The Second Century Initiative (2CI) brought more than 80 leading scholars and researchers across a diverse array of disciplines; its successor program, the Next Generation Program, continues to do so. Each faculty member has provided the university with their unique perspectives and leadership in their fields. Their work moves forward important and innovative research and scholarship, while lifting the reputation of Georgia State University and its colleges/schools for work addressing the challenges of the 21st century.
This article is part of a series highlighting individual faculty members and their perspectives through a question-and-answer format. Assistant Professor Lucy Popova came to Georgia State in the 5th round of the 2CI, and is a professor in the School of Public Health.
Q:Can you tell me briefly about your research and scholarship?
A: My research lies at the intersection of tobacco control and health communication. I develop and test messages that motivate people to stop or not to start using tobacco. I examine the roles of emotions in decision making – does scaring people or giving them hope (or both) works better? I study health behavior theories and teach theory-building courses. I evaluate the research that tobacco companies submit to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when they seek permission to market new tobacco products and their arguments when they fight regulations (such as pictorial warning labels on tobacco products).
Q:What first interested you in your field of expertise?
A: After getting my Bachelor’s degree, I worked for the American Red Cross and saw many disasters like wildfires, tornadoes, and hurricanes. One question that puzzled me and got me interested in health communication was: Why aren’t people better prepared for disasters? Later, similar questions emerged: Why do people smoke when they know it’s bad for them? Why don’t people exercise more? Working on my PhD in Communication at the University of California Santa Barbara and later doing a postdoctoral fellowship in Tobacco Control at the University of California San Francisco, I learned that the answers to these questions lie in multiple factors, within people themselves (such as in their perceptions of risk), but also in their social and policy environments (such as tobacco industry having little restrictions on advertising their products).
Q:What did you find attractive about Georgia State?
A: I was particularly impressed by Georgia State’s upwards trajectory and the leadership’s commitment to growth and support for both the students and the faculty. The fact that Georgia State closed the gap in graduation rates between students of different ethnicities and economic class was inspiring. I was also excited to join at the time when the Georgia State School of Public Health was in its early years – I felt that I can have an impact on making it a great School of Public Health.
Q:How have your research and scholarship grown since you first arrived at Georgia State??
A: It has only been a little over two years since I joined Georgia State, but my research has been growing quickly. I am finishing up my K99/R00, a National Institute of Health (NIH) grant, comparing emotional and informational messages about tobacco risks. Dr. David Ashley and I recently received an R01 from the NIH, for which we will examine how people modify electronic cigarettes. I have been mentoring postdoctoral fellows and PhD and MPH students, and it has been extremely rewarding to see them develop into independent researchers. I’ve been writing grants, publishing papers, strengthening existing and building new collaborations, and developing and teaching new courses. I have been giving seminars, webinars, and invited talks, including a talk at the Irish Cancer Society in Dublin, Ireland. This year, I’ve been asked to join Evaluation Task Force for the California Tobacco Control Program at the California Department of Public Health.
Q:What sorts of collaborations have you been able to build at Georgia State, both within the university and outside of the institution?
A:Coming from California, since joining Georgia State, I developed collaborations with scholars on the East Coast, writing papers and grants with researchers at the University of South Carolina, RTI International, and University of Georgia. At Georgia State, I feel lucky to be surrounded by outstanding tobacco control researchers with whom we have multiple projects. In addition, I have been collaborating on potential grants with Dr. Patricia Zettler at the College of Law and Dr. Daniel Pimentel-Alarcón in the Department of Computer Science. And I continue to collaborate with teams at the University of California San Francisco, Oregon Research Institute, University of Southern California, as well as internationally, with researchers from New Zealand and Netherlands.
Q: What new developments do you foresee with your research/scholarly development in the future?
A: Tobacco industry is trying to fight regulations and declining smoking rates by introducing new products. Research is needed on what those products are and how consumers perceive and use them. FDA is considering new regulations for tobacco products, so we need to continue doing research that would strengthen the scientific basis of these regulations and help the agency fight the challenges from the industry in courts. The growing momentum of marijuana legalization raises the issue of how it interacts with tobacco use and undermines smoke-free policies. I am also exploring how we can better leverage new technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to study the questions of health communication in the increasingly interactive communication environments of social media.