The natural world is teeming with things that shock and astonish us: 272-year-old sharks, fossils made of fool's gold, an African berry that produces the world's most intense natural shade of blue. Science is a limitless font of writing inspiration, and when incorporated into essays can offer new insight into the human experience. But the field is famously complicated, and it can be tricky to know where to begin.
If you've ever wanted to write scientific essays but been afraid to start, this class will help you take the first step. This introductory course is built for writers with no background in science and scientists with no background in writing—really anyone who is interested in both science and writing. We will read a range of essays that revolve around different types of science: biology, conservation, physics, paleontology, animal cognition, etc. The course will walk you through how to write a science essay, from idea to first draft. We'll familiarize ourselves with a number of resources for initial inspiration. We will learn best research practices, as well as how to incorporate that research without writing an essay that sounds like a lab report. We'll work towards science writing that is lucid and accessible even on the most obscure topics and critically examine the history of colonialism and racism that pervades much of the field. At the end of the course, each student will have completed two science essays—one short and one long—and have a sense of where to pitch these pieces.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the Zoom desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- A crash course in researching and reporting scientific subjects and incorporating them into your essay responsibly, accurately, and accessibly
- A tool-kit of resources for finding inspiration in science (and how to use them!), from scientific studies to niche Twitter accounts
- A reading list almost entirely comprising writers of color, trans writers, female writers, and queer writers who often incorporate their identities into the work to stake a claim for themselves in the historically cis, white, male field of science (and one essay by a white man who critically examines his own privilege!)
- 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each week, students should expect to read 1-3 short essays in preparation for class time. Each student will have the opportunity to workshop twice; one shorter piece (~1200 words), and one longer piece (~3500 words). Students should be prepared to give written and verbal feedback on their peers’ essays.
Week 1: What is the science essay? Examples of short and long essays, personal and impersonal
Week 2: Researching the science essay. Diving into inspiration from everyday science—the kind you can touch and encounter—to more abstract/distant topics, and the pros and cons of each approach.
Week 3: Style & audience. Unpacking the myth of complexity (the idea that more complex writing means better science).
Week 4: Pitfalls/common traps of science essays. A simple guide to fact-checking your own work.
Week 5: Environmental/nature writing. It's not quite the same genre, but it's closely related and might be more accessible to folks with no scientific background.
Week 6: Pitching the science essay.
Sabrina Imbler is a science journalist and essayist based in Brooklyn. Their work has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Audubon, Scientific American, and Grist. They are the recipient of fellowships from the Asian American Writer's Workshop, Jack Jones Literary Arts, and Paragraph NY. Sabrina is the author of the chapbook Dyke (geology) with Black Lawrence Press and the Catapult column "My Life in Sea Creatures." Their essay collection inspired by that column, HOW FAR THE LIGHT REACHES, is forthcoming with Little, Brown in 2022.
"Sabrina Imber’s DYKE (GEOLOGY) is not only gorgeous, it is wildly transformative. It contains sentences that mimic the Earth itself: craggy, pitted, alive. There is so much movement, a momentum that sweeps readers along sentence-by-sentence. The structures Imbler builds are deeply affecting, deeply moving. The heart of it sits exposed, bare and beating, pulsing and insistent. This writing is very queer, very loving, very painful, very poignant. It is revolutionary work."
"DYKE (GEOLOGY) holds strata of meaning and feeling veined with anger, horniness and shame, studded with outcrops of facts and nuggets of nerd jokes. All of this together is what makes the sum of Sabrina Imbler's ranging, folding, stacking sentences an effortful pleasure to traverse, even when they dig down into pain. Like a lasting mythology, DYKE (GEOLOGY) offers ways to feel through indirection what it's hard to know head-on. Like good science, it recognizes the mediated ways that power shapes both knowledge and desire, what we're able to find and what we want to be true. Like any landscape, it repays attention and doesn't stop at the surface, but lives in the relationships among history and chemistry, the open air and the hot heart of the earth."
"You’ll feel every moment of this book, words twisting, colliding, rooting in the body. With a gentle ferocity that builds from the inside out, I was swept by Imbler’s story of navigation, displacement, and the violent marvels of the natural world."
"Sabrina was, without a doubt, the best guest lecturer we've had all year, and I think the rest of my cohort agrees."
"Your work to share science stories through a personal lens is inspiring, and your passion for strong journalistic work is infectious ... I'm so excited to get out into the world of science writing. "