Posts in category Graduate News

Application Tips for Prospective Graduate Students – Amy Eaton

Admission season for our doctoral program in Communication Studies is currently in full swing and the department is gearing up to review applications from all of our exceptional prospective students around the globe! Our graduate program coordinator, Amy Eaton, has drawn upon her five years of admissions experience in the department to address a number frequently asked questions so that this year’s applicants will have a better understanding of the seemingly complicated process. Here we’ve listed some of the most commonly asked questions from our applicant pool, along with Amy’s responses:

Do I need a master’s degree in order to be eligible to apply to the program?

The review committee does not require that applicants hold master’s degrees as a condition of acceptance into the program. As long as you have earned a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association, or the equivalent from an international institution, you are eligible to apply! The Rackham Graduate School determines the required academic credentials from non-U.S. institutions. More info for students with an international background can be found here.

How do I apply for student funding during the admissions process?

Five years of full funding is provided to ALL admitted students (domestic and international) making satisfactory progress to the degree; a separate/additional application regarding funding is not needed. “Full funding” encompasses tuition and a stipend for the academic year, and year-round health and dental insurance. Funding is also guaranteed for four summer terms, when students are not enrolled in courses.

If you are recommended for admission to our program, your offer letter will outline your funding package and we will discuss it at our Welcome Weekend event in March.

What are the minimum GPA and GRE requirements for admission to the program?

We do not have a minimum GPA or GRE requirement. The review committee takes all parts of an application into consideration and there is no score which will exclude you from being reviewed and assessed. However, applicants should know that the selection process is very competitive. You are expected to be well-prepared for study at the doctoral-level.

Do all international students need to submit TOEFL scores?

If you are a non-native English speaker, you must demonstrate English proficiency and are required to provide one of following official score reports: IBT TOEFL, Paper/Pencil TOEFL and TWE, or IELTS. Non-native English speakers, regardless of undergraduate or master’s education, must submit English proficiency scores in order to be considered by the admissions review committee.

The department’s policy on submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores differs from that of the Rackham Graduate School, so applicants are often confused about this component of the application package.

How many international students do you plan to admit this year?

We do not have a ‘set’ number of spaces for international or domestic admits. We will review all applicants and admit the best qualified cohort possible.

In recent memory we had a cohort consisting entirely of international students; we’ve also recently had a cohort consisting entirely of domestic students. Most commonly, our cohorts are a mixture of international and domestic students.

I sent in my transcript to the Rackham Graduate School and was sent a confirmation of receipt from the shipping company. Why hasn’t my transcript been marked as “received” on my online applicant profile?

Once you submit your online application, your transcripts will need to be 1) paired with your application package, 2) authenticated, 3) evaluated, and 4) entered into your applicant profile. This process does take some time, especially during November and December when most programs approach their application deadline and Rackham is at its busiest. You can help the Rackham staff by including your UMID whenever possible with any of the materials you submit and by submitting your online application and paying your applicant fee as soon as you are able!

Why should I submit my online application asap?

When you submit your online application and pay your applicant fee, you complete the first step to initiate your applicant profile. One you have an applicant profile on record, we can match any materials you had previously sent (transcripts, GRE scores, TOEFL report, etc.) to your applicant profile and we have a record in which we can input incoming materials.

I think of the process in this way: When you submit the online application, it tells us that you have moved from being a prospective student to an applicant and we should begin working hard to compile your materials for consideration. You might be surprised at the number of prospective students who begin an application but do not submit it.

One of my letter writers says that he/she cannot provide a letter for me anymore, but I’ve already entered this info into my online application and have submitted it. What should I do?

You have options, depending on how far along your letter writer is in the process. Instructions can be found here for those of you who have entered this information into the online application.

If you find that you cannot change this information in your online application because your letter writer is too far along in the process, simply send an email to and we will work with you to in-take a letter from a different recommender.

One of my letter writers has missed the December 1st deadline! What should I do?

First, remind them of the deadline and that the letter must be received asap. Second, send an email to to let us know that it’s on its way. After December 1st, when we know how many applications we will be processing for the Fall 2016 admission, I can provide you a specific deadline date extension.

To help prevent forgotten letters, please check the status of your letters of recommendation prior to the deadline and resend the notification email to your recommenders using the ApplyWeb Activty Page.

