About Marina Levina, Ph.D.: Marina Levina is Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication & Film at The University of Memphis. Dr. Levina’s research draws from the traditions of media studies, cultural studies, and critical rhetoric to explore embodiment and cultural difference, specifically with respect to rhetorics of disease and health and representations of monstrosity in popular culture. Her work has been published in leading critical journals like Critical Studies in Media Communication, Surveillance and Society, and Departures in Critical Qualitative Research. Her book Pandemics and the Media was published in 2012 by Peter Lang.

Dr. Levina is also an accomplished editor, having worked on a number of collected volumes and special journal issues including the recent two-part forum in Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies entitled “Cultural Chronicles of COVID-19”. With Kendall Phillips and Bernadette Marie Calafell, she edits the Horror and Monstrosity Studies Series from University Press of Mississippi, and also serves as Book and Media Review Editor of Women’s Studies in Communication.

Dr. Levina Received her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and her M.A. in Communication from the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds a B.A. in Political Science and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we have an overview of your academic and professional background? How did you first become engaged in media studies, critical / cultural studies, and critical rhetoric and begin to explore their connection to cultural difference, for example, in discourses and practices surrounding disease and what you have termed “monster culture?”

[Dr. Marina Levina] My family came to the United States as refugees from Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union, in 1989. I was about 15 years old, and like a good immigrant kid, I was supposed to do computer science or law. You know, something that makes money. We ended up in Chicago, and I went to college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as a math computer science major. I’m actually very good at math, but I realized fairly quickly that I just have no interest in sitting in front of a computer all day and programming things. It’s a very particular job, and it’s hard to do if you’re not very interested in it.

At that point I discovered psychology. I went into psychology and political science. I still thought I was going to be a lawyer, or at least that’s how I sold this to my parents, because you have to sell these things to immigrant parents. In my undergraduate program, I got familiar with a graduate student named Craig Waldo, who was running studies determining people’s attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. This was 1993, so it wasn’t LGBTQ, it was gay men and lesbians. It was one of the first psychology labs that were really determined to study harassment towards gay men and lesbians and strategies to prevent it.

I got involved in that work because we left Ukraine — the Soviet Union at the time — because of institutionalized and violent antisemitism. I was a kid and when I heard Craig Waldo speak at one of my classes and talk about the violence that happens against gay men and lesbians, I identified. I felt for it and I wanted it to stop. I just knew it was wrong and I wanted to do something to stop it, because I know what it feels like. So, I got involved in that lab, and through the work in the lab I got familiar with research. I got to read survey works on attitudes that people have towards gay men and lesbians and the violence they endured.

Again, this was in 1993. It was when AIDS was killing people. I became very passionate about that work, and I decided to join the psychology honors program. With Craig’s help I organized my own study on media effects on attitudes towards gay men and lesbians. It was called “We Are Here, We are Queer, We’re on TV.” I ran an experiment with city groups where I showed one video that was pro-queer, another one that was antiqueer, and another one that was neutral. I had research assistants call two weeks later under false pretenses to interview them and gauge if this made any difference.

We published this work, and it is still my most cited piece. It was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. It was very social scientific, and it was one of the first pieces in the field that did this, probably the first. With how psychology and the social sciences work, when they publish, they have to cite everything that came before them. I just get automatically cited in that field without really being active in it now.

It was very important work. I felt very passionately for it. I got involved in the queer community because of that, and I started an organization on the prevention of HIV/AIDS. I very much wanted to do work in that area because I was a kid and I just really felt like the treatment of queer people in the United States was wrong, and that it needed to stop. I wanted to do something about it. It also was a very positive experience for me.

I mean, there was a lot of hate mail and other negative things that came with doing this work in 1993, when it was not really cool to do this stuff. But I found a community of people who were also different, who did not really fit for a variety of reasons, and who didn’t make fun of me because of my accent and my weirdness and all the traumas that came as baggage of being a refugee, and who understood trauma.

It was probably the best choice I ever made in my life. The reason I’m telling you this is because everything that I have done since has been because of that choice. I really loved doing research, and through Craig Waldo, I met Paula Treichler. While I was still an undergraduate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, she came to one of the classes Craig was running and presented about her work on HIV/AIDs. Paula Treichler is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois. In 1999, she published the influential book on HIV-AIDS, called How to Have Theory in an Epidemic. If you read anything that’s been written about HIV/AIDs in critical / cultural studies, in media studies, or in rhetoric, it will cite that text.

