Hello. My name is Heidi Lawrence, and welcome to my professional website. I am an Assistant Professor of English at George Mason University, where I teach courses primarily in rhetoric and writing. I currently direct the Master of Arts concentration in Professional Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) at Mason and am the co-founder and co-director of the Virginia Consortium on the Rhetoric of Health and Medicine (VCRHM).
I have worked as a professional writer in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area since 2000, beginning as an intern for the entertainment guide in The Washington Post and as a web writer for a student loan company. Following college, I went on to work as a professional writer, editor, and proposal writer and manager for a range federal government contractors.
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 and continues to motivate my teaching and research agendas as a faculty member at George Mason today.
I began my research into vaccine controversy by working with the Vaccination Research Group (VRG) at Virginia Tech in 2010. I completed my dissertation research on rhetorics of vaccine controversy in 2013 and my monograph, Vaccine Rhetorics, will be available from Ohio State University Press in February 2020. I have also published work on vaccination in Critical Public Health, the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, and the Journal of the Medical Humanities.
Vaccine Rhetorics applies the tools of rhetoric to public arguments about vaccines, with a goal of elucidating why people are persuaded to believe the things they believe about vaccines, medicine, and health. By examining four primary exigencies across vaccination—disease, eradication, injury, and the unknown—through the rhetorical concept of material exigence,Vaccine Rhetorics offers novel explanations for why persuasion is so difficult when it comes to vaccination. The text offers suggestions for theories, methods, and practices that can inform new, rhetorically informed persuasive approaches to vaccination practice and policy, with a goal of achieving more understanding, deliberative discursive outcomes.
As a medical humanist, I work in collaboration with scholars from across disciplines to conduct research related to medicine, health, and language in a wide range of spheres. I have worked with experts in policy and gender-based violence to research rhetorics of campus sexual assault; collaborators in social work and global and community health to build a community-engaged research program concerning health and housing; and colleagues in rhetoric statewide to build the VCRHM, a consortium of scholars with expertise in medical rhetoric, which is currently pursuing a project on opioids in the Commonwealth.
In the PWR program at Mason, I have built programming, research, and pedagogical opportunities designed to help students professionalize in the field of professional writing to make our program into a space where students can pursue successful, vibrant careers by joining our program.
I have expanded the professional development offerings and activities for PWR students through program-wide professional development assignments. I run annual board meetings for our Executive Advisory Board and maintain active relationships with industry and professional communities. I worked with a group of students to begin the GMU STC Student chapter in 2014, which has a robust annual schedule of events and professional activities.
I developed and teach our specialization courses in proposal writing, which consists of a two-course series in proposal writing, designed for advanced undergraduates, graduate, and PhD students. These courses give students a comprehensive introduction to different industries that require proposal writing (academic, nonprofit, and government contracting) and the methodologies that guide those efforts. This instruction is paired with the opportunity specialize and develop their own connections in the field, based on real-world, evidence-based instruction in proposal writing. My own research on the subject enhances and informs these pedagogical practices, which I have published in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication.
Finally, I am currently working in collaboration with the Writing Center and the Communication Center to develop a Center for Research in the Laboratory for Scholarly and Civic Communication at GMU. The Lab is designed as a space for research and professionalization in writing, rhetoric, and the humanities, where PWR students in particular can come and professionalize in grant and proposal writing alongside graduate students in other disciplines. This distinct experience is designed to give Mason PWR graduates a signature professionalizing opportunity through our program
Please read more about my research program, my teaching, and my service and administrative work further on this site.