Teaching

WORKSHOPS

Trevor offers two writing workshops for scientists and health professionals: "Professional Scientific Writing for Story" and "Public Storytelling about Science." He has led versions of these workshops for senior scientists, medical doctors, post-doctoral researchers, PhD and medical students, and university undergraduates.

As of 2020 Trevor's workshops are typically conducted online via Zoom, but circumstances permitting, in-person workshops are also available.

Workshop 1

Professional Scientific Writing for Story

How can scientists master the strategies and techniques of storytellers to boost citations and funding?

Workshop 2

Public Storytelling about Science

How can scientists themselves become storytellers so that they can reach a wider audience and have a direct impact on society?

Workshop 1

Professional Scientific Writing for Story


How can scientists masters the strategies and techniques of storytellers to boost citations and funding?


Scientists must write professionally, but they don't get the training that other professional writers do: how to think through a storyline and then construct a narrative; how to attract and hold the attention of an audience beyond just other specialists; how to give every reader a satisfying sense of flow and clarity; and how to build sentences for specialist readers and nonspecialists alike through the strategic choice and placement of words. Scientists need these skills as research grows more interdisciplinary, and as new papers and publications pile up. In a crowded field, scientists who can tell simple, interesting stories about their research are more likely to get funding, more likely to attract collaborators, editors, and citations, and more likely to make a wider impact.

This workshop will help develop these skills through hands-on practical training in specific techniques for scientific writing in English. The workshop will familiarize less-experienced writers with fundamental concepts and approaches while also giving more-experienced writers a chance to practice and enhance their skills. Participants of every skill level will receive valuable reader feedback in small collaborative groups.

The workshop applies a story approach to the development of a mini writing project in the basic IMRaD scientific-article format. Drawing on the work of the ecologist Joshua Schimel, the workshop will begin with a brief introduction to the synergy between science and story, then propose a specific approach to drafting, feedback, and rewriting as a process. We will then study and practice hands-on methods, starting with the macro and moving toward the micro:

  • At the macro level, we will first consider what a story is, how it is structured, and what makes it interesting. We will then map the shape and elements of story onto a mini IMRaD-style text. Each participant will draft practice paragraphs, then collaborate in small groups to provide reader feedback, followed by rewriting.
  • At the mid level, we will next apply story structure to paragraphs, and then to sentences. We will focus especially on two approaches to creating flow within paragraphs from one sentence to the next. Each participant will then test these techniques by revising their mini articles for structure and flow at the paragraph and sentence levels.
  • At the micro level, finally, we will consider types of words and their placement within sentences for maximum impact with the broadest possible audience. Time permitting, participants will revise their mini articles again at the word level, then work in small groups for another round of small-group reader feedback.

Workshop 2

Public Storytelling about Science


How can scientists themselves become storytellers so that they can reach a wider audience and have a direct impact on society?


The legitimacy of science is under attack just when strong science is needed more than ever to address global challenges. In response to this crisis, more and more scientists are trying to communicate directly to the public. But what is the best way to go about this? The hard, fact-based culture of science doesn't seem to adapt well to the fuzzy, emotion-driven culture of storytelling—and scientists don't want to compromise their objectivity or "dumb down" their work. As a result, many efforts by scientists to "educate" the public fail. Part of the problem is that scientists are not often exposed to the sorts of strategies and tools that writers use to engage everyday audiences.

This workshop will invite scientists to step out of the lab and think like storytellers. We'll consider: the reasons why certain stories and ideas capture attention and others don't; techniques for positioning a commentary or story in a larger public conversation; methods for overcoming the prejudices of readers; and concrete ways to use the wealth of raw storytelling material that science provides to good effect—including detail, scene, character, metaphor, tension, and big ideas about human existence. Finally, we'll talk about the gatekeepers—the editors of popular media platforms—who decide what gets published in the popular press and what doesn't, and what their needs and concerns are. Each participant will leave having written a five-point introduction for an opinion article or essay they want to write and submit for publication for a general audience.

About workshop leader Trevor Corson

Trevor has taught science-communication workshops for the Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism at Harvard University, the Program in the History of Science and Medicine at Yale University, the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, the Symbioses BioSocial Research Network, the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zürich, the Helsinki Institute of Life Science and the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, and other venues.

Trevor's own writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, and other publications and he is the author of two books of popular science writing, including the worldwide Amazon popular-science bestseller The Secret Life of Lobsters: How Fishermen and Scientists Are Unravelling the Mysteries of Our Favorite Crustacean. His writing has been anthologized in The Best American Science Writing edited by the world-renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, and a feature article Trevor wrote about brain death and organ transplantation received commendation in Best American Essays.

Trevor has taught science writing in the graduate writing program at Columbia University in New York City and the science and medical journalism program at Boston University's College of Communication, and he currently teaches scientific writing and storytelling for scientists at the University of Helsinki. He has also taught opinion-essay writing for senior scientists, mid-career adults, and university students. For four years he was the managing editor of the literary magazine Transition at Harvard University; during his tenure Transition won three consecutive Alternative Press Awards for International Reporting and was nominated for a National Magazine Award in General Excellence.

Trevor was a Knight Fellow in the Investigative Science Journalism Boot Camp at MIT, and he holds a master-of-arts degree in writing, as well as a graduate certificate in philosophy of biology, both from Columbia University. He is founder and director of NeuWrite Nordic, a branch supported by the Kone Foundation of the international collaborative science-writing workshop NeuWrite. NeuWrite was founded by the chair of biological sciences and the graduate writing program at Columbia University and has grown into an international network of scientists, writers, radio producers, filmmakers, and artists working to develop novel strategies for communicating science to general audiences.