If your question was not answered in this blog post and you have a question for Amy, please feel free to email her at or call (734) 615-8974, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Let’s Talk Electronic Literature: Caitlin Lawson

headshotThis past June I had the pleasure of attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute. Housed at the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia, DHSI consisted of three weeks of courses focused on diverse topics within the digital humanities. Students may attend one, two or all three weeks of the Institute. With classes on everything from the basics of Ruby on Rails to technology-based literary analysis, DHSI is an excellent resource for scholars who want to learn a new skill, broaden their knowledge of the digital humanities, or delve more deeply into a particular subject area. I went to DHSI with only limited knowledge of the digital humanities and a desire to expand my horizons. While I was nervous that I would feel out of place surrounded by people much better versed in DH, I found that nearly every student I spoke to felt the same way – that they had no idea what they were doing. That was perhaps the most exciting thing about DHSI, because it created an environment of curiosity and comfort, functioning as a space in which students can try new things and take risks in a low-stakes situation.

The course I took was on electronic literature. Focusing on native digital literature (that which was both created and solely viewed on digital devices), the course provided instruction on the basic theory of the topic, how to curate an exhibit of electronic literature, how to create it, and how to teach it. Even though I came to the course largely ignorant of e-lit, I enjoyed learning a variety of new skills and exercising my creativity. With the help of instructors Dene Grigar and Davin Heckman, I designed an exhibition of electronic literature that focused on gender and embodiment. I also coded in JavaScript for the first time and created my own work of electronic literature. For a qualitative scholar who primarily engages in textual analysis and audience research, the course was a fun departure from my day-to-day work and allowed me to diversify my skillset.

In addition to the courses, DHSI also provides opportunities to hear the work of other scholars, network, and explore. Every evening, scholars presented their work during colloquium, allowing students to hear about topics other than that of their particular course. These colloquia were fascinating and occasionally heated; just scroll through #DHSI2015 on Twitter and you’ll see what I mean. There were also organized meet-ups of scholars with similar interests that allowed for networking opportunities. For example, I went to a casual FemTechNet gathering and met other scholars from all over the US and Canada who were interested in feminist DH. DHSI also organizes weekend activities such as hiking and whale watching so students can explore all Victoria has to offer. Overall, I would highly recommend DHSI. Victoria is beautiful, the courses are highly enjoyable, and the other students and instructors are warm and welcoming. It is an excellent place to deepen your understanding of the digital humanities.

*Caitlin’s opportunity to attend DHSI was funded by the Department. 

A Midsummer Night’s Media Policy: Joe Bayer


The Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute, or AnOx for short, occurs each year at the historic University of Oxford in Oxford, UK. At UM Communication Studies, participating in AnOx has become a lively tradition for our emerging academics, researchers, and teachers. Each year the Department of Communication Studies attempts to have one or two Michigan doctoral students selected for the summer program. If selected, the Department provides full funding for the trip.


Sometimes Michigan communication Ph.D. students are already immersed in the world of media policy before attending the program. Other times, our students (like myself) have expertise in other areas of communication studies with the hope of broadening their research agenda. Hence, my personal goal was to learn about contemporary issues and theories related to media policy, and integrate these perspectives into my understanding and ideas for new research.


I am pleased to say that primary goal was accomplished, though not without some initial uncertainty… As someone who works with researchers in the Department of Communication Studies, Department of Psychology, and School of Information at UM, I like to think I draw on a solid range of perspectives. Entering the Oxford Media Policy Institute, however, represented an initial reminder of the limitations of my knowledge base. My own work takes a psychological approach to understand how people engage with new and emerging technologies (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, Google Glass). And this approach is mostly absent from big picture discussion of media policy actors and implications.


Fortunately, I was relieved to find a group of open-minded individuals that included some scholars, some lawyers, some professionals working at NGOs, and others. Beyond the students from Michigan and Annenberg Schools of Communication who apply each year, a very diverse group of participants contribute to total social experience. The program attempts to incorporate a wide range of nationalities and specialties given range of influences on media policy and global flows of information. There are a few required assignments, but the crux of the program is the interaction and debates among participants.

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Not surprisingly, the program is an extensive time commitment. From 9 AM to 5 PM, a range of speakers, panels, and participant presentations reveal the latest ideas and research related to media law policy. This included heated discussions on well-known issues such as the Ukraine-Russia propaganda war, Edward Snowden, Facebook’s, and censorship across the world. Immediately after the workday ends, we moved on to check out local Oxford activities, attractions, and, of course, pubs. The latter outlet is where some of the most interesting, and sometimes significant, conversations take place. Indeed, it is the discussion between participants that the organizers feel is most essential to the continuity of the Oxford program.


