Deborah Blum, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Science Journalist and Author, Will Deliver Keynote Speech to Spring 2024 J-School Graduates

Deborah Blum (MA’82), Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist and best-selling author, has been selected to deliver the keynote address at the 2024 School of Journalism and Mass Communication Graduation Celebration on Friday, May 10.

Deborah Blum headshotA science writer with a long-standing interest in poison, Blum has published six books, including the New York Times bestseller The Poisoner’s Handbook and The Poison Squad, both of which eventually became PBS documentaries. She has also written about toxicology for a variety of outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Time, Discover, Scientific American and The Guardian.

“We’re so excited to welcome Deborah Blum back to campus this May as our keynote speaker,” said J-School director Kathleen Bartzen Culver. “Deb has a knack for taking complicated topics and creating the most fascinating stories, and I’m sure her remarks to our graduates will be no exception.”

Blum graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism before coming to UW-Madison and the J-School to complete her master’s in science journalism in 1982. She went on to work as a science writer for The Fresno Bee and later The Sacramento Bee. In 1992, while in Sacramento, Blum won a Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for her series on the ethical issues surrounding primate research.

The Poisoner's Handbook book coverIn 1997, Blum returned to the J-School as a professor of journalism and created a creative non-fiction class among others. Currently, Blum is the director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, where she launched the award-winning science magazine, Undark, which aims to illuminate science and its complex, human story.

“I feel incredibly honored to return to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication as a graduation speaker,” Blum said. “My time as a graduate student at SJMC shaped my career as a science journalist and author in fundamental ways, ways that I consider instrumental to my success.

Blum credits the J-School for helping to shape her career and push her to use journalism as a force for good.

“I’ve always believed in good journalism in the classic sense, the old T.H. White line: ‘Shed light. Not heat.’ And I believe if we do that right, we are able to illuminate mistakes – sometimes ones that people in power would rather keep hidden – and to help correct wrongs,” Blum said. “Journalism in the service of good, as it were, and the importance of that was something that was underlined for me as a student here and something that I’ve continued to cherish as an idea.”

As she prepares for her keynote address, Blum hopes to leave a lasting impact on the class of 2024.

“I think it’s important to remember that we can actually make a difference, that although the world can feel overwhelming, we still have that individual power to succeed and to do good in the world. I hope I can remind people of that,” Blum said.

The 2024 J-School Graduation Celebration will be held on Friday, May 10, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. For more information, please visit our event page.