Department of English, MS3E4
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
email: hlawren2 [at] gmu [dot] edu
alternate: hylawrence [at] gmail [dot] com
Hello. My name is Heidi Lawrence, and welcome to my professional website. Here, you can learn a little more about me and my research and teaching interests.
A proud product of public education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, I have a Bachelor's degree from Mary Washington College (now called the University of Mary Washington, though I am one of those stubborn alums who refuses to go with the flow), a Master's degree from George Mason University, and a PhD from Virginia Tech, all in English, professional writing, rhetoric, or some permutation thereof. I returned to George Mason in the Fall of 2013 as an assistant professor in the English department, where I teach courses in professional writing and rhetoric.
I have worked as a professional writer in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area since 2000, beginning as an intern at the Washington Post's entertainment guide and as a web writer for a student loan company. My first post-college job as a writer was for Atteloir, Incorporated, where I supported a contract with the United States Army reviewing technical documentation. I later transitioned into proposal writing and management for Atteloir, and from there went to work for L-3 Communications, where I also supported proposal development and management, emergency preparedness contracts, and publications/productions efforts for a variety of contracts, agencies, and other opportunities.
As I moved through these different jobs and tasks, I was always interested in improving my writing and editing abilities and in addressing the larger issues that my colleagues and I struggled with daily: how to best communicate ideas across complex situations and readerships. This first motivated me to pursue a Master's degree and then a PhD in rhetoric and writing.
Vaccines and Professional Communication
While at Virginia Tech, I began my research into vaccine controversy by working with the Vaccination Research Group (VRG) at Virginia Tech. Led by Dr. Bernice Hausman, the VRG is a consortium of undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty who come together to research contemporary and historical controversies related to vaccine developments, mandates, and other social issues. Initially, I supported the VRG in largely administrative or pedagogical tasks associated with the undergraduate members of the group. However, after being asked to present on the research for a research symposium, I began to see how vaccine controversy brought together many concerns and questions that I had long been interested in: How do professionals communicate complex information to lay audiences? How are public concerns addressed (or not addressed) by people with specialized forms of knowledge? How do we best adjudicate disagreements across different personal, professional, public, and private spaces? From there, my interest in vaccinations, and the ways parents, patients, and physicians talk about them, really came to life.
As such, I do not approach vaccine controversy as an "us" versus "them" dichotomy, and my research works to subvert that notion entirely. There are not crazy parents who don't believe in vaccines working to undermine correct, smart researchers who just want to save children's lives. There are also not evil, megalomaniac scientists trying to strong-arm unsuspecting parents into taking medications they neither need nor want. The entire issue exists in a rhetorical, middle ground where a variety of opinions, value systems, and varying forms of fact are constantly being negotiated. I work to uncover those points of negotiation, examine the arguments they produce, and aim to find alternative methods of understanding the disagreements at play.
For me, actively working as a professional communicator has been an important component of my teaching and research. The study of rhetoric also has an inherently public, social purpose: to try to address and improve issues related to communication in the public sphere. Going forward, as my research program continues to grow, I intend to work in concert with practitioners, parents, and policy makers to craft vaccine communications that are sensitive to the many facets of this issue. Please read more about my research program on my Research page.