About Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee, Ph.D.: Hye-ryeon Lee is the Director of Graduate Studies and a Professor in the Department of Communicology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also served as the Interim Associate Dean for the College of Arts & Humanities. As the Graduate Studies Director, Dr. Lee provides students with guidance in developing their program of study, and also advises them throughout their completion of the program. As a Professor, she teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in communication research methods, persuasion and social influence, political communication, and health communication. Her research interests include political and health communication and their connection to social science and persuasion.

Dr. Lee earned her bachelor of arts in English Literature from Ewha Woman’s University in 1984, after which she earned a Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988, and subsequently earned a Master of Arts in Political Science from Stanford University in 1992. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication from Stanford University in 2000.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on your responsibilities as a professor in the Department of Communicology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] I am originally from South Korea, and so I did my undergraduate in South Korea at a university called Ewha Woman’s University. I majored in English Language and Literature and minored in Journalism and Mass Communication. When I finished my bachelor’s degree, I decided to seek graduate education in America, specifically in communication. I first attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and earned a master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, and then I moved to California to earn my Ph.D. in Communication and a second master’s degree in Political Science at Stanford University.

Throughout my career, my specialization has been communication campaigns and persuasion. Within this area, I explore both political communication and health communication, because in both of those disciplines we use communication programs and campaigns to influence people’s opinions, attitude, and behavior. In general, however, I consider health communication as my primary research focus, and political communication as my secondary area of research.

I moved to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2001, so I’ve been here for about 17 years now. And I have served in various capacities including as the Chair of the Department of Communicology. I also worked as the Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Currently, I am back at the Department as a Professor of Communicology, and I serve as the Director of Graduate Studies at the Department.

As a Graduate Studies Director, I oversee all of the matters that are related to graduate education, including recruiting and advising graduate students, engaging in the assessment of graduate student progress, and overseeing how students are progressing through our department. I oversee anything that is related to graduate students and supporting them.

[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program is unique in its specific focus on communicology. Could you elaborate on the definition of communicology, and its relation to and distinction from the field of communication? Also, could you elaborate on how the Department of Communicology has evolved over the years?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] The field of communication on the whole is very, very broad. There are people who study interpersonal communication, mass communication, and human communication like our Department does. There are people who study advertisements and public relations and communication campaigns on a large scale, while others study media, such as journalism and broadcasting. And others study new communication technology, computer and human interaction, and how people utilize these technologies. Some scholars study even more specific topics within these areas, such as cyber bullying and other issues. So communication is a very broad area.

Communication as a discipline is a relative late-comer in terms of the social sciences. Psychology has been around forever, as have sociology and political science. An interesting challenge for those who study communication as a scholarly topic is that the term “communication” is used to refer to basically everything related to communication, and that there is no specific term for the academic discipline of communication studies. So we felt that, as a department that has a very specific focus on the scientific study of human communication processes, labeling it as a “Communication Department” was just too broad and vague. When we say that “we study communication,” people think of a hundred of different aspects of communication according to their own ideas about what communication is. That is why we decided to use the term “communicology” as our name to clearly denote the academic and scientific nature of what we do to study human communication processes.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could we have more information on the kinds of research projects that faculty within the Department of Communicology engage in?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] Our department initially started out as the Department of Speech. So we had faculty who were studying rhetoric and speech, debate and argumentation, and other related topics, but over the years the department has evolved into a social science discipline. So none of us actually study rhetoric, discourse or speech in isolation anymore. The faculty and I all focus more on empirical, social science-based communication research. Our primary methodology is experimentation and survey research. For instance, in my field of health communication, I am currently working on a project in which I am conducting a survey with recent immigrants who come from the Pacific Islands to Hawaii.

The reason for this research is if we ever want to design a health-related communication program that is directed at this population, we have to have a thorough understanding of what their communication ecology is. By that I mean, what kinds of communication do they engage in? How do they receive information about health, and how do they communicate with others about health topics? Is it primarily through interpersonal communication that they get their information about health and medicine? Do they ever seek communication information from someone outside of their personal mentor or health care expert, and when they do, who are these resources? How often do they talk to medical or health professionals? Do they ever go online to different websites to look for health information? How often do they do that? And what information sources do they trust? To what kinds of places do they go for additional health information? What are their concerns about health? What kind of communication technology do they use when seeking this information? What kind of platforms do they feel comfortable in, for example? These are just a few of the questions I am investigating in my research.

