Frequently Asked Questions

Courses in Writing in Science and Engineering

Who can take these courses?

The WSE courses WRI 501—Reading and Writing about the Scientific Literature—and WRI 502—Writing an Effective Scientific Research Article—are open to all graduate students whose research involves working with data.  While the majority of students come from science or engineering fields, writers from economics, social psychology, and other empirical social sciences are invited to participate.

Are these courses open to postdocs?

Both WRI 501 and WRI 502 are graduate courses, and graduate students are given first choice in enrollment. However, if the courses are not completely filled, there may be space for a limited number of postdocs. Applicants should indicate that they are postdocs in their online applications and should be prepared to hear at the last minute about openings in the courses. Other opportunities for postdocs to develop their scientific writing can be found in the WSE Postdoctoral Fellowships and resources for proposal writers.

Who are the instructors in WRI 501 and WRI 502?

All the instructors in Writing in Science and Engineering are Ph.D. scientists and engineers specially trained to teach writing.

Are these courses graded? Do they carry credit?

Although WRI 501 and WRI 502 appear on a student's final transcript, they are non-credit and ungraded courses focused on professional development.

When is the best time in graduate school to take these courses?

The earlier, the better! International students report that WRI 501 helps orient them to the professional expectations of graduate school and provides the most benefit when taken within the first three years. Moreover, in Fall 2014, some sections of WRI 501 will focus on proposal writing; these sections may be of particular interest to students preparing for general exams. Similarly, WRI 502 can help writers establish a foundation of effective practices that they can continue to develop throughout their research careers; it consequently makes a lot of sense to take WRI 502 as soon as data are available for publication. Most students wait too long to begin writing, thereby needlessly prolonging their graduate careers.

Can these courses be repeated?

Yes! Both WRI 501 and WRI 502 are designed as workshops, where students actively write and revise their work in and out of class. Since writing effectively entails a range of practices that develop over time, taking the courses again can provide more opportunity for development. Please note, however, that priority in enrollment will be given to students enrolling in the courses for the first time.

I’m an international student; can I enroll directly into WRI 502?

For the most part, international students wishing to enroll in WRI 502 need first to enroll in WRI 501. WRI 502 assumes not only broad competence in English but also extensive recent experience reading and writing about the scientific literature such as the experience provided by WRI 501.  Students interested in taking WRI 502 without WRI 501 will need permission of the WSE Director.

My native language is not English, but I was educated in English speaking schools; which courses should I take?

While English-speaking schools offer more exposure to English, they vary in the amount of writing they assign, and so the decision about courses is made on a case-to-case basis. Since enrollment in WRI 502 assumes considerable experience in writing about science, many students do better if they first take WRI 501. If you are a non-native speaker of English educated in an English-speaking environment, please note that fact in your application and we'll get back to you asking for more information.

Will there be other students from my department in the course?

The WSE graduate courses bring together students from a range of disciplines including science, engineering, and even economics. The mixture of departments in the courses enables writers to learn strategies for communicating effectively not only with their immediate colleagues but with professionals working in other fields. 

I will be out of town at a conference during the course; can I still enroll?

Both WRI 501 and WRI 502 are half-term courses meeting over only six weeks. The attendance policies reflect the fact that graduate students often have other commitments: to complete the courses, students must attend 9 of 12 classes in WRI 501, and 5 of 6 classes in WRI 502. If you are going to miss more classes than allowed in a given six week period, please enroll in another section of the course that meets at a different time in the year. If after you apply, you find you cannot make one of the times you have indicated as available on your application, please email us at to let know as soon as possible.