Who We Are: Storytellers with a Passion for Science

The Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program (SHERP) at New York University is one of the world's oldest and most successful science journalism training programs. Aspiring science reporters, authors, editors, producers, videographers, coders and bloggers (and various permutations thereof) who complete the intensive 16-month program receive a Master of Arts degree in Journalism and an Advanced Certificate in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting. They join an extended family of graduates (377 at last count!) committed to covering scientific, medical and environmental topics with precision, nuance and passion.

SHERP alumni have diverse backgrounds and beliefs and work in many types of digital, print and broadcast media in twenty-five countries. What unites them are two deeply held convictions: science is too important to leave only to scientists, and journalism is too important to leave only to the scientifically illiterate.

SHERP's current students are the newest links in a chain that stretches back to the program's founding in 1982 by Bill Burrows, who retired in 2008 and was succeeded as SHERP director by Dan Fagin, a longtime science and environmental journalist who was awarded the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction for his book, Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation

We celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2012 with a party and a discussion on science storytelling featuring best-selling authors Rebecca Skloot and Mary Roach as well as Radiolab founder Jad Abumrad. 

What We Do: A Customized Curriculum, a Hands-On Approach

Humans are a storytelling species, and the scientific enterprise is the wellspring of many of our greatest contemporary narratives. But how many of us possess the skills to make these narratives our profession? SHERP's customized curriculum is tailored to develop world-class science storytellers at a time of unprecedented change, challenge and opportunity in journalism. Our faculty of nationally prominent science journalists offers rigorous instruction in research, reporting, writing and editing through coverage of cutting-edge science, from nanotechnology and epigenetics to global climate change and cosmology. Coursework is built around case studies and learning by doing, not academic theory or rote memorization. A key focus is reporting, writing and editing features and news for magazines and online sites, but students also dive into all forms of modern journalism, from books and long-form narratives to blogs, videos, audio podcasts, data visualization and social media. Entrepreneurial skills, including self-marketing, are emphasized throughout the SHERP sequence and especially in a new class focusing on developing sound business models for digital science journalism projects.

Visual journalism is woven into the curriculum from the first semester, when every SHERP student learns to shoot and edit video under the tutelage of an experienced videographer who also provides advanced instruction during the second semester. There is also a workshop on data mining, analysis and visualization taught by graphics editors at the Times. We teach audio podcasting, too. The curriculum reflects our philosophy that twenty-first century journalism education should be platform-agnostic: the content of the story should dictate its form, not vice versa. Whether they do most of their work in print or online, our graduates thrive in the fast-changing science journalism landscape because they are comfortable telling stories on mulltiple platforms, in multiple ways.

The culture at SHERP is challenging but never cutthroat. We emphasize cooperative learning in an informal, intellectually rich environment. SHERP students work hard and love what they do. Thanks to the specialized curriculum and intimate atmosphere, "sherpies" form lifelong bonds during their sixteen months in the program, including seven marriages so far!

Where We Work: NYC, the World Capital of Science Journalism

SHERP takes full advantage of its home base at the center of the science journalism firmament: New York City, where there are more journalism job opportunities than anywhere else in the world. Our neighborhood is a particularly fertile one for science storytelling because 20 Cooper Square is right in the middle of Lower Manhattan's booming Silicon Alley; Facebook and IBM's Jeopardy!-winning Watson computer are one block away. A small program nestled comfortably in a large research university, SHERP utilizes the vast intellectual resources of New York University, including the NYU School of Medicine, to enrich student experiences. We also reach well beyond the university community. In addition to two full-time professors with many years of experience in professional science journalism, Dan Fagin and Charles Seife, the program's superb faculty includes current or former editors and writers at Scientific American, The New York Times, Science, Reuters, Nature and The Wall Street Journal, among other outlets. SHERP faculty work at the very highest levels of science journalism but are also deeply committed to the hard work of teaching well, with long track records of success in the classroom as well as the newsroom.

The curriculum also draws heavily on a roster of guest speakers constituting a who's who of science journalism and science research. In a typical year, nearly one hundred journalists and scientists visit SHERP to speak in classes or at evening seminars that have become gathering places for the New York science journalism community. There are also yearly field trips to Brookhaven National Laboratory, The New York Times, the American Museum of Natural History and CNN. When SHERP students go on a field trip, they do much more than tour; they pitch stories to editors and participate in seminars with leading researchers.

Science journalism internships at leading publications, programs and web sites are a crucial part of the SHERP experience and are fully integrated into the overall curriculum, not a tacked-on appendage. Every student completes two for-credit internships during the final eight months of the program, but the internship process actually begins much earlier. Starting in the first semester, SHERP's internship coordinator provides personalized support and advice, assisting students in landing positions and then making sure they get the most out of their internship experiences. SHERP interns don't get coffee, except for themselves; they get clips. Many choose to intern at outlets that have worked closely with SHERP for years; their supervisors are often alumni or current or former faculty. Others take advantage of the flexibility of the our internship program to secure internships at places farther off the beaten track

Our Focus: Building Skills and Portfolios

To thrive in today's convergent media environment, science journalists need diverse skills and a broad portfolio of published work. SHERP delivers both. By graduation, a typical SHERP student has written or edited dozens of stories of all lengths and types, produced several video and audio pieces, built data graphics and slide shows and even authored a book proposal -- all prepared in close collaboration with highly accomplished professors who are leaders in science journalism. 

