POSTGRADUATE SYMPOSIUM – Star academics of the future showcase their work

Head of Department Dr Sian Rees reflects on the virtual event…

Nurturing PhD students through their PhDs is one of the most rewarding tasks for academic staff, because we get to work with advance level students who are delving into topics that connect to our own research interests.  Our Media & Communication Postgraduate Research Symposium today (21st January 2021) saw excellent presentations from five of our PhD students along with a fascinating insight into the PhD journey from guest speaker Dr Declan McDowell-Naylor from Cardiff University.  

We had an unexpected visit from American politician Bernie Sanders there in the background !

CHEDZA SIMON presented on the role of social media and crisis response strategies used in Botswana.  His findings focused on the nature of social media crisis content and reactions, exploring dialogical theoretical concepts and crisis response theory.  His work is making a genuine contribution to knowledge of the nature and challenges of PR in Africa and thereby adding to a growing canon of research into global PR culture and practice, moving beyond a dominant Western-focused research paradigm.  We then moved from PR to VR as EVELYN SONG provided a fascinating focus on museums using human-computer interactions.  Her research provides a unique study of museums as mediated phenomena, facilitated by VR-based technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed-reality, gamification and interactive narratives.  She is using a clever interplay between media and museum inquiry concepts to help identify effective museum curation practice for the future.

Evelyn is working at the intersection of VR technology and museum studies

Staying with the digital media theme, BONNY APUNYU shared his research approach into the role of social media networks on Polish migration to the UK.  He is exploring the nature of migrant social media networks and how they influence migration decisions and facilitate economic, cultural and social capital, leaning on concepts of the network society and participatory culture.  We then moved continents with two presentations from students based in Oklahoma (presenting very early in the morning for them!).  AIDA PESSAGNO DELBOY shared her analysis of the representation of inactive, one-dimensional, marginalised and disempowered female characters in the early works of Mario Vargas Llosa, before explaining that this patriarchal male gaze changes in his later works, thus mirroring the changing role of women in Western society over the six decades of his writing output. 

The connectivity provided by the internet is central to Bonny’s work

Perhaps the most topical presentation was the discourse analysis provided by JOHN BOLANDER. He is looking at the use of business rhetoric by Donald Trump as a means to win the 2016 US presidential election.  He described his use of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Burke’s Dramatistic Pentad as a structure to identify which business narratives and rhetoric techniques were effective in underpinning and selling the Trump brand promise. 

John explained that Trump’s rhetoric can be linked to a well-established principle

The symposium ended with a frank and engaging talk from Dr Declan McDowell-Naylor sharing his tips for successful PhD study:

  • Don’t take criticism personally and don’t compare yourself to others
  • Make friends and connections and attend academic conferences
  • Create a blog or podcast to share your research thinking, but don’t get too distracted by social media
  • Use software and other processes such as the Pomodoro 25-minute writing technique to support getting work done
  • Everyone has an academic crisis of confidence at some stage – so just keep writing!

The wide range of subjects from PR crises, VR in museums, female representation, Trump’s use of rhetoric and Polish migrants’ use of social media is in itself representative of the wide range of topics, disciplines and themes that fall under our Department of Media and Communication.  The presentations show why these studies are important, exploring potential impacts on political outcomes, social migration decisions, socio-cultural understandings of different groups and the marketing impact of new technologies and traditional techniques.  The students are using historic and contemporary critical media and communication theories as a basis for these investigations, to shine a light on the role of media in society and to identify effective strategies for media best practice.  It was a thought-provoking and enjoyable afternoon and I think we have identified some key academic thinkers for the media departments of the future!

Declan wrapped up an enjoyable afternoon with some really useful insights into life after PhD