Why Should Students with a Science Major Care about Writing?

A lot of students face their major’s College English Composition Requirement with dread. As you may know, this requirement dictates that to graduate from the College of BioSci, one must take 8 units in English Composition (UWP 1, 18, 19; ENL 3; COM 1-4; UWP 101; UWP 102 or 104 series) with at least 4 upper division units. In short, as a CBS student, writing is all but inevitable. Many students choose a major in the field of Biology to get away from English papers and then get incredibly dismayed when they find out about this requirement. (Note that health professional schools take it even further by requiring a year of English from their applicants!)

However, being a good writer pays off in the real world. We all know that efficient progress in science and technology cannot happen without communication, which is the fundamental vehicle for the sharing of knowledge. Within the scientific community, better communication leads to collaboration, easier access to cross-disciplinary knowledge, and more efficient training. Not only will this skill help you facilitate discussion with other researchers, but it will also allow the public, the source of your funds, to better understand your goals. Some of this communication will be verbal, but a large part of it will be in writing.  Regardless, verbal and written communication are deeply intertwined, and you, as a scientist, will have to be a master of both to get your discoveries and ideas across to others.

“I’m interested in being a healthcare provider though”, you may say. Then you may (and should) also be aware that writing office notes, patient reports, and consultations is part of the job description. Furthermore, a critical part of good medicine is the mastery of the presentation of scientific material to a variety of audiences (e.g. patients or co-workers). Many will have trouble doing this, but writing can help foster this skill by allowing you to improve the conciseness and accuracy of what you are trying to express. On a deeper level, as a healthcare professional, you will accumulate a vast spectrum of experience with the human condition. Throughout the journey, you will undoubtedly encounter fear, pain, struggle, and loss. You will spend a great deal of time listening to your patients’ narratives about their illnesses or health. Once in a while, you may feel that a particular experience has moved you or that you have gained valuable insight. It is only natural that you will want to share these episodes with other human beings. Although it will be easier to verbally communicate with your friends, family, and co-workers, writing allows you to reach out to more people in more places and immortalizes those experiences.

As a concluding remark, I would like to offer some personal tips on doing well in your writing courses:

1. Be patient. Writing takes some “getting back in shape”, especially if you have not had to write in a while.

2. Visit your instructor’s office hours and get a better understanding of what he/she wants.

3. Don’t procrastinate- college papers are not meant to be written at the last moment. Try to space out your writing sessions.

4. Ask another person to help you proofread. This is an important step because you can gauge how well your messages are getting across to people who are not familiar with your topic.

5. Address all parts of the prompt.

Wilson Ng

BASC Peer Adviser 2013-2014