Research article
Issue: № 4 (12), 2017


The article discusses the new master’s program “Popular science journalism”, which started three years ago at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. The author of this article is the creator, developer and head of this program. The goal of this article is to characterize historical and cultural grounds of the master’s program, and their reflection in the curriculum. Installation for the commonwealth of sciences, targeting a broad audience comprised a profiling installation of the classical system of Russian popular science journalism. In accordance with this, the master’s program was designed as an interdisciplinary, with the incorporated idea of the sciences convergence, which based on the Russian history of scientific enlightenment. The article aims to show productivity of the interdisciplinary educational programs, combined into modules.


Contemporary trend, named “science with and for society” (or “public understanding of science” [8, P. 82], means establish communication between separated areas of elitist scientific and social sphere. In terms of communication theory, it is difficult to find some other field of public life, where communicant, mediator would play such a significant role, than in science communications.

At the present time, Russian media increase their interest to scientific problems: actively developed scientific subjects in the printed press and electronic media, created new popular science magazines. For the first time over a long period Russia media show interest to scientific issues.

Training science journalists is an objective need for the state, society, science and media themselves. Russian media market demands science journalists. However, until recent times preparation of science journalists practically not engaged.

In the West, scientific journalists have being prepared at the best universities. American, British science journalists constitute the elite of journalistic profession, precisely because they are able to understand and accessible to present objectively complex issues. In this case, university programs to train science journalists should be specialized and at the same time – within the selected profile – interdisciplinary. The good example of master’s degree program in earth and environmental science journalism represents Columbia University (USA). Such programs are designed as a cross-cutting, with the participation of the journalism schools.

In Russia – to say repeatedly – there is a request for scientific journalists with university degree. However, today in Russia there is only one master’s program on popular science journalism, developed by the author of this article [2]. It was implemented four years ago at the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Saint Petersburg State University. Together with Moscow State University, St. Petersburg University is in the top of Russian universities.


In the West, modern knowledge model is based on the separation of science / art. In such logocentric country, like Russia, dichotomy science vs. art is not so relevant. The very type of national consciousness tends to traditionalism and syncretism. In modern Russian scientific environment has developed evaluative attitude towards humanitarian knowledge, as opposed to natural science. Meanwhile, the idea of the commonwealth of sciences is central to the whole tradition of the national popular science journalism [4]. Another reason is that Russian science has never been separated from the public life [1]. In Russia, even methodological schools in different fields of knowledge, maintained themselves through the journalistic discourse. Traditionally, Russian science was a public-oriented. Historical and typological model of scientific and popular press in Russia is based on a multidisciplinary approach, uniting science and art. In Soviet times, the system of scientific popularization was provided at a high level and operated very effectively. Soviet scientists themselves were involved in the different activities in the field of scientific popularization. Nevertheless, socio-historical transformations have led to the fact that Western researchers and Western science were appeared to be more open to society than is the case in modern Russia.


Training of students in popular science journalism faces a number of serious problems. The main problem is that modern science strongly separated within itself. There is a deficit of fundamental scientific trainings at university programs. In Russian humanitarian educational cycle such reductionism is due to two main reasons: 1) the rapid development of non-classical and applied humanities majors (such as tourism, advertising and others), 2) the overall reduction of hours devoted to humanitarian disciplines of the federal component of the curriculum.

If we talk about journalism education, the professional community is increasingly leaning toward the position that strengthening scientific training of future journalists is actually necessary. The main difference between Russian and Western journalism models is based on the fact that the second is mostly “journalism of fact”, while the first is par excellence “journalism of opinion”. In other words, if the “poet in Russia is more than a poet”, the journalist is more than the organizer of communication.

The purpose of the master’s program “Popular science journalism” defines wide approach to its formation. The program has received not only interdisciplinary, but also inter-departmental approach. For a point of reference here is not taken the department and faculty, but existing profiles of the university master’s programs on the whole. The main thrust of the program – humanitarian.

The main areas of master’s program “Popular science journalism” are: a) general scientific, b) history, theory and practice of scientific popularization [7, 9], c) poetics of scientific and educational media texts [6].

The main courses of the curriculum are following: “Introduction to methodology and history of science”, “Modern natural science”, “History of popular science journalism”, “Contemporary scientific and educational film: types and genres”, “Popularization of science in print media”, “Popularization of science in audiovisual mass media”, “Travelogue discourse”, “Creative studios”, “Environmental journalism”.

What are the learning objectives within the framework of the master’s program?