I loved her because she was cool and she was smart. I loved the work she was doing. I made the decision that I wanted to pursue my Ph.D. I was good at it. I got a lot of support from graduate students. Craig was instrumental in encouraging me to do this type of work. I decided to go to my master’s program at University of Pennsylvania where I worked with Larry Gross, who also worked on HIV, on queer representations, on gay representations, and how queerness is portrayed in the media.

This is the reason why I decided to go to UPenn for a master’s. I also got involved working in the lab in health communication for Marty Fishbein [Martin Fishbein], who also did work from a psychology perspective on how to get people to use condoms and change attitudes of which AIDS prevention methods work and don’t work. These were two big threads of my work.

I realized in my master’s that what I really wanted to do was go back to the University of Illinois and work with Paula Treichler, because I just still remembered her work as being very influential, even after a few years apart. I was fortunate to get in, and when I arrived, she told me, “Well, I don’t know if writing another book on HIV/AIDS right now is probably the best idea. What else do you want to do?”

Because of my work with Paula Treichler and my involvement in HIV/AIDS activism, it dawned on me that an interest in difference was underlying my commitments to queer studies, queer activism, and my desire to stop things that were wrong. I was invested in ideas of difference and how difference shapes who we are and also how most of our political and cultural and social engagements are really questions of how we are going to identify, classify, and manage those who are different.

I came to really understand how ideas of difference, on some basic level, have to do with the body. This is also the time where I got super interested in [Michel] Foucault, and I’m still a very proud Foucauldian. If it has to do with bodies, then the category of health or disease is instrumental in determining what we do with those who are different. It’s a very Foucauldian point that often gets forgotten — that the easiest way to manage, classify, and destroy difference is to say that it’s unhealthy or diseased. There is no argument for that because no one wants to be diseased.

I also began to draw on my love for monsters and monstrosity in my research. I’m not going to bore you with my love for Interview with a Vampire that I acquired as a 19-year-old, running around as a kid in queer communities, thinking this was the best thing ever. At the University of Illinois, thinking about disease and monstrosity became very intertwined for me. I started to understand how the figure of the monster in society illustrates to us what we can do with difference and how difference operates on the level of the body. How difference operates at the level of the body is coded as normal or abnormal through the figure of the monster. The body is classified as abnormal through its association with monstrosity and disease.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For those of our readers who may be less familiar with these areas of study in communication and their relationships, could you provide us a brief explanation of your theoretical influences and how they come together in your approach to studying power and cultural difference as it manifests in discourses of disease, monstrosity, and elsewhere?

[Dr. Marina Levina] I’m sure that people whom I love and respect disagree with me fundamentally, but I think that currently the differences between media studies, cultural studies, and critical rhetoric are drawn in the sand. I don’t believe that there are hard differences. I think it mainly depends on your academic community, whom you’re citing, and what texts you’re looking at. I think the fundamental questions behind all three are, “How do we understand the world? How do we understand the way power functions in the world? How do we understand the ways that various discourses shape who we are?”

As I’ve said, Foucault is one of my central influences. I was also amazed by Donna Haraway. Anyone who can write an academic haiku that traverses boundaries is a brilliant person. I’ve always really liked the work that transcends disciplinary boundaries. For example, I love Sarah Ahmed’s work. If you’re doing any work in rhetoric or critical cultural studies right now, you need to read Sarah Ahmed.

I’m not so much concerned personally whether or not my work is cultural studies, media studies, or rhetoric. I’m concerned if the work is good, and then you can develop a language with which you can position your work as one or the other for purposes of job markets and tenure and other disciplinary things. For me, my people have always been the weird, the broken things, and the monsters. I like things that are weird, and I mean that in the best possible way. The David Bowie of methodologies — that’s what you want to be.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You recently edited the two-part forum in Communication and Critical / Cultural Studies, “Cultural Chronicles of COVID-19,” and, as we’ve discussed, you have spent a large part of your career critically studying disease. In 2015, for example, you published the book Pandemics and the Media. What have been some of the key insights of this area of your research? Are there important ways in which your perspective has transformed over time, especially in light of the recent pandemic, or are there particular arguments in your work that feel especially prescient in light of COVID-19?

[Dr. Marina Levina] I wrote Pandemics and the Media in 2015. Peter Lang approached me because I worked with them on an edited collection and they knew my areas of research. They told me they had a series on global crises in the media and asked if I would be interested in writing a book for them about pandemics and the media. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. I was super stressed and said, “Sure, I will write this book.” Working on pandemics wasn’t really where my head was. I don’t know if I would advise anyone to make the choice that I did but you make a choice and you live with that choice.

