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Jakob D. Jensen

I’m originally from Circle, Montana, which is a small town (pop. 600) in the Eastern part of the state. Given my rural roots, I have a special interest in underserved populations including those living in poverty, frontier communities, and high risk immigrant families.

I attended Concordia College – a four year liberal arts school in Moorhead, MN – on a speech and debate scholarship. My success as a competitive public speaker led me to pursue an MA and PhD in communication at the University of Illinois. At Illinois, I was mentored by Professor Daniel O’Keefe. Dan invited me to join a meta-analysis project wherein we synthesized decades of research on loss- and gain-framing. While working with Dan, I was also appointed project manager of an R21 NIH-funded content analysis of cancer news coverage (PI: Jo Stryker); research that revealed coverage was prone to several systematic biases, including over/underreporting of various cancers. Taken as a whole, these projects led me toward the study of health communication.

After completing my PhD at Illinois, I accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Purdue University. There I continued my research on health communication and quickly became a faculty affiliate of the Cancer Prevention and Control Unit within the Oncological Science Center (OSC). Through the OSC, I was part of a successful R25 NIH grant that created an interdisciplinary cancer prevention training program. I eventually became the Associate Director of that program.

In 2011, I joined the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, and became a member of the Cancer Control & Population Science Core within the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Returning to the West provided me with wonderful opportunities to study and aid rural/frontier counties as well as other underserved demographics.

As a health communication researcher, I design and evaluate message interventions to increase patient/public adherence, comprehension, and satisfaction. I am an expert in cancer communication, a sub-area of cancer control research that examines communication features, strategies, and technologies to improve cancer outcomes. My research has contributed to a growing body of scholarship which suggests that public dissemination channels are failing to effectively communicate cancer research. When it comes to cancer, the public appears to be confused, fatalistic, and overloaded. These negative perceptions undermine cancer prevention, detection, and control efforts and suggest that researchers need to identify (a) whether public dissemination norms are contributing to the problem and (b) if so, then what can be done to rectify the situation. I have focused on both goals by identifying message features that seem to trigger confusion, fatalism, and overload and those that might reduce the problem. Cancer prevention is typically a long-term behavioral activity, therefore, I have investigated how to effectively communicate information to audiences across the life-span.

I am the current Director of the Health Communication and Technology (HCAT) lab, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, and a member of the Cancer Control and Population Science (CC&PS) core at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). Recently, I received an HCI seed-grant to develop a strategy for communicating the benefits of low-dose aspirin to adults at moderate/high risk of developing colorectal cancer.

In summary, I’ve always been a talkative person who enjoyed interacting with others. My love of talking led me to study communication, and to strive to develop message strategies that will better convey cancer prevention, detection, and treatment information. My lab attracts individuals from diverse backgrounds who share an interest in studying the complex world of communication.