Feature Story | 2-May-2024

Training better STEM communicators

Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub’s robust science writing internship program gives students hands-on experience creating engaging content.

National Center for Supercomputing Applications

Communication is a key component of most jobs. Even for something as basic as working fast food, being able to communicate effectively can help a career trajectory – the staff who are better at explaining things are more likely to be promoted to trainers, for instance. That’s why writing internships are a great experience for students, no matter what field they may eventually land in – especially if those fields are in research where writing research publications is a large part of the job. The Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) has been offering paid science writing internships since 2021, and they’ve proven very popular for students working in data science. The three interns from this year exemplify the idea that you don’t need to be planning a career in science writing to learn something valuable.

“We developed the science communication internship program to help better tell the stories of the people behind the innovative data science work happening in the Midwest,” said John MacMullen, executive director of the MBDH. “Rather than hiring a professional science writer, we wanted to create opportunities for students to develop their writing and storytelling skills through a mentored team experience where they learn from each other throughout the process of story development. The ten students we’ve had across three cohorts have brought a tremendous diversity of backgrounds, interests, and career goals that have really enriched the experience for everyone.”

Of the three interns, only one of them has specific plans to be a science writer when they graduate. Jas Mehta is studying information management at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). They were excited about the internship opportunity when it arose.

“Post-graduation, I’m aiming for a career that allows me to delve into the intersection of technology and writing, focusing on topics related to deep learning, machine learning and data science,” Mehta said. “I applied to be an intern at MBDH because I saw it as an excellent opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field of data and technology journalism. MBDH’s reputation for insightful reporting and its commitment to quality storytelling also attracted me to the position.”

When I discovered MBDH, it felt like the perfect place to intern. The organization’s commitment to using data-driven approaches to tackle significant challenges in science and society is something that inspired me.

–Shruti Gosain, MBDH

Shruti Gosain, a first-year master’s student in information management, and Ken Ogata, a statistics student with a computer science minor, on the other hand, are hoping for careers in data science, deep learning or, in Ogata’s case, even cybersecurity. Despite that, both of them saw promise in what the internship could provide.

“I am passionate about working with data right from processing and storytelling to visualizing it for informed decision-making,” said Gosain. “The sheer abundance of data across diverse fields fascinates me, and the opportunity to learn and contribute to this domain is what drives me. In addition to my data-centric academic background, I also have a keen interest in reading and writing. Beyond that, I find great satisfaction in giving back to the community, as reflected in my previous experiences with non-profit organizations during my undergrad.”

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Ogata was similarly intrigued by the writing opportunities and, like all the interns profiled, had a passion for writing that he wanted to explore. “I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I was a kid and was part of the school paper at my high school,” he said. “I was hoping to find an environment similar to what I had with that experience, and the job description for this position sounded very similar to what I used to be part of. 

“I was also drawn by the fact that I could get to interview and write stories about topics related to science and things related to my prospective career. I’m still an undergraduate sophomore, so I thought that this opportunity to really get close to my field and build context for it would be very beneficial for me.”

All of them had high hopes for what they’d learn on the job. “I like the art of science writing,” said Gosain. “Before joining MBDH, I enjoyed breaking down intricate ideas for people, making them accessible and engaging. My desire to grow in this area led me to MBDH, where I hoped to meet new people, hear their unique stories, and delve into diverse fields of research. I hoped to learn about the incredible adventures of people in the scientific community. It’s awesome to see how excited people get when they talk about their experiences, and that truly energizes me.”

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Mehta had similar sentiments to share. “Initially,” said Mehta, “I hoped to sharpen my writing skills, particularly in translating complex technical concepts into engaging narratives. Additionally, I wanted to learn more about data analysis and journalism ethics in the context of technology reporting.”

When Ogata spoke of what he hoped to learn, he brought up the difficulty of getting time to write when your coursework doesn’t allow for it. “[I want to become] a better writer. Writing a story about someone or a topic is always a challenge in determining how to write it, i.e., how to introduce readers to the main topic, how to make it engaging, how to incorporate the quotes, how to end it. I think writing is similar to playing an instrument or any skill, for that matter. You get better at it by doing it over and over again and learning new things throughout that process. Honing my writing skills is definitely a big priority for me. Since my classes are mostly technical, it’s hard to get any writing practice in my class. So having a break from all the math/technical jargon and being able to write is really nice.”

My time at MBDH has better prepared me for my future career in technology journalism. I’ve gained practical skills, industry insights, and a network of professionals that will undoubtedly benefit me as I embark on my post-graduation journey.

–Jas Mehta, MBDH

All three also expressed how great the mentoring was for their internships. “Throughout my internship,” said Mehta, “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the depth of knowledge and expertise within the MBDH team. Their mentorship and guidance have been invaluable in shaping my growth as a journalist.”

“My team is super awesome,” said Gosain. “John [MacMullen] and J.D. [Graham] are like the best mentors ever. They’re really nice, easy to talk to, and totally get what you’re going through.”

While they aren’t quite finished with their two-semester-long internship, all three interns have been delighted with what they’ve learned so far. “I think I’ve become a better writer thanks to this opportunity,” said Ogata. “I’ve also learned a lot about data science, cybersecurity and the greater Midwest region, too.”

Not only do I feel more confident as a writer, but I also feel like I have a better grasp of my prospective career as well.

–Ken Ogata, intern, MBDH

“During my time here,” said Gosain, “I’ve learned and grown a ton. Exploring the different projects MBDH is involved in opened my eyes to the dynamic world of research. Specifically, I’ve gained valuable insights into various aspects of data storytelling, which I find fascinating. I wish to get a taste of the research side of things and contribute to that area, too.”

“Having worked at MBDH for a while now,” said Mehta, “I can confidently say that my experience has exceeded my expectations. I’ve not only honed my writing skills but also gained valuable insights into data analysis techniques and ethical considerations in journalism.”

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“The journey has been full of surprises,” said Gosain. “It showed me how everything in science connects. Whether it’s plants on a farm or creatures in the ocean, they’re all linked and also sharing these cool discoveries is just as important as making them. That’s where good communication comes in. I’ve realized that telling these amazing stories to everyone is a big part of being a scientist. It’s been an awesome adventure of learning, appreciating how complicated and awesome science is, and making sure others can get excited about it, too!”


Data is everywhere, offering tremendous opportunities to advance our understanding of the world around us. Here in the Midwest, the Midwest Big Data Innovation Hub (MBDH) is a community of data science practitioners who address scientific and societal challenges through data. Funded by the National Science Foundation and hosted at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Hub organizes events and working groups and offers resources to foster innovation.

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