The stories SHERP students produce for their classes are of such high quality that every year many are published in professional media. In addition, students gain invaluable experience by assigning, reporting, writing and editing stories for Scienceline, an award-winning webzine run entirely by SHERP students. Scienceline's mix of news, features, profiles, blogs, videos, audio podcasts and data visualizations attracts approximately 5,000 visitors per day (1.8 million per year) from around the world. In addition, Scienceline stories are regularly syndicated to the web sites of Scientific American, Discover, Popular Science, LiveScience.com, Space.com, OnEarth, The Scientist and other outlets, generating even more clips, exposure and opportunities for SHERP students. Finally, SHERP's unrivalled internship program puts students in position to publish their work in places like The New York Times, NOVA, Wired and dozens of other globally prominent outlets.

Life After SHERP

Job placement is a proven strength of SHERP. Every year, several graduating students go to work full-time at places where they were SHERP interns; other job-seeking graduates tap the close-knit and extensive SHERP alumni network, which operates its own busy email list. Over the years, editors have come to trust the SHERP "brand," so graduates fare very well in the extremely competitive market for staff jobs and freelance work in science journalism.

SHERP alumni regularly return to Cooper Square for evening seminars and other special events, and as guest speakers in classes. They also assist their successors by generously contributing to the Bill Burrows SHERP Scholarship Fund. The tight bonds between current and former students and faculty (both present and past) are a distinguishing feature of SHERP and a crucial asset for "SHERPies" new and old. (Long after they've graduated, SHERPies love to collaborate with each other, whether on serious editor-writer partnerships or this parody video.)

Join Us!

If you think our program is right for you, we look forward to introducing you to our students, professors and alumni and showing you the unique, convivial culture of SHERP. Please see the How to Apply page for full details on how to proceed. All SHERP students start in September and are expected to complete the program by December of the following year. We are not able to enroll part-time students.

Please note that the formal application deadline is January 4 but we will consider late applications. We make admission decisions on a rolling basis starting in February. All applicants need to take the GRE test, whether or not you already have a graduate degree.

SHERP gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and our alumni and friends in helping to support our work.

Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Bylines

Faculty

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    Michael Balter
    Michael Balter teaches Writing and Reporting Workshop I in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. He has been a journalist for more 30 years, the last 20 of them based mostly in Paris, France.

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    Amanda Cox
    Amanda Cox co-teaches the summer data journalism class at SHERP. SHe joined the Times in 2005, after receiving a masters degree in statistics from the University of Washington. She has an undergraduate degree from St.

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    Mariette DiChristina
    As editor in chief and senior vice president, Mariette DiChristina oversees Scientific American, ScientificAmerican.com, Scientific American Mind and other editorially led initiatives: from developing science-education activities such as the Science in Action award for the Google Science Fair, to collaborating on...

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    Dan Fagin
    Dan Fagin is the director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, where he teaches Environmental Reporting and Current Topics in Science, Health and Environmental Journalism.

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    Stephen S. Hall
    Steve Hall, who teaches Writing and Reporting Workshop I in SHERP, has been reporting and writing about science for nearly 30 years. In addition to numerous cover stories in the New York Times Magazine, where he also served as a...

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    Robin Marantz Henig
    Robin Marantz Henig is a freelance journalist, book author, and contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine.  She has written nine books, most recently Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? (co-authored with her daughter Samantha Henig) and Pandora’s...

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    Robert Lee Hotz
    Robert Lee Hotz is a science writer at The Wall Street Journal where he reports on new research and its impact on society. Mr. Hotz has covered science and technology for 30 years.

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    Apoorva Mandavilli
    Apoorva Mandavilli, the internship coordinator at SHERP, is the director and executive editor of SFARI.org, the leading website for autism research news. She conceived and launched this website for The Simons Foundation, the largest non-governmental source of funding for autism research.

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    Christie Nicholson
    Christie Nicholson, who teaches Entrepreneurial Science Journalism at SHERP, is an award-winning science journalist based in New York. She is a contributing editor at Scientific American, CBS’ SmartPlanet and the design magazine, Core77.

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    Ivan Oransky, MD
    Ivan Oransky, MD has taught medical reporting in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program since 2002. He is vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today, co-founder of Retraction Watch, and founder of Embargo Watch.

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    Corey Powell
    Corey S. Powell is Editor at Large at DISCOVER magazine, the nation’s leading general-interest science magazine, where writes the “Out There” column and blog. He is also the acting Editor in Chief of American Scientist.

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    Kevin Quealy
    Kevin Quealy co-teaches the data journalism class at SHERP. A graphics editor at the New York Times since 2008, he has also worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer and the St.

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    John Rennie
    John Rennie teaches Science Writing in the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. He served as editor in chief of Scientific American for almost 15 years, having been a member of its Board of Editors since 1989.

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    Charles Seife
    Before joining the Department of Journalism, Charles Seife was writer for Science magazine -specializing in physics and mathematics- and had been a U.S. correspondent for New Scientist. He holds an A.B. in mathematics from Princeton University, an M.S.