the community by hosting writing and editing workshops, led by our faculty advisor, Dr. Scott Barolo, or alumni Dr. Jimmy Brancho. We’ve also begun to invite speakers to share their scicomm knowledge, like Dr. Paige Jarreau of LifeOmics to discuss ‘Personal Branding and Scientific Impact in the Social Media Age,’ and Jill Jividen to share information about ‘Research Writing to Reach Non-Specialists.’ Our hands-on editorial process, events, and networking opportunities have helped many students gain the confidence in their writing to go on to careers in science communication and outreach, and we are so proud to be affiliated with such an amazing group of writers and communicators. In the future, we will be starting to connect our growing alumni network of post-graduates to our current members to further bolster our community and advocate for science communication careers.
Figure 1: MiSciWriter’s science writing network increases each year
Top) Cumulative graduate students and postdoctoral fellows trained by MiSciWriters over the past five years, unique writers shown in blue and editors in yellow. Bottom) MiSciWriters growing alumni network as members graduate and move on from UMich to their careers. Join or follow us on LinkedIn!
In addition to hosting MiSciWriter events, we have also collaborated with a number of other organizations and departments on campus. Because our organization is affiliated with the PIBS program, there are so many rich connections that we are able to make with like-minded graduate students who value diverse outreach and communication with our local communities. As such, we have worked with MI DNA Day to help promote their yearly outreach event bringing science and scientists into local high schools around Michigan. We’ve also helped highlight education outreach by Girls Who Code. MiSciWriters also helped initiate the inaugural Communicating Science Conference (ComSciCon) Michigan workshop, held annually since 2018. ComSciCon-MI is a workshop designed to train and empower graduate students to communicate their research effectively to broad audiences. This unique professional development experience provides opportunities for participants to meet science communication experts from around lower Michigan and interact with other STEM graduate students passionate about science communication. Because participants produce an original piece of non-technical writing through a write-a-thon, it is an honor for MiSciWriters to play such a big part in getting this conference started and to continue to be a part of the ComSciCon workshops the past three years promoting science writing throughout our state.
Even beyond the UMich campus, MiSciWriters has an incredible readership all around the world. Averaging close to 15,000 views a year (Fig. 2), many readers value and appreciate our blog and continue to come back for more. So much of our international readership, we imagine, is due to an initiative of one of our members, Zena Lapp, to start translating our posts into Spanish. Though we started translating through the Language Bank, we now have a dedicated team of translators and editors that ensure each piece is translated correctly. With our most read piece being one in Spanish, it really goes to show the importance of making science, and science writing, accessible to more people.
Figure 2: MiSciWriter articles are well read around the world
Top left) Views and visitors per year to MiSciWriters dot com. Averaging close to 15,000 views per year, we have had over 89,000 views to our blog. Note that 2020 includes statistics only up until September. Top right) Important articles: first article by our founder Ada Hagan, most read article by Jimmy Brancho and translated by Jean Carlos Rodriguez-Díaz, and most read English article by Haley Amemiya. Bottom) MiSciWriter readership from around the world during the past five years reaches over 50,000 unique viewers, more views corresponding to darker blue. Listed are the top ten countries with the most views to our blog.
In addition to our Spanish outreach, we have started incorporating science illustrations to pieces and have a growing team of artists to add unique graphics to the written articles. Oftentimes, authors themselves will create infographics that correspond to their article, but increasingly graduate student artists are assigned to pieces and work closely with the author to aesthetically capture the voice and take-aways of the piece (Fig. 3). Incorporating more art and design into our pieces inspired us to start a science, technology, engineering, art, and medicine (STEAM)-based magazine, EquilibriUM. The goal of this project is to integrate MiSciWriters’ expertise in science writing and share that with other fields of research while incorporating the interdisciplinary nature of research itself with culture and society, all while celebrating our fifth year anniversary. Our aim and mission is to bring beautiful, fun, and thoughtful science that might get swept up in our fast paced culture, and distribute it within and external to the University of Michigan. We think having a handheld magazine, despite a global pandemic, will bring science to the reader to leave a more lasting and tangible impression. The seven feature articles and illustrations are entirely written and edited by graduate students and weave nuanced perspectives with cutting edge research, and we are excited to share this project with you later this year.
Figure 3: Graphic design and science illustrations
Top left) Infographic about the drug design process by Jessica McAnulty, Top right) Science illustration showing the challenges behind male contraceptives by Catherine Redmond, Bottom left) Science illustration of a Hot Jupiter planet by Sierra Nishizaki, and Bottom right) Logo of a print STEAM magazine, EquilibriUM, coming later in 2020.
Over the past five years, we’ve had the honor and privilege to work with so many talented writers from all over the UMich campus and be led by such amazing and diverse leadership. We look forward to serving our community with our ongoing hands-on training in writing and editing. Lastly, we wouldn’t be here without our inspiring and creative authors and illustrators, our hard-working and talented editors, our dedicated and fearless leadership team, our faculty advisor Scott, our financial support from Rackham, or you, our beloved reader and audience. So thank you all so much, and we look forward to many more years of MiSciWriters.
Note from the Editor-in-chief:
I’ve been involved with MiSciWriters since my third week of graduate school, and it’s been amazing to watch it grow over the four years of my involvement with the group. My second year, I became social media coordinator and was introduced to the world of #scicomm. Since then, I’m not only a Twitter addict, but I’ve met so many more scicommers and been able to engage with researchers in a fun and professional way. Maybe it’s the millennial in me, but the e-connections and opportunities via tweet threads and DMs that MiSciWriters helped me make are invaluable to my life and my career as a science writer.
The past two-ish years, I have been the editor-in-chief. In this role, I found myself continuously inspired by the ideas that writers have for their article or the research that they want to share with the world. The process of a piece sculpted from draft to final is art in and of itself, and it’s been such a privilege to witness via editorial calendars and long chains of email threads. It’s also been so mind boggling to go beyond our blog and create the magazine project with fellow writers and artists alike to bring creative and balanced writing to campus and online later this year. As I switch gears from writing articles to writing my dissertation, it’s bittersweet to be stepping down from MiSciWriter leadership as I get ready to graduate, but I am eager to see what will come next.
I cannot begin to express how important MiSciWriters has been to me during my graduate school experience. Honestly, sometimes it was the only reason why I didn’t quit early. The culture and support from the local science communication community has bolstered my confidence in long-form creative non-fiction writing, project management, and even public speaking (something I never thought I’d ever say). From the bottom of my heart, I am so thankful to Ada and Bryan for starting this organization and for all the leaders who came before me, especially the previous EICs, Irene Park, Whit Froehlich, and Kristina Lenn, that stewarded our writing group to be well known and beloved across campus. There are far too many people to list that have made MiSciWriters amazing and my experience with this organization so worthwhile. If you’re a graduate student at UMich and you haven’t started working with MiSciWriters, I earnestly implore you to reach out. And, again, thank you all (writers, editors, illustrators, readers, and admin) so much.
~Sarah Kearns, 2019-2020 EIC