Spotlight on New Faculty: Laura Senier

This fall we welcome Laura Senier to our faculty. Professor Senier received her PhD in Sociology from Brown University this May. She also holds a MPH in Epidemiology and Social and Behavioral Science from the Boston University School of Public Health. She is the perfect person to fill the joint position in rural and community health she will hold with our department and the Department of Family Medicine in the Medical School.


Dr. Senier’s dissertation research explores how genomics is influencing public health research and practice in the United States. In this project, Laura explores the mental models and assumptions that scientists draw upon in designing epidemiologic research on breast cancer. Scientists deploy these paradigmatic assumptions about the nature of health and illness, what causes disease, and how these forces interact at individual and population levels to produce estimates of risk that influence the development of health interventions and inform policy. In this project, Senier also examines recent initiatives to synthesize knowledge on the effect of genes on health, and in doing so, extends our theoretical notions of the role that abstract knowledge plays in professionalization and in organizational legitimacy.

In previous work, Laura Senier examined how physician-provider communication influences parental confidence in vaccine safety. She is a member of the Contested Illnesses Research Group at Brown University, and has worked on projects to characterize the field of health social movements and to advance the theoretical and empirical tools for studying them. As part of this team, Senier studied coalition formation between labor unions and environmental organizations, in order to better understand how they invoke health concerns in staging their campaigns.

Professor Senier’s work has appeared in Science, Technology, and Human Values, Sociological Inquiry, Organization and Environment, Social Science and Medicine, and Environmental Science and Technology. She is the recipient of a fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. She also received the 2008 Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, given annually to a graduate student supported by the Superfund Basic Research Program. Under the auspices of the SBRP, Senier provided technical assistance and leadership development training to community-based organizations throughout Rhode Island that are coping with toxic contamination. In recognizing her work, NIEHS cited her efforts to integrate service learning and community-based outreach in environmental justice communities.

Laura is involved in several ongoing research projects in addition to her work with the Contested Illnesses Research Group. She collaborates with a multidisciplinary team at the Boston University School of Public Health on an NIEHS-funded project to identify communication problems that arise among different stakeholders involved in the design of community health studies: community activists, scientists, and government regulators. She also works with researchers at the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University on a study of health beliefs and behaviors among residents of assisted living facilities.

We are excited to have Laura Senier as a member of our department. We look forward to the many ways she will broaden our departmental research and teaching portfolios and the pivotal position she will play in creating links between our department and Family Medicine.

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