Science and technology are all around us, from the chemical processes that form the building blocks of life to the algorithms that increasingly govern what we see and what we do. There exists plenty of science and technology journalism that explains new advances—but the science and technology essay is a different beast.
The sci/tech essay does far more than break down scientific papers or communicate technical details. It explores personal relationships to science and technology (the ideas, the culture, the systems of power) through narrative and critique. It makes connections between sci/tech and life and presents arguments about how these forces shape our world. It requires mastery of craft and beautiful writing.
Increasingly, science and technology raise broad, existential questions about who we are, what it means to be human, and how to live a good life. There is poetry and beauty and high stakes in these topics—so where do you begin?
This class is for scientists, doctors, and technologists who want to write essays and essayists who want to engage with science, medicine, and technology topics. Students don’t need to have a background in either writing or science, though they should have a desire to think deeply about these issues. Topics covered include: how to generate ideas, how to write about abstract topics in a way that is both nuanced and lyrical, and how to pitch. I will walk students through the full process of publication, starting from the pitch, using concrete examples and drafts from already-published essays I have commissioned. By the end of the course, each student will have completed and received feedback from the class on one or two of their own essays.
*No class October 26
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 desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
Check out this page for details about payment plans and discount opportunities.
- An understanding of the genre of the sci/tech essay (and its personal and argument-driven forms) and how to generate ideas
- Experience applying creative writing methods to science and technology topics
- Confidence in pitching and insight into the editing and publishing processes
- A 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Each week, students should expect to read 1-2 essays outside of class time and come prepared to discuss. Students will also submit one or two essays for critique, up to 3,500 words, and provide feedback on their peers’ work.
Week 1: What is the science and technology essay?: We will explore this emerging genre, its sub-forms, and how it differs from science journalism and science communication
Week 2: Story ideas: Where do you find story ideas? How does an idea differ from a “topic”? How do you know if an idea can grow into a full essay?
Week 3: Explanation and tone: How do you explain concepts in a way that is accessible and accurate? How do you know when there is too little technical detail or too much? Learn how to get inside the reader’s head to understand what they need.
Week 4: Making the abstract real: Editors frequently want essays to have scenes with plenty of sensory detail, which can be difficult if you’re writing about atoms or data or more abstract topics. We will discuss workarounds and ways to make the essay come alive.
Week 5: Pitfalls, common traps, and the editing process: I will share successfully published essays from pitch to final draft and discuss best practices
Week 6: Pitching and publication: How to pitch and where
Angela Chen is a senior editor at Wired Magazine and the author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, which was named one of the best books of 2020 by NPR, Electric Literature, and Them. Her reporting and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Guardian, National Geographic, Paris Review, Lapham's Quarterly, and more.
"ACE is a revelation. We can’t stop thinking about it.”
“ACE is nothing less than a cultural feat.”
"A book that makes room for questions even as it illuminates, Ace should be viewed as a landmark work on culture and sexuality.”
“Angela is a thoughtful editor with a keen eye and an intuitive sense for translating complex topics for a general audience.”
“Angela is one of the most precise and conscientious writers I know, an instinct that also translates into editing, workshopping, and teaching. Her gift for analytical thought, which is what makes her own writing so clear, means that she's able to identify not only what isn't working (or is working!), but why. Anyone working on science journalism, creative nonfiction, or at the intersection would be privileged to work with her.”
“Angela is an editor who gently and succinctly points out what writers have overlooked and instantly sees ways to make a story a stronger version of itself. As a wrangler of fiction, Angela is attentive to everything from big-picture stuff—plot, arc, characters’ motivations—to the littler things, such as tense and whether particular images are vivid or muddled. She helped me place connective tissue where it was missing and make the piece much more cohesive. By the end, it felt like a smarter, tighter, tidier version of what I had drafted—familiar, but crisper, as if freshly ironed. When she tussles with nonfiction, Angela points out gaps in logic, arguments that fall flat, and anecdotes that aren’t pulling their weight. Her comments made my book proposal more watertight, and I trust her editorial judgement completely. The only trouble is that I now want her eyes on everything I write.”