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2May 2013

Hopkins closes graduate science-writing program.

Ann Finkbeiner

Johns Hopkins has closed its graduate science-writing program, alerting alumni in an e-mail that there will be no class next year. The program's director, Ann Finkbeiner, has resigned from the university.

The program has long been recognized as one of the top science-writing graduate programs in the country, along with others at NYU, Boston University, UC Santa Cruz, Columbia, and MIT. Finkbeiner told me in an email that she began teaching there about 1988 and became the program's director around 2000, although she was never a full-time Hopkins employee. 

Finkbeiner told Michael Price at Science Careers that the university closed the program because it wasn't getting enough applicants. Katherine Newman, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, told Price that was correct. Price, a graduate of the program, reports that the program's graduates now work at Scientific AmericanScience NewsTimeUSA TodayNPRRadiolabScience, Nature, Smithsonian, and New Scientistand elsewhere. (Disclosure: My wife, Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn, is a graduate of the Hopkins program.)

Must we once again make the point that science, medicine, information technology, nanoscience, genetics, and healthcare are having huge effects on our lives, our government, our society, and our future? Does it not therefore seem foolish to drop a program to prepare reporters and writers to cover those things?

Finkbeiner said the program "has always been something of an anomaly:  a science writing program in a creative writing department, and a creative writing department in a research university.  I personally think it's a small miracle we lasted this long."

Newman said that, in lieu of the graduate program, the university planned to expand science-writing courses for Hopkins undergraduates, and that it would offer a master's degree to undergraduate students who stuck around for an extra year of study. The program would allow concentrations in brain science, environmental science, or public health.

That gives Newman some cover for dropping the graduate program. Whether it happens--and whether the undergraduate program can match the distinguished record of Finkbeiner's program--remains to be seen. Finkbeiner said she chose to resign rather than oversee this transition. She said she assumed she would still be part-time and would still be raising money for adjunct teachers, which she didn't want to do. Also, she said, "teaching undergrads in class for writing credits and teaching grads who will be science writers in 9 months are very different things, and I prefer the latter."

The dean "might hire someone to set up an undergrad science writing program," Finkbeiner said. But added, "I wouldn't put money on that."

-Paul Raeburn


This is indeed a sad development. Not mentioned in the Science Careers article is the fact that Johns Hopkins has a second graduate science writing program that is not closing. The Johns Hopkins Master of Arts in Writing Program offers an online/low-residency concentration in science and medical writing. Students complete nine courses to earn a degree. All may be taken online, with the exception of a short onsite residency course designed to immerse students in a research or medical environment. Last summer's residency was held in Bar Harbor, Maine. This year's residency, a course called Medicine in Action, will take place at Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

Those seeking further information may email me, the program's science writing advisor, at

The program's website is

I took a quick look at that. Hopkins charges about $2,500 a class, I think; not sure how many were needed for the master's degree. But you're right; for some students, starting a blog and learning by steps and missteps might be a better--or the only--choice.

Or going to Santa Fe, of course. (Disclosure--I'll be teaching at the Santa Fe workshop next week.)

I am so sorry to hear this. I spoke to Ann's class once and was really impressed with the quality of the students and the projects they were working on. All of these programs have gotten so expensive though. One of the students at our Santa Fe workshop was recently considering Santa Cruz, Hopkins, NYU, etc. and I was stunned at the tuition costs.

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