About Brenda Hoffman, Ph.D.: Brenda Hoffman is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Graduate Programs Director for the School of Communication and Journalism at Stony Brook University, where she also conducts research and teaches courses as an Assistant Professor of Practice. As the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Dr. Hoffman oversees all undergraduate and graduate programs within the School of Communication and Journalism, from program structure to accreditation, assessment, and course scheduling. As the Graduate Programs Director, she works closely with students, providing advising and course registration support, research mentorship, and coordination between faculty, program staff, and students to optimize students’ experiences within graduate programs.

In her role as Basic Course Director for the School of Communication and Journalism, Dr. Hoffman developed and currently manages Stony Brook’s undergraduate public speaking course, which serves as one of the University’s general education requirements. Additionally, she teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses in health and risk communication, team science, and research methods. As a social scientist, Dr. Hoffman focuses her research on the intersection of health and instructional communication to improve the quality and continuity of health care to enhance health outcomes for patients and communities. She is interested in topics such as learning and assessment, organizational socialization, interdisciplinary teams, health literacy, patient adherence, and communication motives.

Dr. Hoffman earned her Ph.D. in Health Communication from George Mason University, her M.A. in Communication Studies from Texas State University, and her B.A. in Communication from Bryant University.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication program, its curriculum structure, and how it prepares students to both conduct and share diverse social science research with broader audiences?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] Our Master of Science in Science Communication prepares our students to engage in and advocate for valid, reliable public discourse about science through communication that helps others engage with science in new and meaningful ways. We take a modern approach to communication that combines a traditional social science theory and research foundation with practical, hands-on training to help students become effective boundary spanners between science and society.

What makes our program unique is that all students experience training in improvisation through the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the national leader in science communication professional development programming. In the Master of Science degree, Alda Center programming helps students foster deep connections with others and embrace flexibility, while maintaining an appropriate level of preparation. It also gives students lifelong skills that will prepare them to remain nimble in an ever-changing world.

Our Master’s program is practice-oriented, meaning we train students for careers in professional science communication. That is not to say that a student could not go on to a Ph.D. program and/or an academic profession, but we focus on translating science communication research to practice, so students are prepared for careers centered on sharing the wonder and value of science and research broadly.

The Master’s program itself is 33 credits, consisting of six required courses (18 credits) and five elective courses (15 credits). All courses are offered in an online format, allowing students to enroll regardless of their location. The composition of coursework is as follows:

Required Courses (18 Credits)

  • COM 516: Communication Research Methods
  • COM 526: Building and Assessing Communication Strategies
  • COM 565: Foundations of Science Communication
  • COM 577: Communication Law and Ethics
  • COM 583: Principles of Inclusive Engagement
  • COM 699: Master’s Project in Science Communication

Elective Courses (15 Credits)

  • COM 517: Advanced Communication Research Methods
  • COM 522: Communicating Science to Policy Makers
  • COM 534: Communicating Science Using Digital Media
  • COM 550: Climate Communication
  • COM 575: Special Topics in Science Communication
  • COM 585: Communicating Science and Health Risks to the Public
  • COM 587: Independent Study
  • COM 588: Graduate Internship
  • COM 605: Environmental Communication

[MastersinCommunications.com] Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication is offered in partnership with the Alda Center for Communication Science, which is a leader in science communication programs for professional development, scholarship, advocacy, and more. Could you elaborate on how this partnership with the Alda Center benefits students of the Master of Science program, in terms of curriculum, networking, post-graduation programs, and more?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] A unique aspect of coursework in our program is that students have direct access to the Alda Method® for science communication, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science’s proprietary training approach to science communication, rooted in social science research, communication strategy, and applied improvisation. The Alda Center is the nation’s leading science communication professional development organization, and over the years, we have worked with more than 20,000 scientists and researchers from around the world. Leading government agencies, research societies, and universities work with the Alda Center every year to help their scientists learn to be better, more effective, more engaging communicators. In building the Master’s program, we knew we wanted to give our graduate students extended opportunities to work with and learn from the Alda Center’s experienced and expert facilitators.

The Alda Center’s work centers on sharing the wonder and impact of science and research by helping experts learn to recognize and respond to the needs and backgrounds of their audiences. We know that science and research can help improve our society, but for that to be true, it must first be accessible. We help scientists and researchers make it so, and we are committed to doing the same for our graduate students.

