Kaiping Chen Harnesses Data Science to Studying Exciting Communication Questions

LSC assistant professor Kaiping Chen

Read more to learn about LSC’s newest Assistant Professor!

A special welcome to LSC’s newest Assistant Professor in computational communication Kaiping Chen! Chen joins the department from Stanford University where she received her Ph.D. in Communication. She is also this year’s winner of NCA Political Communication Division’s Lynda Lee Kaid Outstanding Dissertation Award!

Over the fall semester, Chen will be conducting research that employs data science to examine how digital media and technologies affect political accountability to public well-being. She will also be examining how deliberative designs can improve public discourse on controversial and emerging technologies.

In the spring, Chen will be teaching LSC 250: Research Methods in the Communication Industry. This course provides an overview of all stages of the research process (surveys, focus groups, etc.), translating data into reports for experts, and lay audiences and into effective campaign strategies.

We sat down with Professor Chen and asked about getting ready for her first year as a faculty member here in LSC.

LSC: What are you most excited about for your first year at LSC?

KC: I am very excited to learn from my colleagues at LSC and across campus. I’m excited to continue my journey of studying science communication and teach LSC 250: Research Methods in the Communication Industry this spring.

LSC: Briefly describe your career path—up to this point.

KC: I did my undergraduate degree at Fudan University in Shanghai and majored in political science and economics. During college, I attended Yale summer school and worked at the New Haven Mayor’s Office, which sparked my interest to study political communication in both the United States and China. I went on to complete my Master of Public Administration at Columbia University and then received my Ph.D. in Communication from Stanford University.

During graduate school, I focused on two major research projects. The first was about political accountability in the digital age. Here, I examined how policymakers in the United States and China manage and respond to online citizen requests on well-being. For my second research project, I studied effective public engagement strategies to foster deliberation among citizens on complex and controversial policy issues.

From all of this, I realized the importance of data science in order to embrace the opportunities digital media offer scholars. I obtained a certificate in Computational Social Science from Stanford and learned how to apply natural language processing and network analysis tools to understand people’s interaction, on social media and in face-to-face dialogues.

In addition to my research, I also helped municipal governments in the United States and China practice innovative ways of engaging citizens in policymaking. I advised the City of Palo Alto government on their digital crowdsourcing innovation through conducting data analysis and designing user-interface between policymakers and citizens.

LSC: What is the main focus of your research program?

KC: My research program has three main projects. For the first project, I use YouTube Data API to study propaganda strategies in viral science videos and their effects on public discussion about politicized and emerging science. In the second project, I investigate political accountability in the scientific community. I do this by studying congressional committee hearings from the late 1800s to the contemporary period, in hope to understand what type of scientists were invited to give testimonies and the responses to these testimonies. For my third project, I collect and analyze public dialogues across social media platforms and in deliberation events to explore what designs can effectively engage the public in making thoughtful decisions about controversial technologies, such as CRISPR and AI.

LSC: What drew you to UW-Madison?

KC: The intellectual atmosphere and the Wisconsin Idea is was drew me to UW-Madison. I feel strongly aligned with the interdisciplinary emphasis and the communication among scholars across departments on campus. I also am touched by the hospitality of my colleagues at LSC, making a new badger feel right at home.

LSC: What do you like to do outside of work?

KC: I love playing piano! I’ve been playing since I was three and gave my first solo performance at the Shanghai Concert Hall when I was 10. I also enjoy brewing Chinese tea and pour-over coffee for friends.

Make sure to stop by 316 Hiram Smith Hall to give Professor Kaiping Chen a warm welcome to campus!