Featured PhD Student: Kari Campeau

Portrait of Kari Campeau.
Photo by Jacob Van Blarcom, CLAgency student

Where are you from? 

I grew up in Bethesda, Maryland.

Where did you previously attend school? What was your degree in? 

I studied English at Barnard College in New York. I then attended Virginia Tech University for my masters of fine arts.

Why did you choose Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota?

I wanted to continue my research in rhetoric of health and medicine, and I was excited to work with and learn from several faculty members whose research I had long admired. I was also excited by the opportunity to teach a number of different introductory and advanced, online and face-to-face writing studies courses.

What is your research area? 

I am a researcher in the rhetoric of health and medicine (RHM) and professional and technical communication. This means that I study how people interact with medical systems and communicate about health, illness, and medicine. I study how language organizes and changes in medical spaces. I study the narratives people tell about medicine, patient-provider communication in medical spaces, and what people find persuasive in health and medical contexts. My goal is that my research will help improve both public understanding of medical controversies and private patient-provider communication problems.

What do you find most interesting about your research area?

My research is ethnographic, which means that I spend a lot of time interviewing and observing people in medical and health contexts. I have learned so much from the people who have partnered with me or participated in my research. I find it most interesting to learn how patients, healthcare providers, community health workers, and social service workers are using on-the-ground  technical and professional communication strategies every day to advocate for patients and their access to good care.

Would you tell us about a project or course that was particularly meaningful to your professional development?

My time working as a member in the Vaccine Research Group (VRG) at Virginia Tech University has been formative to my growth as a researcher, mentor, and teacher. The Vaccine Research Group, now dissolved, was an interdisciplinary research team, made up of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students, studying vaccination controversy and infectious disease. 

Here, I learned how to actually design, carry out, and rhetorically analyze qualitative research. At the same time, as I saw research from the VRG get used by local and national public health organizations to better understand vaccination decision-making and communication, I learned to design research studies that could benefit and support participants. Finally, I learned the importance, and challenges, of strong mentorship structures and collaborative research, and all of my successive research undertakings have developed from community partnerships and benefited from long-term collaborations.

What class are you teaching and what is your favorite thing about teaching it?

I am currently teaching WRIT 3562W: Technical and Professional Writing. This course brings in students from all different disciplinary backgrounds, and I enjoy the ways that students bring their own perspectives and backgrounds to understand and build on our course material.Right now, students are working in teams to design and conduct usability tests of an existing piece of documentation. I love teaching usability because we get to think about the ways technical communicators can work as user advocates, and students are constantly bringing into the classroom insights they learned from testing their written work with real users. 

What are your interests / hobbies outside of academia? 

I love to run and can’t say enough great things about the Twin Cities running community and racing scene.

What advice would you give to someone considering pursuing their PhD with Writing Studies?

Take time to foster relationships with your colleagues--read each others’ work, celebrate one anothers’ successes, learn from each others’ teaching, show up to writing workshops and reading groups, and talk through all of those writing challenges and stresses. It’s a lonely road, otherwise, and there are so many great people here.

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