In the middle of writing that book, I got pregnant and I gave birth to my daughter, so that book was a very painful process to write. I cried out that book in my office on the weekends while my partner was at home with a kid, and I cried, not because I missed my kid but because I was so happy to be away from her. I would say to myself, “What’s going on? I’m a terrible mother.” Then I cried and wrote the book.

When the book was done, I was very ready to put it away. Then COVID-19 happened. This March, I got a message from Dr. Sarah Jackson at the University of Pennsylvania [learn more about Sarah Jackson’s recent research in our article entitled: Memories of Protest: Black Lives Matter, Collective Memory, and Social Movements]. She asked, “What are you doing right now?” I said, “What do you mean? I’m huddled under a blanket. What are all of us doing right now?” She responded, “Why are you not promoting your book?”

It didn’t occur to me because the pandemic was such a sudden thing. I’m not a good self-promoter. I had to figure out how to use Twitter. I started postings, and then I revisited the book because I had to. I realized that it’s not all terrible. I still don’t like that book because it doesn’t bring back good memories, but I think the reason why that book did relatively well during COVID-19 is because it investigated the question of what we do with the diseased body.

Another critical thing that the book did, which very much follows the work that Paula Treichler has done but in a different way, is refusing to distinguish between the importance of public health documents, CDC recommendations, and vampire movies. To me, all of these texts do the same thing. Fundamentally, they all tell us stories about what it means to live through a pandemic.

I think that’s something the book did well: it legitimized the work of people who felt that monsters are just as important as the CDC, or that TV shows, or web posts, or weird comics that appear are just as culturally significant as whatever is coming out of the mouth of Dr. Fauci. They tell us stories. Fundamentally, pandemics, these moments of crisis, are moments of stories, and how we tell the story and what kind of stories stick and don’t stick informs everything that can be done or not done about the pandemic.

With COVID-19, one of the things that you clearly see is a battle over the story. We’ve all decided we’re going to just push through the pandemic, myself included, because just how much of this can you possibly take? This approach has everything to do with the stories we tell ourselves about what it means to be healthy or unhealthy, what it means to care or not care about others, and even how we define health. One of the things that I am interested in and I think I’m going to write about is the way that we have defined health in the pandemic. To be healthy is a very holistic concept. You can never get COVID and still be unhealthy, as all of us who’ve sat in front of the computer with hunched shoulders, eating super unhealthy food, and not moving can attest. Not talking to a living human being for a year isn’t healthy.

How do we balance these things without doing one of the two things that we have done? That is, on the right, telling everyone to get over it and just “man up” which is a damaging discourse. The discourse on the left hasn’t been much better because it’s done nothing of value besides virtue signaling about our individual responsibilities and shaming people who don’t fit into decision making that they consider responsible. Neither one of those things is a sustained response to pandemic. No one here is a good guy.

You’re not special because you throw away takeout food because you saw someone not wearing a mask in the restaurant. That doesn’t make you a virtuous person, and you’re also not a virtuous person when you demand people to let you into the restaurant maskless even though there is a mask mandate. Neither one of those things is helpful, but they are the stories that we tell each other.

I wanted to edit a two-part forum on the cultural meanings of COVID. Dr. Robin Boylorn of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, was incredibly supportive of the project. It has been absolutely lovely. They gave us these two issues. I had eight people interested in the project, and I said, “I know they’re usually shorter than that, but what do you think?” And she told me she would give us two issues, which was really great.

The point of the forum was to give scholars an opportunity to say something meaningful about COVID-19. I think both parts of the forum achieved that. The contributors are excellent. I really pushed them to not just do something like a statement of purpose about COVID, but to try to start the process of theoretically untangling these stories in their shorter pieces, so that the scholars who are going to come in and keep writing about COVID would have something to latch onto, something to expand and to do things with. I’m very proud of that work because I think everyone who wrote there just did a fantastic job.

[MastersinCommunications.com] In another recent article, “Epidemiology as Methodology: COVID-19, Ukraine, and the Problem of Whiteness” you make connections between diverse political phenomena including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic, and Black Lives Matter, by applying what you term an epidemiological methodology. Could you unpack the framework you propose in this article and the value it holds for helping us read what seem to be very disparate cultural issues as collectively reflecting “an epidemiology of whiteness?”

