Summer Doctoral Seminar

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2020 Summer Doctoral Seminar
Detroit, Michigan | June 6-9
Guest Scholar Dr. Timothy L. Sellnow

- All Seminar Activities Conducted Online -


As emerging economies develop, the world's climate changes, and political tensions resolve and recommence, the frequency and intensity of crises is growing steadily. Monitoring risks with the hope of averting crises is increasingly difficult as national borders become progressively more permeable and the communication landscape evolves to reveal unanticipated threats and opportunities. Additionally, mega-crises such as pandemics and widespread threats to food security are more likely now than previously imagined. This seminar focuses on the viability of existing theory to account for these rapid changes in global stability.

Students participating in the seminar will explore diverse health, risk, and crisis communication theories and discuss how these theories can or cannot evolve to account for the evolution of risks and hazards. Opportunities for developing new theories will also be considered. Seminar participants will generate research proposals that could be the focus of their doctoral dissertations or the inception of promising lines of research as they begin their careers.

The seminar includes a free public lecture by the guest scholar, which this year will be offered as a webinar.

Chaos at the Intersection of Crisis and Health:
Navigating the Paradox of Communicating Certainty in Uncertain Times

Monday, June 8, 5:30 pm EST/ 2:30 pm PST/ 9:30 pm UTC

By their nature, crises are shocking, threaten lives and livelihoods, and create enervating uncertainty. Regardless of crisis type, anxious publics demand explicit answers to questions about how to best protect themselves and their loved ones from the looming threat. Paradoxically, the more uncertainty the crisis evokes, the more publics' demand certainty. When, as is painfully often, crises become politicized, uncertainty is further intensified by conspiracy theories, personal attacks, and denial of compelling evidence. This presentation views the paradox of certainty in uncertain times from the perspective of chaos theory. In doing so, the problem is clarified and recommendations for navigating this paradox are provided.

Timothy Sellnow

Timothy L. Sellnow (PhD, Wayne State University) is a professor of strategic communication in the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. His research focuses on biosecurity, pre-crisis planning, and strategic communication for risk management and mitigation in government, organizational, and health settings. He has conducted funded research for the Department of Homeland Security, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Geological Survey, and the World Health Organization. He has also served in an advisory role for the National Academy of Sciences and the Food and Drug Administration. He has published numerous refereed journal articles on risk and crisis communication and has co-authored six books on risk and crisis communication. His most recent book (with Matthew Seeger) is Communication in Times of Trouble: Best Practices for Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (2019; Wiley-Blackwell). He is a recipient of the National Communication Association's Gerald M. Phillips award for Distinguished Applied Communication Research and the Nicholson School of Communication's Excellence in Teaching Award. He is a past editor of the Journal of Applied Communication Research, published by the National Communication Association.

An overview of this year's seminar is available here.

For more information: Pradeep Sopory at

2020 Summer Doctoral Seminar Webinar recording.

2020 Summer Doctoral Seminar Webinar announcement flyer.

2020 Summer Doctoral Seminar solicitation for applications flyer.

Overview of past Summer Doctoral Seminars is available here.