Barron: STEM Majors, Join the Opinion Desk


(Courtesy Morgan Barron)

By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer


I joined the Daily Utah Chronicle’s opinion desk during my sophomore year at the University of Utah. It was a non-obvious extracurricular for a mechanical engineering student like myself, but I applied hoping to meet new people and write more often. Little did I know that writing for the Chronicle would make me a more effective engineer and being an engineer would make me an asset to the paper.

Improve Your Writing

Engineers spend between 20% and 40% of their workday writing, but to graduate from the U, mechanical engineers are only required to take a single writing class beyond the university mandated Writing 2010. A deficiency in opportunities to write is not unique to my college — most STEM departments emphasize technical material at the expense of developing competent communicators.

Luckily, joining the Chronicle filled this gap in my education. Weekly assignments ensured I wrote regularly and constructive feedback from my editors improved the quality of my work. After three years, I am comfortable communicating complex ideas through writing. As I am starting my first job working remotely due to COVID-19, this ability will likely determine my effectiveness in this engineering role as much as my mastery of technical material.

Bring New Content and Explore New Material

The content produced by the opinion desk is often dictated by the interests of individual contributors. Many of my articles were influenced by my experiences in STEM.  During my first year on the opinion desk, I wrote about eco-driven innovation at the U, how scientists should be included in public land decisions and the importance of science and engineering fairs. However, my editors never boxed me in as a STEM contributor. Instead, I was encouraged to expand my writing portfolio by participating in desk-wide projects.

Head to Head articles is the longest-running opinion project at the Chronicle. In a typical Head to Head, two contributors write two articles on a single hot button topic. Not every Head to Head is oppositional, some contributors write complementary pieces, but the threat of another article undercutting their arguments leads most writers to incorporate additional research and expert opinions to support their position. I refined my ability to effectively present data to support a written argument by participating in this project, and then I applied these skills to my own coursework. During my senior design project, I leveraged outside research and the data my team collected to defend design decisions over email and in the project’s final report. This skill will be relevant post-graduation as I justify engineering actions to my superiors and design features to potential customers.

The opinion desk recently began to encourage contributors to collaborate on a single article. Though I did not have the opportunity to participate in this project, I know it would have improved my ability to blend my writing style with others’. Many of the engineer reports I have written with a team have been stylistically incohesive, distracting the reader from the material of the report.

Scientifically Literacy is Important

Since March, the opinion desk has written extensively about COVID-19 and will likely continue to do so until the end of the pandemic. Nearly one in 10 Americans believe that vaccines and masks are dangerous, and scientifically illiterate journalism that reaffirms these beliefs will cost lives. Given our exposure to technical material in class and participation in research, STEM contributors are more likely to understand complex scientific topics and identify scientifically unsound methods. Our scientific literacy makes us valuable contributors.

Interested in joining the Chronicle’s opinion desk? Apply here.


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