[Dr. Marina Levina] Because of my work on pandemics and COVID-19, I started to get a lot of invitations and had a lot of projects coming out at the same time. I was working on these topics a lot, and I was thinking through the concept of epidemiology. Epidemiology is essentially a way of tracking disease through a population. Of course, I’m not an epidemiologist, and I know for sure that many epidemiologists would probably kill me if they ever read my piece. However, they’re not going to because it’s not published in the right journal, so I am cool. [laughs]

I use that method loosely to write about the idea of what it means to track something as it spreads. As I was working on COVID, it became very obvious to me that really what we are attacking through COVID, through all the studies of COVID, is a story of privilege. In these two stories that I told you on the left and on the right, it takes privilege on the right to demand entry into an apartment or a business without a mask, and privilege on the left to throw out takeout food because a cook is not wearing a mask and then brag about it on social media. When you imagine people who have done that, what race do you imagine they are? Typically, they are white.

So much of the cultural response of the pandemic has been shaped by these discourses of privilege and the sources of privilege, as I’ve written about in my work, are tied to the idea of whiteness. The concept of whiteness in this very loose term, as I discuss in my piece “Whiteness and the Joys of Cruelty.” Following Sarah Ahmed’s work, I discuss how whiteness is not so much a skin color, even though it is that, too. It’s not so much a fixed identity as it is an orientation towards and away from each other in space. You could be granted the privileges of whiteness, and those privileges of whiteness can be taken away. Oftentimes they’re not tied to your skin color. Whiteness is that which grants privilege and whiteness is that which takes away that privilege.

To me, then, epidemiology became a very logical way of trying to track whiteness, because whiteness then becomes, as anything else, a disease. It is that which attaches itself to bodies and poisons them. Epidemiology as a science of tracking disease became a logical way of playing around with the concept of introducing epidemiology to critical / cultural studies as a methodology of tracking things.

Another thing that epidemiology allows us to do is to connect seemingly disparate phenomena. When you track disease there could be a woman in Seattle and another person in Saudi Arabia, who then exhibit completely different symptoms, but you’re trying to track these connections to see where things emerge and where they’re going. The goal of epidemiology is to connect disparate phenomena — to see if there are connections between them. That’s why I wanted to play around with the concept of epidemiology as a methodology for critical / cultural studies to allow people to maybe start thinking of a way of connecting these disparate things.

This is similar to what I did in Pandemics and the Media: to go from a vampire movie, to a zombie movie, to a public health campaign, to a BBC documentary. These are things that don’t usually exist in one text. There is sort of an established wisdom to the field, which sometimes is good wisdom, that your piece has to focus on one thing, and you have to go in depth on that thing. I love the type of work I’ve done, that type of work, but there is also something to be said about these interconnections. This goes back to my own commitments and my belief in what I called the David Bowie of methodology. It’s also like jazz; it’s interconnected and improvisational, and it takes you different places.

Having said that, that piece was never going to be about Ukraine. Because of the way publishing works, I had proposed this back in the fall of 2021. It was supposed to be about using epidemiology as a methodology and COVID-19. Then on February 24, 2022, my country, Ukraine, got invaded by Russia. It’s been exceedingly difficult. I still had to finish this piece, and I was just not in a good state of mind.

On February 24th, I opened my laptop and the headlines were documenting bombs exploding in my city of Odessa. My husband is from Kiev, and in Kiev his uncle was in a bomb shelter. For the first week we did not know if he was alive or dead. I have uncles and a good friend in Odessa. It was an absolute nightmare. My entire family is from Ukraine. It was just hell. My department chair was very kind and let me take a week off. I couldn’t be in a classroom. That first week was a blur. Everyone was safe, everyone was fine, but it didn’t get much better.

I emailed Robin and told her I needed an extension and she gave me ten days because that’s all she had. I couldn’t write this about anything other than what I was feeling at that moment. This is such a large part of my life, and it felt interconnected with what I had been studying. It had to be written. I figured, if epidemiology is valuable as a methodology, let’s try to track this thing.

Let’s center this experience that I have of living through COVID, and at the same time dealing with Ukraine, because to me the whole issue of Ukraine is also an issue of colonialism and imperialism and the violence of colonialism. Just because these are white people invading white people, doesn’t make it not colonial. Colonialism is not just white people doing things to brown people, though most of the time it is. It’s also white people doing things to white people, and brown people doing things to brown people, and Black people doing things to Black people. Colonialism and imperialism are not just limited to one racial identity. It is about a larger orientation in the world. At that time too, as I was writing the piece, there were allegations against the Jewish president of Ukraine as being complicit with Nazism, and the invasion was being framed as the deNazification of Ukraine.

