Michele "Micki" Olson (ABD, 2018) is at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Silver Spring, MD. 
1) What has been your career path?

  • Early in my academic career, I was focused on health communication research and was funded as a health communication research assistant. When I entered my PhD program, I soon became interested in the communication of more immediate threats, like disasters. This led me to collaborate with professors in Risk Sciences, specifically Dr. Sutton, and exposed me to many different domains of risk communication research. During this time, I cultivated and explored my research interests, which lead me to my current job.
  • I currently work as a social scientist to support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Weather and Air Quality. Here, we fund research that has direct application to the agency, specifically the National Weather Service. In short, my job entails integrating social science and social science research findings into the agency by finding creative ways to use social science to support NOAA’s mission. I’ve always been interested on the applied side of research, so seeing social science research findings being used by the agency is truly exciting!

2) How did the courses in Risk Sciences at UK prepare you for your career?

  • My job requires expertise in all things related to risk, including communication. I need to have a strong research background (e.g., theory, methods) in order to support the research conducted at NOAA. The core classes in Risk Sciences and working as a research assistant with Dr. Sutton a) helped me gain experience and expertise, and b) allowed me to conduct research independently while also learning from the faculty in Risk Sciences. In addition to risk communication, I must also have expertise in social science more broadly. The Risk Sciences courses outside the department prepared me to discuss all things social science.

3) How did research opportunities with the Risk and Disaster Communication Center prepare you for your career?  

  • I’ve had many opportunities to collaborate on research thanks to the Risk and Disaster Communication Center. As a research assistant funded by Dr. Sutton's grants from the National Science Foundation, I was able to gain experience conducting research related to health, disasters, and meteorology. I assisted on grants investigating the use of Twitter for disaster communication, social media engagement strategies used by the National Weather Service, and projects investigating Zika communication on television news and social media. Because of the collaborative environment, I was able to help conceptualize, design, analyze, present, and publish many of these projects. 

4) What is the next big thing, related to risk, that you want to investigate or pursue? 

  • I think this is such an exciting time for risk communication research. Risk communication is no longer confined to the static presentation of text-based messages - risk communication can now be an immersive experience! Virtual reality and multisensory environments can place people in real-world space and may have implications for risk communication (e.g., does it influence risk perceptions? Does exposure to a virtual world help prepare people for future disasters?) - Overall, risk communication research that leverages these emerging technologies is a fascinating new direction for risk communication research.