Before long, I had established friendships with policy advocates with very different workan ox 2 from my own. From what I have heard from past students, these connections stay with you long after the last day of the program. For instance, I already have plans to see a participant who works for the World Bank when I visit Washington D.C. this year. After the museums and mugs of ale, we wandered back through the old streets to our “colleges” – adorably compared to the “houses” of Hogwarts. I was told that colleges are an important aspect of Oxford culture since students supposedly have more allegiance to their college than the larger University. Given the intensive work and social schedule, the two weeks in Oxford pass by exceedingly quickly.


In parallel with the AnOx Media Policy Institute, the famous Oxford Internet Institute (OII) also hosts a summer program in July. The two institutes focus on different aspects and perspectives related to media and technology. I spent one of my days at the Internet institute since my core research is centered on communication technologies. Most importantly, the timing of the two institutes allows for an annual football (i.e., soccer) game between the policy and Internet camps! For this reason, OII participants looked me at skeptically on the day I attended and accused me of being a spy for the coming match. Luckily, our policy team successfully defeated the Internet team 4 to 1 (or something like that) due to my espionage.


This year it happened to be that the Oxford trip was the first leg of an extended academic travel adventure taking me around Europe and North America. Following Oxford, I visited other communication researchers and professors in Amsterdam (ND), Montreal (CA), and Colorado (US) before returning to Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan encourages and facilitates its engagement with other specialists across the world during the Ph.D. process. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to build a far-reaching network of researchers, and expand our scopes beyond the United States job market. Overall, my travels to Oxford and beyond provided a memorable set of experiences and social connections before I begin my first search this fall for post-Ph.D. jobs.

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Designing (and Teaching!) a New Course – Darren Stevenson

Darren StevensonMeet Darren Stevenson. He is a doctoral candidate in Communication Studies at the University of Michigan and a Junior Affiliate Scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. Darren’s background and training are in digital media, information technology, and data visualization. This led him to pursue a Ph.D. studying the intersection of computing and communication where his research focuses on personal data, trust, privacy, and message personalization in the context of “programmatic” marketing and advertising.

Prior to coming to Michigan, Darren managed the Visualization Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology and studied in the Institute of Communications Research, the College of Engineering, and the School of Art & Design, all at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He’s had the opportunity to study and do research in a number of labs and universities in the U.S. and abroad, including the School of Computer Science and Communication at the Royal Institute of Technology KTH in Stockholm. Most recently at Michigan, Darren has served as a member of the Media Psychology Laboratory at the Institute for Social Research and the Infrastructure Research Laboratory in the Department of Communication Studies and the School of Information.

Darren + Spring Class 2
Darren with some of his Comm 404 undergraduate students


Comm Studies:  You just finished instructing a course that you designed. Can you give us an introduction to your course?


Darren Stevenson: Sure! This spring semester I was fortunate to design and teach my own course, Marketing in a Connected World (Communication Studies 404). The purpose of the class was to expose students to an array of ideas and emerging practices in data-driven, digital marketing. Most college students are captivated by social media and spend substantial portions of their days connected to each other through various social channels using smartphones and other devices. The course allowed students to examine the marketing system that supports most of the digital tools they frequently use, often without giving them a second thought, including social media platforms, search engines, and e-commerce websites and apps.

To examine these tools and their implications, we began with fundamentals of marketing, like pricing, segmentation, and advertising. From there, we moved on to more specific technical issues in the field, including the influence of algorithms, predictive analytics, and the practice of buying and selling online ad space automatically (i.e. often in real-time while a webpage or app is loading), referred to as “programmatic advertising.” To balance the technical content we also explored the many social, ethical, and policy concerns that accompany marketing activities today. So we read a lot about privacy and consumer protection, discussing best practices and working through arguments for and against personalized advertising and regulation.

These two strands of content, marketing technology and related social concerns, supported the formal course objectives. These goals were for students to 1. Understand key technical components of today’s internet-based, data-driven, integrated marketing system and how these components serve marketers, consumers, and the broader digital economy and 2. Develop a critical understanding of the impacts of recent marketing technologies and practices, including ongoing ethical and policy issues related to marketing.


CS: What was it like to design your own course?


DS: The freedom to design a new course was both exciting and challenging.  Creating a class from scratch was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and a tremendous experience. To have fairly wide latitude in inventing a new University of Michigan course was really an honor. Most of our students are extremely engaged and place high standards for teaching on their professors. Additionally, students and often their parents are putting forth substantial financial resources to receive a Michigan education. All of this means students often have great expectations when they enter the classroom. So I felt a great sense of responsibility to create and deliver a course where students could learn a lot and leave the class different from when they began.