First of all, this program graduates should be worthy of a general scientific level, which itself serves as a natural barrier to pseudo-scientific representation. Basic discipline “Introduction to the methodology and the history of science” [10] opens master program curriculum. It is aimed at establishing a common understanding of the scientific process in its unity: diachronic, theoretical. Discipline “History of popular science journalism” [3, 5] promotes addition and deepening of the given coordinate system. In the framework of science popularization history it is considered in conjunction with the development of science, socio-cultural situation. This discipline is designed to reveal the historical and typological models of domestic popular science journalism, which can be applied in the present. Within the course “History of popular science journalism” students get the following task. They should create a popular science magazine drawing on the tradition of Russian science popularization. More precisely, they should form specific magazine model, content, design. Their projects are posted on the faculty website. In addition, within this historical discipline students write a paper: “Course research paper in history of popular science journalism: the 18th – 20th centuries”.

Here are a few examples what kind of material students are studied within the historical disciplines; in this case this material finds a methodological value. Studying the history of the Russian-Soviet press, students have to come to the following conclusions.

1) In the leading type of publication of scientific and popular press – magazine – education and entertainment functions organically combined. Model of the Russian scientific and popular press can be defined as transmedia, or hybrid media. It has been produced by a harmonious work of the most important social institutions of society: education and journalism.

2) The main objective of the popular-scientific press is not so much in the promotion of scientific knowledge, but in the audience world view development. For this concept implementation requires community of the different sciences.

Among the various disciplines of the master's program curriculum is carried idea of convergence of humanitarian and natural sciences. Natural science direction outputs this master program on the wide level of interaction. 

The program is called “Popular science journalism”, not just “Science journalism, or communication”. It is designed to neutralize the possible disparity between the different areas of knowledge. In the program emphasizes adaptation of scientific information for a mass audience through the media, movie, literature and, if we consider more specifically, for example, through travelogues. This feature allows standing out from alternative master’s programs. All disciplines focused on the practical application of knowledge. Totally practice-oriented are “Creative studios”. They are divided into two modules: science popularization in print media and audiovisual mass media. Within the first module students write popular science articles and reviews for the corporative popular science magazine “Saint Petersburg University”. In the second way they are preparing the script and an application for non-fiction television program.

Unfortunately, in the educational and research institutions objectively lack the tools to struggle with pseudo-science. Mission of this master’s program graduates is also to carry out this kind of activity in the terms of specific journalistic actions (in the way of investigative journalism, the formation of adequate public opinion). To countering pseudo-science in the humanitarian sphere no less important than in the natural sciences field. Different fields of knowledge converge at this position, but differ in their constitutive role in terms of the formation of ideas about the past and the future. Compensatory function of scientific popularization also has considerable potential. It allows expressing that it is difficult to talk under the rigorous scientific discourse.


Graduates should be able to act in two main directions. Firstly, they should be able to mediatizate science itself. In this case, their focus is to advance scientific knowledge, revealing approach to building modern scholarly communication. In the second case, they would think about audience and developing its picture of the world. In Russia, scientific education has always solved these two problems.

It is well known that science can be in progress only in the situation of scientific schools and scientific environment existed. Scientific popularization also develops only in the system of different promotional formats and integrated marketing communications. Therefore, considered master program is working closely with the club of science journalists “Science Matrix”. It has been working in St. Petersburg for more than ten years and organizes press conferences with leading scientists.

The main positive expected outcome of this program is as follows. Graduates of the master’s program will certainly be in demand. We already have an offer of employment from the press service of the academic institutions and popular science magazines. It is important that as a result of student’s research, journalistic and teaching practice they would provide jobs at the stage of master degree. Graduates have to fill the vacant segment of science journalists. It is very important that at the end of the magistracy, they’ll work not in journalism in general, but more specifically – in scientific journalism.


Lifestyle of a consumer society is glamour and tourism. Popular science journalism generates appropriate values of the audience. Worthy science popularization should be able to observe the correct proportion between entertainment and cognitive aspects. The primary audience of the popular scientific press is quite elitist.

The graduates of the master’s program “Popular science journalism” should have some kind of universal cognitive base. In addition, they should be able to pedal scientific information occasions, to bring them closer to the audience. Meanwhile, the controversy in the public space towards the popularization of science is centered on those issues that have long known. In the field of public actively discussed the issue could journalist popularize science or not. A positive answer to this question is well known. In Soviet times, the objective of which was to raise the level of the mass audience to scientific, science successfully popularized as the scientists themselves, as well as journalists. A similar situation exists in the Western press. Actual master’s program develops this line.

And finally is one paradox. In Russia, scientific popularization cannot be unpopular. It follows from the traditions and peculiarities of national identity.


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