New faculty profile: Todd Newman specializes in strategic communication

Todd Newman joined the faculty in the Department of Life Sciences Communication as an assistant professor in August 2018.

What is your background?
I grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I have a Ph.D. in communication from American University, a master’s of public policy from DePaul University, and a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy from Indiana University–Bloomington. Before I joined CALS, I was a postdoctoral research associate at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York.

How did you get into your field of research?
I got involved with environmental politics while I was an undergraduate student at Indiana University. This motivated me to work with an environmental/energy non-profit in Chicago while also pursuing a master’s degree in public policy. I intended to go into a career in environmental policy, but while pursuing my degree I developed an interest in the role of individual attitudes and risk perceptions around these issues. This led me to pursue a Ph.D. in communication, which I chose due to its interdisciplinary nature as a field.

What is the main goal of your current research program?
The goal of my research program is to examine the communication processes that shape public opinion and perception of scientific issues. This includes the role of values in influencing public opinion on controversial science issues; coverage of scientific issues across different media; and the strategic use of marketing and branding in science communication. More recently, my work focuses on the public engagement activities of scientists and scientific institutions, such as measuring the effectiveness of communication training programs as well as improving the way scientists and journalists work together.

What attracted you to UW-Madison?
The Department of Life Sciences Communication is the leading department in the world within the field of science communication. The opportunity to work with the faculty, staff, and students in the department was a major influence on my decision. In addition, UW-Madison is one of the great research universities and their support of interdisciplinary research was also a major attraction.

What was your first visit to campus like?
My first visit was for my job talk which fell on Halloween. It was very, very cold.

Favorite place on campus?
The Union Terrace

What are you most enjoying so far about working here?
The energy of Madison and the UW campus. It is a great community and I really enjoy the faculty, staff, and students who I interact with on a daily basis.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.
The heart of my research is about how to communicate complex information effectively with various audiences. This includes how researchers and research institutions like UW can more effectively engage with the people of Wisconsin and throughout the world.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?
It is often the most educated members of the American public who are prone to biased processing of scientific evidence and dismissing information that does not align with their pre-existing views.

Hobbies/other interests: I am a runner and really enjoy the various paths around the city. Now to get a bike…