CS: What motivated you to pursue this opportunity?


DS: Two things really. First, it is a very exciting time for digital marketing. The state-of-the-art has changed considerably in just the past 5-10 years, largely the result of new ways to observe and study consumers and then tailor advertising messages across digital devices. At the same time, these technical advances have raised a number of social and policy issues surrounding privacy and fairness, especially when it comes to how information about consumers is collected and put to use.

There is a flurry of activity surrounding recent developments in marketing technology and related conversations about the social implications. So you have very timely subject matter most college students are familiar with and experience all the time (i.e. targeted advertising). This provides a topic through which students can gain practical skills linked to communications theories they’ve encountered before, such as ideas about message reception, persuasion, and power. The topic also forces students to wrestle through larger societal concerns ranging from human agency and social discrimination to policy matters, like how best to regulate or not regulate emerging technologies and media practices.

Second, regarding practical skills, for a while now undergraduate students in the Department of Communication Studies have expressed the desire for additional hands-on courses. I do a bit of consulting in marketing and advertising technology, so I was eager to impart some of these skills to students who will soon be entering a very competitive job market. Even for those who are not considering a career in marketing, it never hurts to have some experience analyzing numerical data and communicating technical information. Today, mentioning these analytical skills in a cover letter or job interview might help students stand out from their peers. So, quite purposefully, there were several course components very similar to what students would encounter in various digital media jobs, including analyzing web traffic, publisher costs, click-through rates, and sales data, all from actual ad campaigns, and then making recommendations and writing formal reports.  I was excited to create a course that was really hands-on, especially if it can give students a little boost in their applications for internships and jobs.


CS: What were the types of skills you refined by designing and teaching this course?


DS: First of all, I learned course design is an art form. It requires a completely different skillset from being a teaching assistant or implementing someone else’s course, which is what we typically encounter in our Ph.D. training. I learned a lot from constructing a coherent syllabus. As anyone who has created a new course before can attest, it’s fairly easy to come up with a new course; it’s not so easy to design a good course, especially one that integrates well with the existing curriculum and keeps students engaged. Similarly, when it comes to content and assignments, it’s a fine balance between overwhelming students and boring them.

I also became much better at writing lectures and delivering them. In graduate school we typically have the chance to refine our public speaking skills whenever we present research at conferences or seminars. These opportunities occur only a handful of times each year (if we’re lucky!).

However, as the primary lecturer for a new course, you are not only writing content but also delivering it to students multiple times per week for the entire term. Standing in front of a full class of students and having to perform again and again each session is a great trial-by-fire experience. You realize you really have no choice but to become comfortable with yourself and how you deliver information while a bunch of people stare at you assessing your every word (and non-verbal cues!). For me, after a little while the whole process became more automatic and much more conversational. I think it’s definitely a case of practice makes perfect. I actually learned a lot about communication.


CS: What were some of the challenges you experienced?


DS: The largest challenge was the breakneck pace of the course, which was compounded by some of the technical subject matter. The Michigan spring and summer term courses condense what would usually be 16 weeks of material into just 8 weeks, allowing students to earn the full number of units for a regular course but at in accelerated period. This means we had to cover an enormous amount of material in a short time. The pacing leaves little room for dwelling on a particular topic, question, or concept. I pushed the students pretty hard on the volume of readings we covered, which they let me know about on a regular basis!

Other challenges that came up were less problematic, like the relative disparity in students’ previous experiences. Some students had worked in summer internships and were quite familiar with a lot of marketing practices and terminology. For others it was the first time they had encountered some of the core concepts. This smoothed out as the semester progressed and the less familiar students got up to speed.

Also, our classroom was tucked away in the basement of the Modern Languages Building. In the summer. For a two-hour class period. Three times a week. Nobody was particularly thrilled about spending that much time in a drab basement in the summer, but we all survived!


CS: What was one of the biggest lessons you learned from creating and teaching your own course?


DS: The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of being adaptable, especially when teaching new content. Envisioning how a given reading or assignment will be understood, or how an in-class activity will proceed, is very different from actually testing it in the wild. Things do not always go as planned and it was important for me to learn to roll with it. Something I envisioned to be a great thought experiment may end up simply confusing students. Assignment parameters that seem fine on paper may turn out to contradict when attempted by students. Or what I think of as a “brilliant” article to engage students may conjure a collective response of “meh” or silence from the class. Being able to adapt on the fly was important.

