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AAAS Trains Student Scientists in the Art of Science Communication

December 21, 2011
Rahman A. Culver, project director, American Association for the Advancement of Science

From grant writing to interaction with their community, today's young scientists must also be able science communicators. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship seeks to increase communication skills in student scientists. The lessons they learn through the fellowship experience will benefit their career path and help them increase public understanding of science and technology. “As a writer, I came to appreciate the human side of science. I discovered that the people and personal histories that drive science are also an important part of the story. People and local interest help provide the context for readers to interpret a science news event,” said 2011 Fellow Helen Shen, who completed her fellowship at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

For more than 30 years the fellowship has trained student scientists who have gone on to contribute to the larger scientific discussion including, Eric Lander, founding director of The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT; Edward J. Weiler, former associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, NASA; and Kenneth Chang and Erica Goode of the New York Times.

The fellowship places senior undergraduate and graduate science, engineering and mathematics students at media sites nationwide to work as science reporters for 10 weeks. By exposing reporters and editors to the expertise of student scientists, while also training those same students in the nuances of journalism, the program can improve the quality of information that is disseminated. As 2010 Fellow Benjamin Pittman-Poletta noted, “My time at The Oregonian gave me a well-rounded introduction to science journalism, with a focus on feature stories with strong local angles and connections to larger issues. I learned how important it is to state a clear point of view when writing about complicated topics, and how gratifying it is when the points you make hit home for your readers.”

AAAS selects 10-15 Fellows each summer. There is a $4,500 stipend plus travel expenses. Applicants must be enrolled as college or university students (at least in their senior year of undergraduate study) — or have completed a degree — in the natural, physical, health, engineering, computer, or social sciences or mathematics in order to apply. Graduate and doctoral students are welcome to apply, but must be currently enrolled or apply for the summer fellowship within one year after graduation or defense of their thesis. Students enrolled in English, journalism, science journalism, or other non-technical fields are not eligible for this fellowship. The deadline to apply for the 2012 program is January 15, 2012. Learn more and download an application at:

Rahman A. Culver, a project director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, serves as the manager for the Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship Program. He earned his master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University. He can be reached at