Perspectives Online

Science Communication Fellows help improve science writing

Dr. David Buchwalter and Dr. Heather Patisaul of N.C. State University have been doing a lot of writing lately, about science.

So what’s the big deal? Writing -- or perhaps more precisely, publishing – is part of a scientist’s job. And Buchwalter and Patisaul are both scientists. Buchwalter is an assistant professor of environmental and molecular toxicology, and Patisaul an assistant professor of biology, both in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

But this is different. Buchwalter, a comparative physiologist whose work focuses on aquatic insects, and Patisaul, who studies pre-birth exposure to compounds that interfere with the hormone system and how that exposure may affect brain development, are Science Communication Fellows.

The Science Communication Fellows program is sponsored by Environmental Health Services, publisher of Environmental Health News and The Daily Climate. Buchwalter and Patisaul were among 10 scientists nationwide selected to participate in the program in 2009. Each fellow receives a $5,000 stipend for the year-long appointment.

The goal of the program, says Patisaul, is to improve science writing quality. Early in the year, participants attended what Patisaul describes as an “intense” seminar in Washington, D.C. on communicating science to a lay audience.

After that, participants are responsible for writing two articles each month that summarize recent scientific work. Then there’s a monthly conference call during which fellows discuss recent articles, and their writing is critiqued by people Buchwalter describes as “media types and reporters.”

Buchwalter adds that he applied to the program because “it sounded like an interesting opportunity to learn more about communicating science to a broader audience.” He said the experience has helped him in thinking about how best to communicate material that is technical in nature.

As might be expected, both Buchwalter and Patisaul have tended to write about work in their respective fields. That, as far as Patisaul is concerned, is one of the attractions of the program. She says it has given her the opportunity to highlight work in her field and bring that work to the public’s attention.

You can read what Buchwalter and Patisaul have written online at the Environmental Health News home page Just search for either David Buchwalter or Heather Patisaul. – Dave Caldwell