And on top of the concepts above, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the amount of information people have as their foundational understanding of medicine and personal health, to better understand how they are operating and why. Does the population you are studying have a good level of information regarding key health areas, such as early detection of certain conditions, etc.? For example, what is their attitude towards, say, human papillomavirus vaccination? Do they know about it? Where did they hear about it? And are they thinking about getting the vaccine, or not? If they’re not thinking about getting vaccinated, why not? What are the barriers?

In terms of methods, we develop a survey questionnaire that we administer to a group of people. The data generated are analyzed so that we can develop a pretty thorough understanding of the communication practices, attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and behaviors that relate to the health issues we want to investigate. And with this information, we can then design and test communication messages or programs that are tailored for the specific population that we work with.

These examples are just from my perspective as a health communication scholar. But I have colleagues who study intergenerational communication between say grandparents and children. So they might conduct a survey of a grandparent and a child, documenting what characterizes this kind of communication. Questions for this study might include, how does each party in the communicative relationship feel? Are they feeling good about their communication and their relationship? If not, why not? How often do they talk to each other? When they talk with each other, what kinds of topics do they usually talk about?” So again we can glean this information and look at the relationship between the kinds of communication patterns that are associated with higher levels of relational satisfaction between grandparents and children.

We also have a faculty member who studies communication in the context of evolution. In other words, he is investigating how people’s message processing and relational interactions and communication behaviors connect to evolutionary biology, both in terms of cause and effect. He often used experimental methodology to study his topics.

In terms of gathering data through experimentation, we have an interactive communication research lab that is equipped with various technologies where we can show people something, an image or a message, and have them react to the message. We can track their reaction changes in real time. We have cameras that can capture people’s eye movements or their nonverbal reactions. If we are interviewing two or more people, we can evaluate things such as, are they sitting close to each other or away from each other? Are they looking at somebody or not looking at somebody?

We also have the technology to measure physiological responses such as Galvanic Skin Conductance, pupillary response, and heart rate, which can help us measure physiological arousal. We can set up an experiment where people interact with another individual or interact with a message that is in front of them, and we can actually measure some of these physiological changes as well as observe verbal and non-verbal communication cues.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Are the research lab and other resources accessible to graduate students who want to use it for their research?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] Yes, definitely. Many of our graduate students actually conduct experimental study for their thesis and applied projects. This lab is actually run by one of our faculty members who oversees its operations and makes sure that everyone gets to use this resource when they need it.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program, and how it is structured?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] Our Master of Arts in Communicology is comprised of 33 course credits. Students of the thesis track must complete three core courses: Theories of Communicology, Research Methods in Communicology, and Researching Relational Communication. Students of our non-thesis track are only required to take two of these core classes–Theories of Communicology and Research Methods in Communicology. And then six course credits are typically devoted to students’ thesis or applied project. But outside of these 12-15 credits of required coursework, students are able to create their own curriculum based off of their interests. Graduate courses can cover topics such as issues in message processing, artificial intelligence and communication, health communication, and intergroup communication.

The three primary areas that our curriculum is structured around are relational communication, persuasion and social influence, and message processing. Our program is very research and theory-driven, and our goal is to be able to enhance our scientific understanding about human communication processes. Not just how to apply communication skills and methods to various projects, but also how to develop a better understanding of how human communication processes work across all these different contexts.

And we structured our program around the idea that there are three important topic areas of human communication. First is relational communication–that is, how people utilize communication to build, maintain, and evolve relationships. The second area is persuasion and social influence: how communication is used to influence other people’s behaviors and attitudes or sometimes–either intentionally or inadvertently–to persuade them to take action or to uphold a particular belief. The third foundational element is message processing–how people receive and process the messages in the context of communicative interactions.

Our course selections are built around these three topic areas. Within the curriculum, we aim to have students develop understanding over all three areas through core courses, because we don’t believe you can study one in absence of the other. Students can then specialize into one or two areas through elective courses that are more specific to each area. For example, there are classes specifically on persuasion and social influence, and multiple classes on different types of relational communication, such as communication in aging, interpersonal communication, etc. And, we have courses that are more specifically dedicated to message processing.