This for me, brought up again the trauma of antisemitism in the Soviet Union. I was thinking about Volodymyr Zelensky, who is about the same age as me, and the fact that he grew up as a Jewish boy likely experiencing the same type of violence that I have experienced, because that’s just what life was then. Then he became the Ukrainian President, which is amazing. Then, at the same time, having this person who was a KGB apparatchik [Putin], who was responsible for the narratives that destroyed the Soviet Union and so many people there, deciding “You know what I’m going to do? I’m gonna kill that Jew to deNazify things.” If that’s not a problem of whiteness and colonialism and imperialism, I don’t know what is.

So I started with all of these different elements and I tracked them together to essentially say, look, this is what we accomplish by viewing whiteness as a disease. The war and the invasion are not just war innovations—they are an attack against the body, they are an attack on health. There have been a lot of narratives in the West and the rest of the world about how brave the Ukrainian people are and, sure, we are made out of nails. But, no one should have to live through that trauma. The country is going to be devastated. It’s a generation destroyed through trauma.

Once you live through that, how do you recover? The point of these bombings is not to secure military targets, it is to destroy the health of the population — mental health, physical health. This, to me, is tied into COVID and the violence of the pandemic.

I wrote that piece and I sent it off to Robin and I said, “This is either brilliant or a complete and total mess, but it’s all I could say.” It got published. I am proud of that piece. I think it was the most honest thing I could’ve said at the moment. That’s sometimes all you have in research.

[MastersinCommunications.com] You have co-edited and contributed to collections and special issues spanning a wide range of cultural issues–for example, the cultural significance of mediated portrayals of “monsters,” the significance of global digital networks, and, most recently, the relationship between the body and citizenship. Could you discuss your experience working on and between these edited volumes? Is there a through line you would map between these works, or a consistent perspective you attempt to bring as an editor when working on these collections?

[Dr. Marina Levina] I’ve been lucky to be able to edit a number of journal issues, special collections, and books. I like editing. I am a very good editor, that’s one thing I can say. I’ve gotten enough experience to say that I’m a good editor. I like working with other people’s work. It’s kind of like sculpting. People give you a block of stuff, and you edge it out. You draw lines, and you say, “Go fix that.”

I think editing can be helpful if you feel insecure about your writing, which I always have because English is not my first language and people are not always kind in academia. I got some really terrible comments on submitted work. Some of them would say, “Learn English better.” It messes you up. I think it’s important to understand that there are always mean people who don’t know how to give feedback about the content of the work and will give feedback about you instead. You have to learn to distinguish between the two of those things, which is an exceedingly hard thing to do.

Editing became an entry point into building up my confidence in the beginning of my career. The first book was Post-Global Networks in Everyday Life with Grant Kien. Grant was a friend from graduate school. We found this idea, and we started working with it, and it made me feel more confident.

The next project, Monster Culture in the 21st Century: A Reader, came out of a real necessity. My coauthor, Diem-My Bui, and I were both teaching monster culture classes in our respective universities, but there was no book we could use, there was nothing out there. That type of project lends well to an edited collection — not everything needs to be an edited collection, but that needed to be an edited collection.

Editing also became a way of getting some control over what I write. I think things are a little better now than 15 years ago when people said really awful things to you on a regular basis under the pretense of making you a better scholar. It’s hard to send your work out when you know it will be encountered by at least some hostility. Editing gives you some control over the space where your work appears and some control over whom you’re inviting in to comment on that work.

That was very helpful to me. It started as a way to build confidence and by the end of it I had developed a unique and specialized set of skills. Then I realized this is actually something I truly enjoy. Not everyone enjoys editing. I happen to really like editing. I like working with others. Academia can be a very isolating place and I dislike that. I feel editing helps you build community, it helps you make friends, it helps you make colleagues with whom you can later collaborate. It helps you feel less alone. I’ve made some really good connections and relationships and even friendships through these edited works.

People generally appreciate if someone is truly dedicated to their work and is trying to make it better. I am a tough editor. I am not soft, but I am very much focused on making the work the best that it possibly can be without disturbing the person in the process. You can give all the feedback you want about the work without attacking someone’s integrity or wellbeing. That’s a gift.

