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Lauren Murfree - Graduate Ag Research Spotlight

It’s always been a passion of mine that people on the opposite end of a spectrum have more in common than they think they do, and that you can validate an experience even if you don’t agree with it. That you can potentially find common ground.

- Lauren Murfree, PhD student, Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication

THE STUDENTlauren-murfree-01.jpg

Lauren Murfree says that careful listeners can detect her northeast Appalachian origins in her speech. Careful listening is important personally and academically to Murfree, who grew up in Freeland, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains. After her older sister moved to the Midwest, their parents encouraged Lauren to pursue better opportunities there as well. She spent a year at a small liberal arts college, took classes at Ivy Tech, and “once I got my feet under me,” she says, transferred to Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne. There she earned bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and psychology as well as an international studies certificate. “I wanted to be an anthropologist, but I didn’t know there were other fields where you could do similar work,” she says. She earned a master’s degree in applied anthropology at Purdue in 2018 and in the same time frame, began work toward a master of public health degree in addition to doctoral study in another Purdue college. All along her academic path, Murfree was involved in a variety of advocacy work. Based on those experiences and a class she took with Linda Pfeiffer, associate professor of science education, Murfree transferred into the agricultural sciences education and communication (ASEC) department two years ago under Pfeiffer’s advisorship. “I wanted more talking to people and understanding perspectives,” she explains. “As the social science branch of the College of Agriculture, ASEC values and supports that advocacy.”

THE RESEARCH

“Most of my research focuses on trying to get groups that commonly don’t cooperate to build sustainable collaborations for policy change,” Murfree says. “The core foundational aspect is audience analysis.” In her current study, she applies science communication strategies to interviewing Christian parents in Indiana to better understand their religious beliefs and perceptions of religious exemption laws related to childcare. Her goal is to better understand this population to ensure that future communication is informed and relevant. Murfree also hopes her qualitative study will lay the groundwork for future research in an area where little currently exists.

OPPORTUNITIESlauren-murfree-02.jpg

She credits Pfeiffer for taking her on mid-doctoral study as well as for ongoing support, feedback and opportunities to travel. Pfeiffer encouraged Murfree to submit an abstract to the upcoming Global Network for Science Communication conference in Rotterdam in April, appropriately titled Creating Common Ground. As a Bilsland Strategic Initiative Fellow, Murfree also serves as graduate assistant to Purdue’s LGBTQ Center. The Purdue Graduate School awarded her a 2022 Boiler Changemaker Award for her work with the center, citing her skill in fostering community there.

FUTURE PLANS

Murfree expects to complete her fifth and final year of doctoral study this year. “I see myself working at something that combines my passions,” she says, citing as possibilities applied work at a nonprofit or institute that furthers policy to help marginalized or rural communities. In her spare time, Murfree does global virtual writing retreats with graduate students that bring her “snippets of joy.” She enjoys “procrastibaking,” often to the benefit of students at the LGBTQ Center, and travel with her husband.

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