Alda Center curricula are strategically scaffolded into various required and elective courses throughout the program. Alda-certified facilitators deliver training modules and work closely with professors to ensure alignment with course learning objectives and assignments. This scaffolding offers students longitudinal exposure to the training method, and the opportunity to continually practice audience-centered communication skills in various areas of science communication such as climate/environment, health, policy, media, and assessment as they curate their individualized programs of study.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication is offered fully online. What online technologies does this program use to foster a rich learning environment for its students? Does the program use synchronous instruction, asynchronous instruction, or both?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] Our program is offered entirely online, through synchronous class sessions hosted via Zoom. When students are not in virtual class sessions, they access course modules and interact with their peers via Stony Brook University’s learning management platform, Brightspace. Students are welcomed to the program with an optional in-person orientation during the summer before the start of the program to meet faculty and classmates face-to-face, and get a sense of the campus and availability of our facilities, should they want to utilize them at any point during their studies.

We find that this initial face-to-face contact helps put students at ease, and allows them to connect with their faculty and peers in a more meaningful way when they get into the online classroom setting. The majority of our School’s events (e.g., monthly colloquium sessions with guest speakers, evening panel presentations, etc.) are hosted in a hybrid version and/or are recorded so that students who cannot attend in person can attend remotely.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their culminating experience, students of Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication complete a Master’s Project in Science Communication. Could you elaborate on this project and its parameters, including the key deliverables students are expected to complete and the support students receive from faculty during their work?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] All of our graduate students complete a capstone project under the direction of a faculty mentor. The Master’s Project is students’ opportunity to apply what they have cumulatively learned in the program to a real science communication need within their community, within an organization, or for a stakeholder group that is relevant to their career interests.

Projects may take the form of original research intended for submission to an academic conference or translational research that informs the content development for a specific audience (e.g., educational module, communication campaign, podcast, social media strategy, etc.). Each project contains written, visual, and/or interactive components. Students formally present their work to peers, faculty, and members of the campus/community at the conclusion of the course.

In many cases these projects prepare students for careers as professional science communicators. For example, students who create podcast projects have content they can use to pitch a formal podcast or simply to jumpstart their online content creation. Students who choose to complete research projects are prepared for future science communication research in a variety of scientific and health fields.

[MastersinCommunications.com] How is faculty mentorship integrated into Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication program, and what advice do you have for students in terms of making the most of the mentorship opportunities and support systems available to them?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] Students work directly with faculty mentors not only on their capstone projects but also throughout their programs of study. While students are not assigned a specific advisor upon entrance into the program, they do meet with me as the graduate program director frequently to discuss their interests and goals, and to identify which faculty members they may be most closely aligned with, in terms of their research interests and professional goals.

We believe strongly that students should not be limited to one advisor, and should instead take advantage of opportunities to work with a variety of our faculty members, who come from a wide range of fields themselves – some are social scientists, some are practicing journalists, others are theater professionals (within the Alda Center). This unique makeup of our faculty makes our program deeply interdisciplinary right from the start, and we want our students to take advantage of that while they are here. Some students elect to work alongside faculty on research and grant projects, serve as teaching assistants on lower division undergraduate courses, and/or work alongside our communications team as graduate assistants.

[MastersinCommunications.com] How can students who are interested in Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication program put forth a competitive application?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] Our admissions committee spends a lot of time reviewing applicant credentials, and we appreciate seeing materials that allow us to get to know the student and why they are specifically interested in our program. My advice to a prospective student would be to customize your personal statement to specifically speak to your interest in this program, your goals for the future, and even highlight specific faculty you may be interested in collaborating with. I would also encourage prospective students to choose writing samples carefully. Choose samples that showcase any science communication work or social science research you have done in the past. No matter what, select materials that you are proud of and that highlight your strengths.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication program an excellent graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students particularly well for advanced science communication roles across diverse industry and research-based settings?

[Dr. Brenda Hoffman] Our program is unique in that it is a practice-based program that also gives students a foundation in communication research and theory upon which to ground their skills. The collaboration of the Alda Center puts students at the forefront of science communication training and allows them to work directly with Alda facilitators to practice their science communication skills.

Thank you, Dr. Brenda Hoffman, for your excellent insight into Stony Brook University’s Master of Science in Science Communication and how it can help propel students into a variety of impactful careers in science communication research, journalism, and other fields!