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T Laidlaw July 2016Tess Laidlaw (Assistant Professor)

BSc (University of Winnipeg), MA Journalism (University of Western Ontario), PhD Interdisciplinary Studies (Rhetoric and Media Studies; University of Saskatchewan)

Effective risk communication in situations of high uncertainty influences the decision-making processes of lay publics in ways that have the potential to protect health and prevent social upheaval. Tess’s central passion is the application of rhetorical theory to investigate practical communication on the topics of health and disease: how communication occurs, its impacts, and its symbolic significance.

Tess’s doctoral research examined media coverage during the 2009 "swine flu" outbreak via close reading and critical discourse analysis methods grounded in the theories of Kenneth Burke. She has presented her work in Canada and the U.S.

Current Research & Work in Progress
Current projects include the development of a healthcare communication social-media decision-making framework grounded in rhetorical theory, and the investigation of situational rhetorics of pandemics (including a comparative analysis of figurative language in SARS and H1N1 media coverage). Given the role of “expert” sources in health-threat communication, Tess is also investigating changes in the social construction of expertise.  

Tess has submitted a manuscript featuring the manifestation of discrete “roles” in journalists covering the H1N1 pandemic, and is developing a manuscript on the critical method “cluster-agon” analysis, described by Kenneth Burke.

Tess is also interested in the experience of first-year university students. She is beginning a project intended to lead to a framework of initiatives that instructors can implement to create a supportive classroom.

Additional Research Interests
* The phenomenon of Othering / scapegoating in the context of disease outbreaks
* The place in disease discourse of maintaining social order
* The theme of compliance in expert discourse on disease
* Health communication in contexts where traditional knowledge is highly valued

* Symbolic impacts of communication in the context of pre- and post-natal health: How prenatal education
  affects birthing experiences & outcomes

Tess welcomes inquiries from prospective MA students interested in working in these or related areas.


Since 2011, Tess has taught at the Mount in the areas of communication theory, organizational theory, writing, public relations, and mass media, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. She is developing a new graduate-level course, Rhetorics of Health and Illness, for first offering in Winter 2018. She co-ordinated the B.Sc. (Science Communication) program (2015-2016) and now teaches science communication. She has also taught at Saint Mary's University and at the University of Saskatchewan.

Professional background

Prior to beginning her academic career, Tess worked in public relations capacities at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and at a vaccine research and development organization based at the University of Saskatchewan. These roles, combined with experience as a technician in biochemistry, microbiology and molecular biology, spurred an interest in the communication of scientific and health-related topics to lay publics.

Conference Papers (peer-reviewed)
Laidlaw, T. and Grant, S. (2018, May). The persuasion of expectant mothers: An analysis of online prenatal classes.  Paper presented at RhetCanada/Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric, Regina, SK.

Laidlaw, T., and French, A. (2017, Oct. 14).  First-year students' orientations, and non-curricular techniques to mitigate anxiety.  2017 Atlantic Universities' Teaching Showcase.  Halifax, N.S. Oct. 14, 2017.

Laidlaw, T. (2017, May 30). Communication across lay/expert divides: A rhetorical decision-making framework.  Annual conference of the Canadian Society for the study of Rhetoric.  Toronto, Ont. May 30-June 1, 2017.

Laidlaw, T. (2017, May 26). Pandemic stories: Narrative roles in the media and the shaping of health information.  Narrating Science: The Power of Stories in the 21st Century Conference.  (Organized by the College of Arts, University of Guelph, Canada, and "Fiction Meets Science" at the Universities of Bremen and Oldenburg, Germany.)  Toronto, Ont. May 24-May 27, 2017.

Laidlaw, T. (2016). An argument for a "situational rhetoric" of pathogens.  Presentation at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric, May 31-June 2, 2016, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

Laidlaw, T. (2012). Re-framing journalistic “role” in the genre of pandemic reportage. Presentation at the 15th Biennial Rhetoric Society of America conference, May 25-28, 2012, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Laidlaw, T. (2011). Travel between worlds: A Burkean approach to inter-disciplinary communication. Presentation at the 22nd Penn State Conference on Rhetoric and Composition, July 10-12, 2011, State College, Pennsylvania.

Laidlaw, T. (2011). The “epic principle” in media coverage of a pandemic: A dramatistic analysis. Presentation at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric, May 28-30, 2011, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, NB.

Laidlaw, T. (2009, July 22). Not “THE” pandemic: Interpreting swine flu in Canada. Presentation at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric, July 20-26, 2009, McGill University, Montreal, Que.

Laidlaw, T. (2007, May 29).  The flu pandemic: At a bookstore near you.  Presentation at the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric, May 27-29, 2007, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Sask.

Research Presentations
Panel presentation: Rhetorical Analysis & Pedagogy. (2018, May). Co-panelists Crystal Chokshi, John Moffatt, Corey Owen, Jocelyn Peltier-Huntley, Bruce Dadey (moderator), Monique Kampherm, Jason Edward Black. RhetCanada/Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric conference, Regina, SK, May 27-29, 2018.

Laidlaw, T. (2016).  Authenticity & expertise online:  Communicating for behavioural change. Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S., Feb. 17. (invited)

Thurlow, A. and Laidlaw, T. (2016). (Joint presentation on social media in education and rhetorical decision-making in social media use). Nova Scotia Health Ethics Network Pre-Conference Panel - Social Media and Professionalism, Halifax, N.S., Oct. 21.

Book review for scholarly journal
Laidlaw, T. (2016). [book review of Handbook for Science Public Information Officers By W. Matthew Shipman]. Science and Public Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/scipol/scw059

Graduate Students
Graduate (MA Communication) Thesis Supervision
In Progress (Fall 2016-)
  * Cindy Bayers, The Exercise of Public Relations Leadership in the Context of Canadian Universities
* Jessica Long, Mobilities and Infectious Disease: Canadian Political Discourse of Ebola

Graduate Thesis Committee Involvement (Dept. of Communication Studies)
  * Rob Hiscock (2016-) Paradigm lost (and found): A historiographical review of the application of systems
    theory to public relations since 1975
* Alyssa Simon (2016-) Building Online Influence: Empathy in Opinion Leadership