For 30 years, the Writing Seminars Department at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has offered scientists and science-minded journalists the opportunity to hone their writing and communication skills through its master's degree in science writing. The program was one of the big four graduate science-writing programs in the United States... On Monday, the science writing program's director, Ann Finkbeiner, e-mailed alumni of the program to announce that there would be no 2013–2014 class. The program is shuttering.
Science writing has long been considered one of the main "alternative" science careers, ideal for scientists with strong writing skills who have tired of spending their days in the lab running experiments. Some science writing graduate programs, like the one at the University of California, Santa Cruz, offer their degree exclusively to applicants with at least a bachelor's degree in science, while others, like the Johns Hopkins program, are open to anyone who demonstrates sufficient aptitude in science and writing.
The Hopkins program isn't the first to go. In 2009, Columbia University announced that it was closing its earth and environmental science journalism program because of "current weakness in the job market for environmental journalists." While the job market for science journalists is indeed crowded, due in large part to the downsizing of staffs at newspapers and magazines, Finkbeiner doesn't believe that's the reason why the Johns Hopkins program is closing. Apparently, she tells Science Careers in an interview, the primary motivation for ending the program was the low ratio of number of applicants to class size—in other words, the fact that the program isn't selective enough, which reflects poorly on the university's reputation as a competitive institution. Katherine Newman, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, confirmed that as the reason that she decided to close the program.I think this is sad news for those who might think about science journalism as a parallel track to the bench. Too bad.