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Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT announces 2020-21 fellowship class

Journalists will delve into issues including racial bias and race-based health disparities, institutional responses to Covid-19, and the impacts of climate change.
Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT 2020-21 fellowship class
2020-21 Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT Project fellows: (left to right, starting on top row) Jason Bittel, Ashley Belanger, Lindsay Gellman, Roberta Kwok, Lourdes Medrano, Peter Andrey Smith; Katherine Reynolds Lewis, Duy Linh Tu, Nicola Twilley, Jodi Spotted Bear, Lynne Peeples, Sarah Gilman; Christopher Cox, Carrie Arnold, Ted Wood, Amy Maxmen, John Sutter, Jyoti Madhusoodanan.

The Knight Science Journalism Program (KSJ) at MIT announced the selection of 18 distinguished American science journalists to receive its pioneering remote project fellowships during the 2020-21 academic year. The fellowships will support the pursuit of a diverse range of reporting projects related to science, health, technology, and the environment.

KSJ established the project fellowships in response to the unique logistical and safety challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic. (The program’s traditional residential fellowships have been deferred until the 2021-22 academic year.) Although project fellows will work remotely, they will stay connected through a series of online meetings, receive mentoring help, and will have access to a large offering of online resources at MIT during the respective fellowship periods.

“In this critical time, when it’s widely recognized that science journalism is more important than ever, we are proud to be providing direct support for such smart and insightful reporting,” says KSJ Director Deborah Blum. “It’s central to our program’s mission to encourage the best in science journalism, and we believe these projects — focused on some of the most critical issues of our time — will serve not only the profession, but the general public.”

Under this new program, eight journalists will receive two-semester project fellowships, each supported with a $40,000 stipend, and 10 will receive one-semester fellowships, supported with a $20,000 stipend. All fellows are also eligible for up to $5,000 in reimbursement for expenses related to their research.

The project fellows were selected from a highly competitive field of approximately 200 applicants. The 2020-21 class comprises a diverse and award-winning group of reporters, editors, photojournalists, audio journalists, and documentarians. Their projects address an array of problems, including racial bias and race-based health disparities, investigating institutional responses to Covid-19, the long-term effects of chemical spills, wildlife issues, and the myriad impacts of climate change.

“The breadth and quality of the project proposals we received was truly impressive,” says KSJ Associate Director Ashley Smart. “The impact of these projects will surely continue to be felt long after the fellowships themselves have ended.”

The Knight Science Journalism program, supported by a generous endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is recognized around the world as the premier mid-career fellowship program for science writers, editors, and multimedia journalists. The program’s goal is to foster professional growth among the world’s small but essential community of journalists covering science and technology, and encourage them to pursue that mission, first and foremost, in the public interest.

Since its founding in 1983, the program has hosted more than 350 fellows representing media outlets from The New York Times to Le Monde, from CNN to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and more. In addition to its fellowship program, KSJ publishes the award-winning digital magazine Undark and administers a national journalism prize, the Victor K. McElheny Award. KSJ’s academic home at MIT is the Science, Technology, and Society Program, which is part of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

The 2020-21 KSJ Project fellows are:

Carrie Arnold is an award-winning independent journalist from Virginia. Her work on post-traumatic stress disorder after sexual assault for Women's Health won several national awards, and other work has appeared in publications ranging from The New York Times to National Geographic. For her project as a two-semester fellow, she will investigate the long-term health effects of a little-known 1970s chemical disaster in Michigan, and the ways that scientists are attempting to follow its impact through multiple generations.

Ashley Belanger is an investigative science journalist whose health and politics reporting has appeared in Teen Vogue, Ars Technica, and other outlets; her reporting on domestic abuse in Florida received a special grant from the National Geographic Society. For her investigative project as a two-semester fellow, she will research issues surrounding offender release from civil commitment treatment facilities throughout the United States.

Jason Bittel is a freelance science writer who reports on a range of topics, including new scientific discoveries, emerging wildlife diseases, human-wildlife conflict, and conservation. His work has been featured in National Geographic, The Washington Post, New Scientist Magazine, and Popular Science, among others. His two-semester fellowship project will seek to reconnect people with wildlife, from the grizzlies in the hills and vultures in the sky to the toads in the backyard garden or pseudoscorpions on your bookshelf.

Christopher Cox is an editor at The New York Times Magazine and editor-at-large at Orion. He has written for The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Harper’s, and Slate and has been named a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and a Logan Nonfiction Program fellow. As a spring-semester fellow, he will be writing about drought, floods, atmospheric rivers, and the past and future of California’s climate.

