Section: Features

Class mixes fact with fiction

Class mixes fact with fiction

Photo by Sonia Prabhu

A small group has big plans for Kenyon’s writing sphere. On Monday through Thursday of this week, a group of 15 students are gathering nightly in Davis House’s seminar room to sample the College’s first science-writing workshop, the trial run for a possible future course.

Professor of Biology Chris Gillen, Professor of English Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky and Elizabeth Lopatto ’06, science editor of The Verge, an online publication that reports on technology, science, art and culture, are leading the workshop. Though the workshop is only a few days long, Lopatto said she hopes students will acquire editing skills and a reading list that will help them further pursue science writing. Students attending the workshop started the week with a piece of writing and were slated to work on self-editing and rewriting during the four class meetings.

While the term “science writing” might bring images of lab reports and empirical journal articles to mind, the key word is “workshop.” This trial workshop is similar to Kenyon’s creative-writing workshop courses, apart from its science theme.

The goal of the workshop is to teach students how to convert scientific jargon into a language that is accessible to a broader audience. Lobanov-Rostovsky anticipated that students would be able to exercise their creative-writing skills by making their science ideas more than just readable — but also literary.

The combination of literature and science is growing in recognition; books like Silent Spring, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and The Tipping Point are just a few members of the genre.

The workshop is not just for science students, Lobanov-Rostovsky said. There are “natural points of contact between the humanities and the sciences,” he said, and the workshop leaders hope interested students with diverse academic backgrounds will make up the workshop’s participants. “What’s fun about this is the collaboration,” Gillen said.

Rachel Maas ’17, a chemistry major, said she has long been interested in science writing and is considering it as a possible career path. Maas’s goal in the workshop is to practice removing herself from a scientific subject so that it becomes more literary.

“I hope that it’ll make me a little more aware of the word choices I’m making and how the audience takes in that word choice,” she said.

“We want to create settings where, together — the College and students — can explore how you do that,” Gillen said when discussing how science can be literary.

“The kind of science education they get here is better and certainly different than what they get at other institutions,” Gillen said, attributing it to the fact that scientists at Kenyon emphasize communication and writing.

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