I’ve really enjoyed editing and I think I’ve managed to do some good things and to highlight people who may have not been as frequently published in academic journals. For example, I have a book series on monsters and monstrosity with Drs. Bernadette Marie Calafell and Kendall R. Phillips with the University Press of Mississippi. By the way, we solicit manuscripts. Please send us manuscripts.

I think it’s important that we’ve placed that series in a university press to give a space for scholars whose work might be different and interdisciplinary — scholars who might not feel like they have a place in a university press. It was exceedingly important to them and to me to make sure we did the work so that this book series is in a university press, because we wanted to make sure that there is a space at the prestigious level of academia for scholars who may feel like their work does not belong in traditional academia.

Similarly, the COVID forum is very diverse with work from people in different stages of their careers, including graduate students or recently graduated academics. For them, this was an opportunity to get published in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies and work with an editor who’s not going to tell them that they are stupid. If you can do that for people, then that’s a good thing. What else is the point of all this?

That forum also gave me the opportunity to edit an article by Paula Treichler. Paula was fantastic. She taught me everything I knew about editing. It was a great privilege to be able to feature her piece on COVID-19. She sent me the piece, and I thought, “Oh my God, I get to edit my dissertation advisor’s work. I edited it, and edited it, and made many comments. I sent it back to her and said, “I’m so sorry, do what you need to do with this.”

She wrote me back and said, “All your feedback is on point. You learned well, grasshopper.” That was a fantastic moment. Given her influence on HIV/AIDs scholarship, featuring her work on COVID-19 was an honor, and it feels so good to be able to slightly repay someone who has done so much for you.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Do you have advice you might give to students interested in critical research on media, disease, cultural difference, or the other themes and issues we have explored in our discussion, who might be interested in pursuing a graduate degree in communication?

[Dr. Marina Levina] First of all, find people to work with who are going to be supportive of you as a human being and not just look at you as a research production machine. They may not be the most established or the ones who are well known in academia. It does not matter. People who enable you to do your best work are the people who will enable you to be more successful in the field. Don’t go to a program simply because of the prestige of that program. Make sure there are at least a couple of faculty there who will give you the attention that you need.

Everyone needs different things. Some people work better independently, some people need more guidance. When you’re interviewing for graduate programs, talk to the people about how they work. Don’t be seduced by big names. Find people who are supportive of you, make friends with your fellow graduate students, and build a community. Don’t spend conferences chasing after famous scholars. They have their own friends, they have their own community.

People who you’re going to come up with, people you’re going to go to graduate school with, are going to be your best and closest colleagues. I have friends from graduate school who, if I need anything, are my people. Build relationships with other graduate students in your field, in your department, but also outside of your department. This will be your community.

Find people who are going to give you really honest feedback on your work. If your advisor is telling you that everything is good, find a different advisor. Find someone who will actually spend the time to give you critique, because critique is valuable and precious, and once you leave a graduate school, no one is going to care enough to give it to you.

Find someone who actually cares enough to do line edits. Once you find those people, then do your work and stay true to who you are. Don’t chase what’s happening in academia right now because that stuff changes and there is nothing worse than doing the work you’re not passionate about because of some promise of a job.

One thing I tell all my undergraduate students is, if you’re in doubt of what to do, do this: be kind and do good work. If you ever have a dilemma, go back to those two principles. First of all, be kind and do good work, because if you keep doing that you will be okay fundamentally. And also understand this: academia, as much as anything else, is a job. It’s not who you are as a human being. It’s not supposed to be who you are as a human being. No job is supposed to be who you are as a human being, and if you make it who you are as a human being, you’re not going to be happy. You’re not going to have a good life. Have a life such that, if this goes away, you can still survive and thrive.

Thank you, Dr. Levina, for sharing your insights on critical approaches to communication, pandemics, monster culture, working as an academic editor, and more.

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About the Author: Ben Clancy (they/them) is a critical scholar and creative living in Chicago with their partner, child, and other wildlife. They are a PhD candidate at UNC Chapel Hill in the Department of Communication, where their research focuses on the politics of communicative and artistic technologies. Ben has an M.A. from Texas State University, has worked as a research fellow for the Center for Technology Information and Public Life at UNC, and is an alum of the Vermont Studio Center residency in poetry writing.

Please note: Our interview series aims to represent the diverse research being pursued by scholars in the field of communication, which is often socially and politically engaged. As a result, all readers may not agree with the views and opinions expressed in this interview, which are independent of the views of MastersinCommunications.com, its parent company, partners, and affiliates.