Lindsay Gellman is an independent investigative journalist based in New York. Her work focuses on the intersection of health and business, and has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and National Geographic. As a fall-semester fellow, she will report on patient-advocacy movements centered around bodily autonomy.

Sarah Gilman is an independent writer and illustrator, a contributing editor at Hakai Magazine, and a former staff editor for High Country News. Her illustrated reporting has appeared in both High Country News and Hakai, as well as The Atlantic and Adventure Journal Quarterly. As a spring-semester fellow, she will be researching, writing, and drawing about pitched battles over proposed roads in wild parts of Alaska.

Roberta Kwok is a freelance science writer who has contributed to publications such as Nature,, The Southern Review, Hakai, and Science News. As a two-semester fellow, Kwok will write a book proposal and conduct research for a collection of reported essays, which will create a kaleidoscopic view of the tiny details that scientists study to illuminate big questions.

Katherine Reynolds Lewis is an award-winning journalist covering race, gender, disability, science, parenting and mental health, and author of “The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever — And What to Do About It.” Lewis’s project as a two-semester fellow will explore the scientific understanding of racial bias in schools.

Jyoti Madhusoodanan is an independent journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about life sciences, health, STEM careers, and ethics for Nature, Science, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and Discover, among others. Madhusoodanan’s project as a fall-semester fellow will examine the origins and use of race-based adjustments to tests of heart disease, kidney function, and other health measures, seeking to understand how these measures drive health-care disparities.

Amy Maxmen is a senior reporter at Nature, and a host of the journal’s weekly podcast focused on the coronavirus pandemic, called Coronapod. She has won multiple awards for her features on Ebola and malaria from the National Association of Science Writers and the Association of Health Care Journalists. As a fall-semester fellow, she will be researching the history and politics of pandemics and infectious disease outbreaks.

Lourdes Medrano is a freelance journalist based in southern Arizona. Her reporting often focuses on matters relevant to both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, including immigration and environmental issues. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications such as The Christian Science Monitor, Undark, The Washington Post, Pacific Standard, and more. Her project as a spring-semester fellow will explore the evolution of corn.

Lynne Peeples is a freelance journalist and former staff reporter for The Huffington Post. Her writing also appears in Nature, PNAS, The Daily Beast and Undark Magazine, among other publications, where it has driven conversations on issues such as racial bias in policing, complications in developing a Covid-19 vaccine, and the Veterans Administration's handling of veterans exposed to toxic chemicals. As a two-semester fellow, she is pursuing a book on the modern assaults to our natural body clocks and the scientific efforts to rescue those rhythms.

Peter Andrey Smith is a reporter who has covered science and medicine for The New York Times Magazine, Outside, Wired, and WNYC Radiolab, among other national outlets. As a fall-semester fellow, Smith plans to investigate the use of police canines and the safeguards currently in place to discriminate between junk science and real science.

Jodi Rave Spotted Bear is an award-winning journalist and opinion writer, and the founder and executive director of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance. As a fall-semester fellow, she is writing a book that addresses climate change, oil development, and the history of her tribe, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, in North Dakota.

John D. Sutter (two semester fellow) is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Salt Lake City, Utah. His work has won the Livingston, the IRE Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, the Peabody Award, and has received two EMMY nominations. As a two-semester fellow, he will work on "BASELINE," a pioneering documentary series that tells the story of the climate crisis beyond a human lifetime by revisiting subjects in four frontline locations between now and the year 2050.

Duy Linh Tu is a New York-based journalist and award-winning documentary filmmaker, focusing on education, science, and social justice. He is the author of the book, “Narrative Storytelling for Multimedia Journalists.” His fall semester fellowship project, “Water Up, Water Down,” is a documentary film about climate change and its effects on global migration, Native American coastal communities, and the world’s rivers and oceans.

Nicola Twilley is co-host of the award-winning Gastropod podcast and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. For her project as a two-semester fellow, she plans to research the “fridge diet” and its effects, in order to write the first exploration of how refrigeration has shifted American consumption patterns, the health effects we could expect to see as a result of those shifts, and any evidence of those results in reality.

Ted Wood is a freelance environmental photojournalist and multimedia producer based in Boulder, Colorado. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, The New York Times, High Country News, The Nature Conservancy Magazine, and other national and international publications. As a spring-semester fellow, he will photograph and film pressing water issues throughout the Colorado River basin and create a multimedia library housed at the University of Colorado’s Water Desk to supply visual content for water reporters in the West.

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