This past academic year was one unlike any other, however, LSC assistant professor Kaiping Chen did not miss a beat and enjoyed her first year at UW-Madison.
Chen joined the department as an Assistant Professor in August 2019 and spent the fall semester conducting research that built on her previous work on new tools of engaging the public on social media and public deliberation on controversial issues. While continuing her research, Chen also taught LSC 250: Research Methods in the Communication Industry in the spring. This course included an exciting collaboration with the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) where students became involved in all the stages of the research process to create an effective campaign strategy to improve public engagement at PDPW’s annual conference.
Recently, we sat down (virtually) with Professor Chen and reflected on her first year as a faculty member in LSC.
LSC: Reflecting on your first year, what accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
KC: I am a strong believer in using multi-disciplinary knowledge to tackle wicked problems the public face. COVID-19 is one urgent wicked problem we are all facing. I am very excited to obtain the NSF RAPID Award with faculty across disciplines including geography, mathematics, and population health to work out solutions for improving public understanding of COVID-19. I am motivated to investigate the interplay between value systems and preventive behavior among different groups in our society and how this interplay changes over time. I am also designing data visualization interventions to help improve people’s risk awareness and actions.
I am also proud to see that my students in LSC 250 completed semester-long group projects for the course client (PDPW), from engaging with the client, developing research hypotheses, designing survey questions, to conducting and communicating data analyses to the client.
LSC: What were the courses you taught with LSC? Do you have a favorite classroom memory?
KC: I taught LSC 250: Research Methods in Communication Industry in the spring semester.
My favorite classroom memories are in-class labs where students worked in groups to apply a course concept to a real-world case, gave each other feedback, and then revised their work. For instance, in the content analysis workshop, students worked in small groups to develop the coding variable and scheme for an open-ended survey question on PDPW exhibitors’ evaluation for their annual dairy industry conference. Then groups provided live feedback to each other on a Google shared document. The final part of the workshop was a reflection demo groups shared with the class on what they learned from others’ feedback. It was amazing to see students coming up with creative variables to code open-ended survey questions and give super constructive feedback to each other.
LSC: What kind of research are you focusing on with LSC? What research groups are you involved in/collaborating with?
KC: My research agenda at LSC builds on my previous works on news tools of engaging the public on social media and public deliberation on controversial issues. I recently published several works that laid out the paradigms of online crowdsourcing and the long-term effects of public deliberation on civic engagement. In my first year with LSC, I also started several interesting projects. In one project, I applied a variety of computational methods to study science communication on YouTube to investigate audience engagement with science videos and the meaning of community in digital science communication. In another project, I am examining the network dynamics of COVID-19 conspiracies on Chinese social media platforms. Methodologically, I also started to explore how we can harness diverse types of public opinion data (e.g., survey, social media) to better understand public perception on AI technologies such as autonomous vehicles and digital contact tracing.
Since joining the department, I have been affiliated with the Science, Media, and the Public (SCIMEP) research group. I am also proud to co-lead the Content Analysis Group (CAG) with Mike Xenos at LSC.
LSC: How did you prepare for your first year? What is your trick for success?
KC: My trick for success is to gain a lot of insights from my colleagues by inviting them to have Chinese tea in my office! I am so grateful for the generous help, suggestions, and resources my colleagues at LSC, as well as in other departments, have been giving to me.
LSC: Now that you’ve been here a year, what’s something you wish you would have known before coming to UW?
KC: I wish I had known how to drive and walk on snow before coming to UW. Palo Alto did not give me an opportunity to learn this skill!
LSC: What is something you’re excited about getting more involved with in LSC or at UW?
KC: I started working with an amazing group of Ph.D. students at LSC on comparing newspaper coverage of COVID-19 between the U.S. and China and I really enjoyed the experience. I look forward to continuing to work with both undergraduates and graduate students in LSC, as well as across campus. I also look forward to designing and teaching a new course: LSC 375: Social Media Analytics for the coming fall semester.
LSC: Favorite campus spot to spend time?
KC: Hiram Smith Hall
LSC: If you were a Babcock ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
KC: Blueberry Swirl. Tart and Sweet
LSC: Any advice to an incoming faculty member at UW?
KC: Applying to be the Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Fellow (https://mtle.wisc.edu).
Fully utilize and enjoy the mentorship.
After such a busy and fun first year, we cannot wait to see what the future holds for Professor Chen here in LSC!