Science/Health Communication

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Course Category: Master

Course Description
Course Description
  • Focus of Study

    The College of Journalism and Communications, in cooperation with other colleges on campus, offers a master’s track in science and health communications. The program is designed to teach scientists and health specialists to communicate effectively via media, and to teach mass media specialists the background science to translate the language of science and health into meaningful and understandable stories for their audiences. These goals are achieved through theoretical writing and applied courses.

    At least two aspects of the program make it unique among science communication programs nationwide. First, other existing science communication programs in the U.S. focus on training journalists. UF’s program is open to journalists who want to specialize in covering science and health, offers training for people planning to work as public affairs or public information officers for science and health organizations, for other communication specialists, and for scientists who need to be able to communicate with the public about their work. Second, the program focuses on training students to understand and communicate effectively about science and health policy.

    Course Description

    Students in the program have the option of writing a traditional research thesis, producing a series of articles on science or health topics, or completing a project (such as a communication plan for a scientific or health organization). With committee approval and specific tasks and limitations delineated, this project could be, for example, a joint project between a journalist/public affairs officer and a scientist. For instance, a scientist and public affairs practitioner from an organization such as NASA could create a plan for communicating the results of a particularly difficult scientific experiment.

    Another option for project in lieu of thesis is to develop a series of publishable articles. This program has a professional advisory panel whose members serve as external reviewers for professional projects produced in lieu of a thesis. This panel provides feedback, critique and suggestions as to the publishability of these articles. Final authority regarding the status of these articles resides with the internal committee.

    Students are encouraged to complete a professional internship as part of their degree requirements. We have developed a network of science and health organizations willing to provide internships and other types of funding for students in the program.

    Sample Courses

    Mass Communication Theory – Core

    This course includes a survey of some core journalism-focused mass media theories and examines contributions of other disciplines to media theory. Additionally, it includes an introduction to the fundamentals of academic research.

    Research Methods in Mass Communication – Core

    This course provides an overview of common mass communication research methods. Specifically, we will discuss content analysis, experiments, surveys and focus groups. You will learn the benefits and shortcomings for each method. In addition, you will also be introduced to SPSS, a software program used to analyze data.

    Seminar in Science/Health Communication- Core

    Overview of the field of science and health communication. Nexus of scientists, journalists, public information officers and audiences. Topics include science literacy, framing of science issues, public involvement, impact of science communication on policy.

    Science Health Policy – Core

    Few policymakers are well versed in science and health. Many scientists are not well versed in the process of formulating and implementing public policy. Therefore, there is a tendency for science/health and policy types to operate in separate professional worlds. Additionally, there is a lack of scientific training for those studying scientific/health policy, and a lack of political and policy training for those studying the sciences or health. This class attempts to help you understand how these relate. How do political or social issues affect the construction of a particular science/health issue? How do findings in a particular science/health issue inform the development of policy in that area? What role do the media play? In other words, how is scientific knowledge generated, presented, understood and applied as various political forces shape the development of policy in that scientific/health area?

    Students, along with their advisors, then custom design coursework to meet desired professional job duties. Samples of those courses are:

    Issues and the Press

    This is an applied theory course examining the influence of the press and internal and external pressures that may have impact on the news product. Particular emphasis will be placed on current issues and how the media define and shape public concern. Students will be required to create class presentations and a research proposal. Doctoral students may take the class for advanced-level credit.

    New Media and a Democratic Society

    This course examines the relationships between communication technologies and democracy, not only in the United States but elsewhere as well. New communication technologies, such as the Internet, will not automatically lead to or improve democracy, but they do contribute to changes in the society as a whole. We will examine how changes related to communication media might enhance or curtail democracy, with a particular emphasis on the relationships among the press, the public, and the government in a democracy. Please note that the press includes TV, Internet, and other media. NGOs (nonprofits) also play a role in today’s democracies. This is not a course in political communication per se.

    International Public Relations

    Public relations is practiced by all types of private, public, non-for-profit, activist, and non-governmental organizations and institutions that progressively engage in building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders in many locations worldwide. This graduate seminar includes content and discussions on global issues affecting the public relations profession, the professional, the specialized practices, and the engagement of stakeholders, simultaneously at home, host, and transnational levels. For instance, the course includes an evaluation of the various factors that determine the profession’s evolution and practice in different countries. Also, this course aims to introduce and analyze the main concerns affecting the management of the public relations function, such as transnational crises; coordination and control mechanisms (i.e., integration and localization efforts); professionalism levels; trends; and the practitioners’ social roles, responsibilities, and competences. Despite the emphasis on the global, the readings and debates of this course clearly address the subjects of diversity and multiculturalism, which are also relevant for the practice and study of public relations in complex national and regional environments.


    The program regularly offers electives such as Audience Analysis; Qualitative Research; and Foundation of Public Relations, Telecommunication Outlet Systems and Practices; Race, Class, Gender and Media; Survey of Electronic Publishing; History of Journalism; and Content Analysis. Many other electives are offered.