Meet Kenneth Lachlan, Head of Communication

Ken Lachlan, professor and head of the Department of Communication, outside of the Arjona Building. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

Ken Lachlan, professor and head of the Department of Communication, outside of the Arjona Building. (Bri Diaz/UConn Photo)

Kenneth Lachlan

Department of Communication

Ph.D.: Michigan State University

Office Location: Arjona Building

What interests students in studying communication?

For young people, managing information and perception is just a part of life. When they discover that there is a field dedicated to producing and managing messages, it is often a very natural fit to their existing skills and preferences.

At the graduate level, most have identified an area of study through their undergraduate experience that they wish to investigate professionally. Our graduate students typically pursue careers in teaching and research.

What would you say are the Department of Communication’s areas of strength in your field?

We are a very productive department, publishing research with direct implications for health marketing, risk management, advertising, and relationship management. At the same time, we have built a strong undergraduate program that we feel prepares our students for a wide range of careers in the new media economy. We like to think we excel at both.

What are the most popular or most loved classes taught in the Department of Communication?

Our introductory class, The Process of Communication, provides students with many examples of the ways in which communication impacts their careers, families, and everyday lives. Many of our students declare the major after taking it. One of our newer offerings, Professional Communication, has received similarly positive responses, as it directly addresses group dynamics and communication in the workplace.

What types of jobs do students, undergraduate and graduate, pursue after attaining a communication degree?

Our undergraduate majors typically obtain jobs in advertising, public relations, marketing, human resources, and media of all kinds. A significant number of our graduate students have obtained research and development positions in these industries, too, though most go on to careers in higher education.

Have there been recent changes in the Department of Communication that have strengthened the department?

Several years ago we became a freestanding department. This was followed by a period of growth and expansion that is still ongoing – we have roughly doubled the size of our faculty and taken on many more majors and graduate students. This influx of talent has helped our profile grow at all levels. About 80% of our Ph.D. graduates obtain employment in an academic setting upon graduation, and our undergraduate placement in full-time jobs is similarly strong. A recent study ranked us as the top communication program in New England in terms of research output and 16th out of 61 doctoral-granting programs nationwide.

What do you see as upcoming challenges or opportunities for your program?

Growth always brings challenges. Recognizing the synergy between the two, we are working to grow both our alumni relationships and our internship program, in order to generate more job opportunities for recent graduates. At the graduate level, we are more aggressively recruiting budding communication scientists at the national level. We hope this will not only improve our scholarly reputation, but also add to our already impressive roster of faculty and graduate instructors.

Are there any common misconceptions about the field of communication? If so, what are they, and how do you try to combat them?

Communication sometimes gets mislabeled as the major for students who are not mathematically inclined, or as some kind of esoteric discipline with little real-world significance.
We try to combat these misperceptions by making the rigorous, data-driven characteristics of the field evident in our introductory courses, and offering real life examples across the curriculum of how the knowledge we glean from research impacts decision making in the workplace. In terms of scholarship, our faculty is productive in publishing this type of research, and in interdisciplinary collaboration on this campus and others.

Where do you see your field going in the next 10 years?

While it will always be important for us to look at individual level communication processes, social media and big data analytics are opening up fascinating new research opportunities for us. We are discovering new ways of drawing inferences about human behavior by looking at data networks, volume, and content. These discoveries will cut across all facets of the field, and will have significant implications for the skills we impart on our students.

What first interested you in the field of communication?

Like many of our majors, I took a general elective class in communication, and I was immediately captivated by the ways in which information strategies can shape our perceptions, motivations, and compliance. One of my professors invited me to work for him as an undergraduate research assistant, and I was hooked. I haven’t looked back since.

How would you describe your field in 10 words or less?

A unique bridge between research and application.

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