Jun 1, 2021 · 6 min read

New Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship Aims to Increase Racial and Ethnic Diversity Among Next Generation of Science Journalists

STAT, MIT’s Knight Science Journalism Program Launch the Fellowship with Support from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

A group of four Latin American journalism students sit at a table in a radio studio with microphones.
2021 | A group of student journalists talking at a university radio station | Photo by Andresr via Getty Images
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STAT, the nation’s leading health, science, and medicine publication, and the Knight Science Journalism Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced today the launch of the Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship, with the goal of diversifying the ranks of science and health journalists and fostering better coverage of science that is relevant to all people. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI) will provide $225,000 to support the first two years of the program, named in honor of Sharon Begley, an award-winning science writer for STAT, who died in January 2021 at 64, from complications of lung cancer.

The nine-month fellowship is intended for early-career U.S. journalists from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the profession and will prepare them for a successful career in science journalism. It will combine a paid reporting position at STAT with an educational component provided through MIT’s prestigious Knight Science Journalism (KSJ) program. The fellowship is now accepting applications for the inaugural Begley Fellow to start in September 2021, with plans to select two additional fellows in 2022.

Science journalism reflects the structural and systemic inequities in our society, with Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and Indigenous reporters often not getting the opportunities white reporters get to gain relevant experience. Roughly 80% of science journalists are white, according to the most recent membership data from two of the leading professional organizations, with 6% identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander, 1%-4% as Black, 3%-4% as Hispanic or Latinx, and 1% as Native American. 

“The best way to make our profession and workplaces more diverse and inclusive is for news organizations to grow their own talent — and that’s exactly what Sharon aimed to do,” Gideon Gil, a STAT managing editor, said in explaining why STAT decided to create the fellowship. “Sharon relished mentoring younger science journalists, and her professional progeny work at news organizations across the U.S. So we could think of no more fitting way to honor her.”

The funding from CZI will enable STAT to pay fellows a full-time salary over the next two years. STAT is also kicking off a drive to raise additional funding to cover fellows’ reporting expenses and the program’s administrative costs, and to keep the fellowship operating in future years. Fellows will work at STAT’s Boston office alongside its team of experienced science and health reporters and editors to report and write articles, with additional opportunities for building connections, mentorship, and learning across teams. KSJ and MIT are also providing support for the university-based part of the program, which offers opportunities ranging from training seminars and other fellowship community events, university library access, and the chance to audit classes at MIT. The Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship aims to serve as a model for expanding racial diversity in science journalism that could be replicated at other publications. 

“KSJ is honored to be a partner in this pioneering fellowship that honors the exceptional work of Sharon Begley and offers a new opportunity to support outstanding and inclusive science and health journalism,” said Deborah Blum, Director of the KSJ Program at MIT. “We appreciate the commitment of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to improving racial and ethnic diversity in our community, which we believe is essential to smarter and more inclusive coverage of scientific research. And we are delighted to be working with STAT, one of the best health news publications available today, in assuring the success of this project.”

Begley, STAT’s senior science writer, was one of the nation’s finest science journalists and was known for her enthusiasm for mentoring and teaching the next generation. She was especially eager to help other women advance in a profession that, when she began as a researcher at Newsweek in 1977, was unwelcoming. She later worked at the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, before joining STAT at its founding in 2015. Her legacy includes her powerful advocacy for people of color, exemplified by a series she wrote in 2016 and 2017 about the neglect by scientists, government funders, drug makers and hospitals of patients with sickle cell disease, who in the U.S. are predominantly Black. This fellowship pays tribute to her outstanding career while paving the way for the next generation of science journalists. 

“Sharon loved working at STAT and did some of her best reporting there, and mentoring younger journalists was one of her talents and priorities,” said her husband, Ned Groth. “So, for there to be a Sharon Begley Fellow at STAT, honing their journalistic skills in association with and mentored by colleagues who were in turn mentored by Sharon, seems like a perfect tribute to her.”

2019 | Sharon Begley interviews scientist James Wilson of the University of Pennsylvania at the 2019 STAT Summit in Cambridge, Mass | Photo by STAT

“Supporting reporters from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in journalism will bring important perspectives to the newsroom and surface new narratives and stories relevant to more communities, which will not only make biomedical reporting better and more accurate, but also help encourage greater public trust in science among historically marginalized groups,” said CZI Science Communications Manager Leah Duran. “We’re proud to support STAT and MIT to stand up this exciting program to cultivate talent and expand representation in science journalism.” In 2019, CZI supported the University of California, Santa Cruz to increase diversity, inclusion, and representation in its science journalism program.

The Sharon Begley-STAT Science Reporting Fellowship will accept applications from Tuesday, June 1, 2021 at 9 a.m. Eastern Time until June 30, 2021 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. For more information and application instructions, please visit STAT and MIT’s online portal

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About STAT

Founded in 2015, STAT is a digital media company that focuses on delivering fast, deep, and tough-minded journalism about the life sciences to over 8 million monthly site visitors and an additional 20 million readers on the Apple News app. STAT takes readers inside academic labs, biotech boardrooms, and political backrooms, casting a critical eye on scientific discoveries, scrutinizing corporate strategies, and chronicling the roiling battles for talent, money, and market share. With an award-winning newsroom, STAT provides indispensable insights and exclusive stories on the technologies, personalities, power brokers, and political forces driving massive changes in the life sciences industry — and a revolution in human health. STAT’s main newsroom is located in Boston, and it also has reporters in Washington, D.C., New York City, Cleveland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

About MIT’s Knight Science Journalism program

The Knight Science Journalism Program, founded in 1983, is dedicated to advancing science journalism in the public interest. It has hosted more than 300 science journalism fellows from around the world; publishes Undark, an award-winning digital magazine; and offers training programs on topics ranging from science editing to fact-checking, with the goal of nurturing and enhancing the ability of journalists to accurately and thoughtfully illuminate science and its intersection with human culture. 

About the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was founded in 2015 to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges — from eradicating disease and improving education, to addressing the needs of our local communities. Our mission is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone. For more information, please visit www.chanzuckerberg.com.

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