Additionally, college students can be wonderfully unpredictable. Some days the whole class seemed to be filled with tiger blood – they had read ALL the material for that day, even the footnotes, and showed up to class excited to debate new ideas from the literature. Other days it felt like everyone was asleep and/or had a little too much fun the night before. Learning how to deal with the unexpected and adapt a discussion or an entire class period was really important. I learned to be more flexible. Hopefully the students did too.


CS: Looking back, how did this opportunity impact you?


DS: Designing and teaching this course has definitively been one of the highlights of my time in the Ph.D. program. It was really rewarding to watch students learn new concepts and skills and be a direct part of this. I felt a sense of accomplishment whenever students would mention they had not encountered a particular idea before or that they had learned something about how a technology they use all the time (e.g. social media platforms, web browsers, etc.) works under the hood.

Additionally, the class was composed of juniors and seniors who occasionally discussed the jobs and careers they hope to pursue very soon when they graduate. Several of the students expressed aspirations for working in digital marketing. It was exciting to have the opportunity to expand their skillsets and critical understandings of current issues. For the students who plan to go on to careers in digital media or information technology, it was satisfying to feel that the course was having a real impact on their next steps.

Overall, the experience stretched me in many ways. I learned about leading a class all on my own and also a lot about myself. It helped me think through my own career plans and what path I’ll pursue next year when I finish my Ph.D. Having the opportunity to design and teach a course as a Ph.D. student is a great opportunity. Also, the students were excellent and that makes a huge difference. I would do it all over again. Although, after being stuck in the classroom for much of the summer, I’m also glad it’s over!


Darren Stevenson is on fellowship for the fall term and will defend his dissertation in 2016. He is currently on the job market.  For additional details, please see


Top Student Paper Award – Rebecca Yu

Rebecca Yu photoMeet Rebecca Yu.  Not only did she just graduate from the University of Michigan, earning a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, but she recently completed a stellar dissertation.  Even the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication agreed.  Their Political Communication Interest Group (PCIG) division, whose “mission is to explore the interplay between communication and politics,” awarded her the Top Student Paper Award (PCIG).  In other words, the award is a big honor.


Yu has always been fascinated by organized political action, such as the Arab Spring, and how social media is used as a tool in which to do so.  Not surprisingly, her dissertation reflects this interest of hers.  Her paper, “When the personal becomes the political: The relationship between passive and active non-political and political social media use,” seeks to understand the implications of social media use for political engagement.


Yu found that prior research on social media and political engagement often focused on the idea that people purposefully utilize social media for certain outcomes.  “It’s based more on uses and gratifications,” she explained.  “Most research focuses on how political and informational social media uses influence political outcomes.” While Yu recognized that most people do not use social media for solely political purposes, it is likely that political engagement may arise from everyday, non-political social media use.


Yu elaborated, “Research shows that we want to use Facebook and Twitter for personal matters: to consume entertainment information, to connect with friends, family, and other social ties.  Thus, my argument is that when we consume entertaining and personal information on social media, we are likely to be exposed to all kinds of information, including political information.”  Yu characterizes this exposure to political information as incidental.


At the same time, as people actively generate content about private interests, they are more likely to express their political views when opportunities arise.  So, do people use social media to pursue their political interests?  Absolutely. Most people use it for their personal purposes, but as Yu discovered, that can be extended to the political realm.


For example, in 2013 the Human Rights Campaign launched a pro-gay-marriage movement that went viral on Facebook.  As a symbol of support, 2.77 million Facebook users changed their profile picture to an equal sign.  Referencing this example, Yu believes that when individuals witness other people taking political stances on social media, they may grasp a better understanding of the issue.  Thus, this political engagement online may be a way for those typically deemed “not interested” in politics to be exposed or even compelled to engage in political issues.


Yu noted that the research for her dissertation would not have been possible without the “amazing” and “supportive” community of the Department of Communication Studies.  She praised advisors and professors for providing insightful comments regarding the direction of her research and pointing out possibilities she may have overlooked.  Yu humbly remarked, “When we see an award we see this person spotlighted as if it’s all about her or all about him.  But actually, I don’t think so.  It’s a team.  It’s a whole village behind this person.  It’s about the support, not only just financial, but emotional support from the college and department.  They’re all behind it.”


Rebecca Yu recently graduated from the University of Michigan and will be presenting her award winning work at AEJMC’s conference in San Francisco this August.








“About.” AEJMC RSS. AEJMC, 12 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 June 2015.

