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 American, Science News, Time, USA Today, NPR, Radiolab, Science, Nature, Smithsonian, and New Scientist, and 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."