So students are given a broad overview of all three areas through basic theory and method courses in the first year, and they can pick an area or two to delve into more by selecting elective classes that they want to take.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please elaborate on the options that students have for their final graduation requirement?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] We allow students to choose between completing a thesis, an applied project, or a comprehensive exam. If a student chooses the comprehensive exam, they take an in-depth examination on what they have learned during their program. Most of our students don’t go that route. While it’s available, within the past 15 years I don’t recall anybody who actually opted for that option. But if a student does opt for this option, then he or she designates faculty members who will create a few questions around the topics they believe are important for this student to have knowledge of, given his or her course of study. And then the student takes those questions and answers them. So the comprehensive exam is fairly straightforward.

The master’s thesis route is the more traditional route where students develop a research idea, form research hypotheses, and actually conduct a research study to test their hypotheses using data. This option is more of the classic scientific testing of a developed proposition. The thesis option is often chosen by students who are going into a Ph.D. program.

The applied project route is designed to accommodate students whose interest is more applied in nature. The applied project is very flexible in terms of what they can do. But the amount of work and effort that is needed is not any less than the thesis option. The project simply provides students with more flexibility as to how they can structure their project.

For example, a student is currently in the process of writing a book as her applied project. Another student developed a volunteer training program for the Make a Wish Foundation. This student talked to the administrators, staff and volunteers of the Foundation to develop a thorough understanding about their operation. She then designed and delivered a training program for new volunteers for the Foundation. In addition, she also created a training manual with detailed information, materials, and forms so that the Make a Wish Foundation had this well-developed volunteer training system in place.

Another example is that a student decided to work with one of the Honolulu mayoral candidates. She decided to first conduct some opinion surveys with the young adult population in Honolulu to understand their attitudes towards this particular candidate. She conducted a literature review to understand what kinds of things are important to know and then designed the survey. She conducted the survey, analyzed the data, and wrote up a report describing the key findings and a series of recommendations for their election campaign. So you can see how, with the applied project, students can create projects that have real world applications that matter to them personally, and they have a lot of freedom in terms of choosing what they want to do.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] When students initially come into the program, and they get to know all the faculty, we tell them at the outset, “Don’t narrow your scope too quickly.” We advise them to explore the different courses and concentration paths a little bit, to understand what different professors are doing and what their backgrounds are, and to see what kinds of areas they are interested in. Doing this exploration allows them to ultimately determine what they’d like to investigate in their thesis or project, but we don’t advise them to make that judgment right after they’ve walked in the door.

We recommend them towards the end of their second semester to make up their mind about with whom they are going to work as their primary advisor. Prior to that, during students’ first year of school, I as the Graduate Chair serve as temporary advisor for all of them. I usually meet with them one-on-one to touch base and to answer questions about their goals, their course of study, what kinds of classes they might be interested in, and what direction they would like to take in our program and beyond. And then when they designate their primary advisor at the end of the first year, throughout the second year it’s their primary advisor who takes over and advises their academic progress.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has a lot of career services and resources available to our graduate students. All graduate students have access to the Career Development Resource Center on campus, where staff help students with resumes and offer a database of potential positions and professions that are possible for students post-graduation. Students can also take personality tests and other assessments to see what careers better suit them.

We also have a graduate student organization that is very active, which provides funding for graduate student research and graduate student travels. And they often also organize workshops, trainings, and other events that are helpful and important for graduate students. And since these events are run by the graduate students themselves, they also know best what services and support their peers need, and try to proactively address those needs.

Within the department specifically, we are a relatively small department with very hands-on, dedicated faculty members. Our graduate students essentially have access to any faculty member, whether they’re their primary advisor or not, to answer any questions. If they need advice on their professional development or their professional direction, our faculty is available to support them and work with them.

Many of our faculty members also provide students the opportunity to conduct independent research and to write and publish papers with them. And several times a year we have various kinds of communication conferences, and our faculty and graduate students co-write papers and then present their research at these conferences as a team.

Our department routinely provides funding support if students want to travel to a professional conference. And when students go to these conferences, our faculty often mentor them about how these conferences work and connect them with several of the well-noted professors and colleagues who would benefit them. Our faculty are invested in helping students make the professional and social connections that will enhance their career and academic experience.