Chokshi, Niraj. “Facebook Breaks down the Geography of a Viral Pro-gay-marriage Campaign.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 Dec. 2013. Web. 11 June 2015.

Best Student Paper Award – Dam Hee Kim

Kim 1Meet Dam Hee Kim. She is a doctoral candidate of Communication Studies at U of M. Given her extensive background in Communication Studies and Business Administration, one line of her research focuses on media management and marketing communication.  Another field of her research focuses on political communication, with a particular emphasis on the issue of media diversity and democratic citizenship. Dam Hee also conducted research on media diversity at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in summer 2011. And of course, we cannot forget to recognize her most recent accomplishment: the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) awarded the Best Student Paper Award (first-place) to Dam Hee!

Communication Studies: Congratulations on this huge honor!  Can you give some background on AEJMC and its Media Management and Economics division and how you discovered this opportunity?

Dam Hee Kim: Thank you! The AEJMC is a 103-year-old (founded in 1912) nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication scholars and media professionals. The AEJMC holds one of the top national conferences in the Communication field. Its MME (Media Management and Economics) division promotes research, teaching and professional freedom and responsibility in the areas of media management and economics.

In 2013, my paper on the Korean film industry was recognized as a Best Student Paper by the MME division. I found this division’s research both interesting and important; and, its members very welcoming. Since then, I have been involved in the MME division, serving as a Graduate Student Liaison.

CS: Tell me more about your award winning paper.  What did you find? What surprised you?

DK: This paper analyzed all 2,488 films released from 2010 to 2013 in the U.S. to examine what types of films were successful. I focused on two brand extension factors:  sequels and film adaptations, which are transfers of existing work to films. For example, film adaptations from books include The Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part 1, and comic book-to-film adaptations include Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I expected to find that sequels and film adaptations would generate more domestic box office gross than their respective counterparts due to their established brand power. For instance, people are likely already familiar with the Iron Man film or the Hunger Games novel, and so, they may want to watch Iron Man 3 and the film adaptation of the Hunger Games more than other films with no well-known brands.

Results suggested that sequels indeed generated more domestic box office gross than non-sequels. Surprisingly, film adaptations did not generate more gross than non-film adaptations, but interacted with sequels to impact box office gross. Specifically, film adaptation sequels generated more gross than non-film adaptation sequels. Film adaptations and sequels seem to be a good combination, with the potential to create a continued stream of hit films based on existing materials.

Furthermore, I examined what types of adaptation sequels were successful. First, adaptation sequels with more star actors/actresses generated more box office gross than those with fewer stars. It looks like Hollywood is going in the right direction with its increasingly popular strategy to plan on a series of film adaptations with returning stars.

Second, I looked at the sequels’ titles; specifically, numbered titles (e.g., Iron Man 3) can emphasize the brand power of parent films, whereas newly named titles (e.g., Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) can highlight sequels’ “freshness” or dissimilarity to parent brands. I found that adaptation sequels with new names generated more gross than numbered ones. However, non-adaptation sequels with numbered titles generated more gross than those with new names. When there is only one layer of extended brands, sequels, it may be better to emphasize the established brand on the film titles, so that people can easily recognize it.

CS: Are there additional implications?

DK: Yes, there are practical implications for different players in the film industry. Investors may find sequels as a safe bet, and film adaptations planned in sequels, as an even safer bet. Producers may look for existing work such as comic books in planning adaptation sequels with recurring stars. Marketers may emphasize different layers of established brands – sequels’ parent films, parent work of adaptations, and stars – when planning promotions. For example, to adaptation sequels with a handful of well-known brand layers, marketers may give a fresh new title rather than a simple numbered title.

CS: What motivated you to pursue this subject matter?

DK: In my previous paper on the Korean film industry, I focused on two factors, the “country of origin” (i.e., whether a film was produced in Korea or imported from Hollywood) and sequels as “brand extension,” to explain films’ performance.

In the U.S. film industry, I noted that two brand extension factors, sequels along with film adaptations, were particularly relevant. For example, in 2014, the top 10 films with the highest domestic grossing were all film adaptations from books, comic books, toys, and another animated film, and half of them were also sequels. Interestingly, when sequels are spotted along with film adaptations, often within the same equation are star actors/actresses, a known brand-related determinant of film performance. I became very intrigued to find empirically, how various brand extension factors in the film industry interact to influence domestic gross.

CS: Can you speak to, if you feel so inclined, how the Communication Studies graduate program, faculty, and other resources contributed to your success?

DK: I am very much grateful for the overall support I received from the Communication Studies Ph.D. program. Particularly, Professors Nojin Kwak and W. Russell Neuman have always provided great guidance, support and advice. For this paper, I also had two excellent UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) assistants, Bailey and Patricia.

CS: So, what’s next?

DK: My summer will be filled with dissertation-related research and teaching in Ann Arbor, with occasional conference travels. I recently participated in the ICA (International Communication Association) annual conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was an intellectually stimulating and beautiful experience! I also look forward to presenting this study at the AEJMC annual conference this August in San Francisco. As a follow-up to this study, I am analyzing social media buzz around sequels and film adaptations to better understand the relationship between these brand extension factors and films’ performance. In the summer semester, I am excited to be teaching a seminar course of my design, COMM 408 (New Media and the Audience: Social, Political and Economic Engagement).

CS: Very exciting! Can you please provide us with a brief introduction of your COMM 408 course?

DK: Sure! In the new media environment, audiences demonstrate new forms of engagement, for example, through community discussion and participation, and content generation on social media. This course focuses on conceptualizing and measuring various dimensions of audience engagement in social, political, and economic contexts. Topics include cross-media marketing and social TV, democratizing effects of new media, and engagement with digital news and politics on social media among others. For the final project, students will identify and investigate one dimension of audience engagement by analyzing social media data, for instance, posts in a Facebook group or Tweets about certain issues.

CS: Do you have any final remarks you’d like to leave me with?

DK: Thanks so much for the great questions and your time!


Ph.D. Program: A First-Year Student’s Perspective

Douglas Brunton is not your average graduate student.  Before enrolling at the University of Michigan for a Ph.D. in Communication Studies, he worked in multiple communications-related positions for a total of 25 years.  To name a few, his roles ranged from advertising creative director to newspaper columnist, from communications manager to television producer.  During this time he also received his master’s degree in New Media and Society at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.  Not only did he bring his diverse professional and educational experiences to our graduate program, but also, his unique perspective as an international student from the Caribbean.  In Rackham Graduate School’s blog, Brunton recounts these experiences and more, outlining his successful completion of his first year in our graduate program.

The Graduate Student Experience: Teaching as Engaged Learning with Lia Wolock


What does it mean to live in a democracy and what is the role of media—ubiquitous, digital, easy-to-produce, easy-to-distribute, endlessly re-posted and recomposed media—in a democratic society? This was just one of the questions at the heart of COMM 405: Participatory & Public Culture in the Digital Era which would have been enough for us to tackle, but, as with every aspect of the class, there was more to it.

Each democracy, in practice, is different. The central rights a nation focuses on protecting and ensuring access to can differ, and in the United States, one of our founding values is the right to own property. As we began to consider examples of digital (activist blogs and tumblrs, hacktivism) and non-digital (zines, minority public access television) forms of participatory and public culture, we repeatedly ran into concerns about how alternative and self-produced media can be coopted by consumerist forces. If an inherent assumption of the course was that democracy, in its emphasis on everybody’s access and engagement in the realm of media and thereby the realm of public discourse, was good, what did it mean that democracy wasn’t what we assumed it was? This conundrum became steadily more vexing as week after week we read about subcultural media production in the United States, or delved into the politics of reality TV in China and Saudi Arabia, or considered fan mobilizations for film-stars-turned-politicians in South India. More than that, this nagging question became important because half of my intrepid students were not from the United States. They were from China, a non-democratic sovereign state with a population more than four times the size of the U.S. and a completely different business model for mass media.

As a PhD student in Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to plan and offer my own course, to take responsibility for and have control over its subject matter and its pedagogical practices. It allowed me to design a class that involved not only studying different types of media, but making them (e.g. zines, tumblrs)! I had often found myself—from primary school into my graduate studies—sitting in a classroom where the assumed topic and norm was the United States, or more generally the West. I was excited about my lessons, but hungry to think globally and comparatively; I could do that with Comm 405! And with the latitude possible as the head instructor, I could test out strategies for creating a classroom dynamic that supported deep student investment and involvement. When I did all this, just like with asking questions about the meaning of democracy, I always received more in return.

I found I too had new insights as I worked to produce our class zine. (Like a deeper respect for zine makers; it always take longer to lay out and produce than you think! And with that I gained an appreciation for zinester’s elaborate labor.) As we learned about reality television shows across the globe and the mobile technologies used to facilitate voting for, say, China’s next Mongolian Cow Yogurt Super Girl, I was reminded how much national communications infrastructures and uses vary. Finally, as my students became deeply invested in questions of participation—Was liking something on Facebook mere slacktivism or a form of civic engagement?—they asked wonderful, difficult questions of society, of themselves, and of me.