About a third of our students go onto a Ph.D. program on the mainland. But the rest of the students stay in Hawaii and secure jobs here. With a master’s degree from our department, many of them have been able to secure tenured faculty positions at community colleges both here and elsewhere in the country.

Another benefit of our program is that, because we are a terminal master’s program, we do offer graduate teaching assistantships. We have four to five available, and if you get one then you work as a teaching assistant, and we will cover your tuition and also pay you about $17,000.00 a year to support yourself. This kind of graduate support is often reserved for Ph.D. students in other programs, but since we are a terminal master’s program, we are able to offer it to our students, which I think is an added advantage.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for students in terms of submitting a competitive application to the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] In our program we look at several key things. First, we’re looking at your academic capability. Graduate school is a significantly different experience from undergraduate. It requires dedication and focus. So we’re looking for students who are mature and committed to learning about human communication, have the intellectual capability for graduate level work, and have the drive to grow into independent thinkers.

So in your personal statement, you want to describe the experiences you have had and your achievements that can give us the confidence in your intellectual capability to handle the courses and projects. A good GPA and good GRE scores are also important.

For our graduate assistantships, we look for students who have had some experience interacting with other people and possibly serving in a mentorship capacity. For the graduate assistantships, we need to know that the individual can work well with students, because the teaching assistants in our program must interact frequently with students one-on-one, and help teach courses on public speaking and other topics. So they need to be able to show us that they can handle that kind of professional responsibility, and be able to be a professional instructor. Our teaching assistants must carry themselves and be mature enough to teach others in group and individual contexts. So in their application, candidates for TAships must show us evidence that they are that kind of person, and have experience that is relevant to communication instruction.

Our program is also quite demanding, so you need to have that “fire in the belly,” meaning that you really care about what we study, and about understanding human communication processes. Whatever you can do to show that you have that passion and that you’re not coming to our program simply because you didn’t know what to do after graduation is helpful to illustrate in your application. You should show us that this field is something that is intensely interesting to you, and that you are ready to give your all to try to study and understand and further your knowledge about how human communication processes work.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Hye-ryeon Lee] Students who are not sure whether they want to pursue a Ph.D. in communication, but who are interested in investigating human communication processes and delving into scholarly research on this topic, will benefit from our program’s excellent faculty and resources for research. We are very highly ranked in terms of faculty research and scholarship, and we provide excellent preparation for individuals who are thinking about entering a Ph.D. program. And at the same time, we also provide applied projects and other opportunities for students who are more interested in pursuing a career in industry, and are invested in developing their professional portfolio and skills set.

The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s location is also a unique place where there is a lot of cultural diversity. Hawaii has a unique cultural community, and our department is very well known for its intercultural communication focus and investment in examining how culture shapes communication and vice versa. So if you are interested in researching communication forms across different cultural backgrounds, this is probably one of the best places for you to do that. And that is not only true for our department–it’s true across the University of Hawaii as a whole. We have some of the strongest philosophy, religion, and Asian studies departments in the country, which can help students engage in some comparative and interdisciplinary studies of how Eastern and Western philosophies, beliefs, and ways of communicating intersect and affect one another. And students in the Department of Communicology are welcome to craft an interdisciplinary course of study while they are here, with the approval of their program advisor.

Another interesting and beneficial aspect of the University of Hawaii at Manoa is its proximity to the East-West Center, which is not directly affiliated with the University of Hawaii, but is located right next to our campus. The East-West Center is a renowned leader in research and educational programs that promote understanding of and cooperation between the Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The East-West Center often provides its own fellowships to students. Some of our students have found it to be very worthwhile to connect with the East-West Center because they provide all sorts of opportunities, not in terms of just funding for projects, but also in interacting with other students from diverse countries and backgrounds, and multicultural events that allow people to come together to learn about and discuss important sociocultural, political, and international issues. The Center also provides its own certificate programs that students can earn even as they’re working on their master’s degree.

In summary, our program offers excellent opportunities to work with faculty who are dedicated to the study of human communication across many interesting contexts, from familial to intercultural, intergenerational, political, and medical. We are committed to nurturing the next generation of scholars in the field of communicology, and support rigorous research and projects that are applicable to both further study at the doctoral level, and professional careers in teaching, corporate communication, conflict management, and more.

Thank you, Dr. Lee, for your excellent insight into the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Master of Arts in Communicology program!