The best teachers I have had have been the most engaged learners. When they set up their classes, there is the serious risk that they are going to learn as much as their students. Designing and teaching Comm 405 was an amazing experience and while my students told me they learned a lot, I know, profoundly, that I did as well.


Written by: Lia Wolock 

Get to Know Julia Sonnevend

Julia  photograph

For Julia Sonnevend, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, success looks like the opportunity to explore and create. In her words, “Success is dedication and freedom. The possibility that with passionate work you can fly to new ‘planets.’ I feel the happiest in settings where there is a lot to learn and a lot to reach. I cannot imagine a life without ambitions and I have a hard time handling intellectual spaces that are limited; where there is no place to ‘move’.”

To reach the success Sonnevend has achieved, she has traveled the world and adopted a global perspective throughout her work. Sonnevend studied German literature, aesthetics, law and communications in Budapest, Berlin, New Haven and New York before starting teaching at the University of Michigan in the fall term of 2013. After completing her Master of Laws degree at Yale Law School, Sonnevend went on to earn her PhD in Communication Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York

“Exploring new spaces and especially spaces of ‘in-betweenness,’ I believe, are essential both for me and for my work. Frequent intellectual and geographical travels or relocations strongly shape my thinking,” said Sonnevend. As a result of these academic and geographic shifts, Sonnevend’s research has emerged as focused on the cultural aspects of globalization with a special interest in media events, rituals, icons and performances.

Jerusalem pic

Sonnevend in Jerusalem

Sonnevend’s approach to research connects disciplines and institutions from multiple countries in order to achieve a unique global perspective. Sonnevend expanded on this idea, explaining, “For the first half of 2014, I was in Israel as a Lady Davis Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working on a book entitled Stories Without Borders: The Making of a Global Iconic Event. My book examines how we can tell the story of a news event in a way that people remember it internationally and over time. Focusing on the fall of the Berlin Wall as central case study, I show how the confusing events of November 9, 1989 gradually condensed into a simple phrase (“fall of the Berlin Wall”), a short emotional narrative of freedom, and a recognizable visual scene. I argue that this “package” of phrase, narrative and image now travels across multiple media platforms and has currency from China to Hungary to the United States, providing us with a contemporary myth.”

It seems only fitting that with Julia Sonnevend’s interest in intellectual cross-pollination, the inspiration for some of her best work comes from some unexpected sources. Sonnevend explains, “Somehow, I get the best ideas when walking around in art museums because the visual representations from various centuries speak to me. I think the best ideas come when you do not focus on finding them. For instance, a few months ago I was walking around in Jerusalem and suddenly saw a digital sign at a bus station: “Communication Failure.” And I thought: what if I write a book on why communication (often) fails in families, in international relations and in media? Well, will this playful idea become a book, an essay or a paper? I am not sure yet, but I have certainly found this project at the least expected moment.”

Communication Failure sign in Israel

When not working or traveling, Sonnevend enjoys much of what Ann Arbor has to offer. Her favorite aspects of to town include, “The vibrant classical musical scene – I have just received an email about the fantastic 2014/2015 season! And conversations with friends in The Last Word also add to my Ann Arbor experience… The city quickly felt like home. I find the place culturally exciting and whenever I have to be abroad at a conference, in half an hour I can be at the Detroit airport. I also like visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago.”

When asked what advice she would give to incoming Communication Studies students, Sonnevend bequeathed some very valuable advice, “Do not go with the trend! Try to find your own interests, your own niche. I strongly believe that if your ideas are exciting, the world and the job market will be interested in them. This advice, I believe, is useful for all disciplines, but especially for communication studies, which tends to focus only on things that are happening right now.  But the past and the future are just as important as the present. A successful academic discipline has to include careful historical writings and imaginative grand theories of the future.”

Get to Know Katie Brown

As 2013-2014 Howard R. Marsh Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow, Katie Brown brings a fresh perspective and a diversity of experience to the position.

By creating her own major centered on filmmaking, film history, and business, Brown’s undergraduate studies at Rice University fueled her fascination with the power of the mass media. After graduating from Rice in 2006, Brown entered the Ph.D. program in Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Since finishing her Ph.D. in the Fall of 2012, Brown has gone on to create and teach classes within her field of expertise. As a lecturer within the Communication Studies department, Brown has taught for a number of classes, including Arab-American relations in the Media, Media & the Politics of the Extreme, and Satire, Media & Politics. READ MORE »