About Dr. Bryan J. McCann, Ph.D.: Bryan J. McCann is the Director of Graduate Studies and an Associate Professor at Louisiana State University’s (LSU) Department of Communication Studies. He teaches undergraduate courses in argumentation and debate, social movements, and crime and public culture. His graduate courses include rhetorical criticism, rhetoric and social theory, rhetoric and intersectionality, and rhetoric and citizenship. Dr. McCann performs research at the intersection of rhetorical and cultural studies, with an emphasis on Black Studies, the cultural politics of crime and criminality, affect studies, and social movements. His first book, The Mark of Criminality: Rhetoric, Race, and Gangsta Rap in the War-on-Crime Era was published in 2017 by the University of Alabama Press.

As Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. McCann is responsible for coordinating admission to the department’s graduate program, as well as the awarding of assistantships. He is also responsible for managing processes related to students’ progress through the graduate program, ensuring best practices relative to departmental and university policies, spearheading graduate student recruitment, organizing professional development activities, and serving as an advocate for graduate students.

Dr. McCann is a native of the Chicago South Suburbs. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from Illinois State University in Normal, IL, and his PhD with an emphasis in rhetoric from the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, and how it is structured? What core topics are covered in the core curriculum and in the electives, and what are some major themes of the classes offered in this program?

[Dr. McCann] The Department of Communication Studies at LSU offers three trajectories for master’s students. First, students interested in a terminal master’s degree may choose to complete the program’s course requirements and either take a general exam or complete a thesis. Second, students may pursue the department’s newly developed professional practice track, which we designed to accommodate the interests of students with professional interests outside the academy. This option allows master’s students to complete a capstone project uniquely suited to their professional goals. Such projects may entail developing a communication proposal for a local non-profit such as a museum, or engaging with the Baton Rouge area’s robust film and media arts industry. Finally, students may choose the fast-track option, which enables them to complete their master’s and PhD. Fast-track students begin working toward their PhD during their fourth semester in the program.

The department at LSU is organized around three core areas of specialization: interpersonal communication, performance studies, and rhetorical studies. Faculty in interpersonal communication employ quantitative and qualitative methods to study human relationships in health, family, crisis, and neuro-biological contexts. In addition to taking courses in the interpersonal area, graduate students in interpersonal communication have the opportunity to conduct research in the department’s Matchbox Interaction Lab.

The performance studies area is committed to studying staged and mediated performance, as well as the performance of everyday life. Work toward a degree emphasizing performance studies includes graduate courses, the production of written scholarship, and participating in (and potentially devising and directing) shows staged in the department’s HopKin’s Black Box Theatre.

Lastly, the rhetorical studies area of the department emphasizes the rhetorical dynamics of public life in contexts such as the environment, economics, food politics, gender and sexuality, as well as race and racism. Courses in rhetorical studies share a common interest in the relationship between rhetoric and power, as well as the material consequences of rhetorical practice.

Successful graduate students often identify primarily with one of the department’s three areas, but are also welcome to forge their own line of study that draws broadly from the traditions represented in the program (as well as those outside the department).

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies can choose between completing a thesis and a comprehensive exam. May we have more information about both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. McCann] A master’s thesis is typically 60-70 pages and should demonstrate a student’s ability to engage in theory-driven and methodologically sound intellectual inquiry. Students who select the thesis option work with an individual advisor and defend the thesis before a committee. The typical thesis will execute a single social scientific study or engage in a humanistic analysis of a specific rhetorical or performance context. The exam option includes a written and oral component. Students respond to a combination of standardized departmental questions and questions written with their specific interests in mind. The exam committee consists of a representative from each of the department’s three areas.

Students who select the Professional Practice track enroll in a capstone course and work closely with a member of the faculty to develop an appropriate final project. The student and professor work together to determine appropriate fieldwork, time spent in the field, a regular meeting schedule, and other expectations for the project. While most projects will include a written and oral component, and will often be presented to a committee of graduate faculty members and, when appropriate, members of industry or community, the nature of the final project is ultimately the result of an agreement between the student and their capstone professor.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Dr. McCann] While members of the graduate faculty have different approaches to mentorship, all are dedicated to developing generative professional relationships with graduate students that help guide them through the program and prepare them for professional success. This may include collaboration on projects resulting in conference presentations, publications, or staged performances, mentorship on individual research projects, as well as advice regarding how best to navigate the graduate program and the student’s chosen career path. While all graduate faculty are willing and able to serve in these mentorship roles, the primary responsibility lies with students to pursue and maintain such relationships. While each master’s student will have a primary advisor, most students find their mentoring needs are met by a variety of faculty members inside and sometimes outside the department. More advanced graduate students also play an important role in mentoring incoming students.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students for careers in communication research and instruction, as well as roles in industry?

[Dr. McCann] As one of the nation’s oldest communication programs, LSU’s Department of Communication Studies is proud of its deep roots in the traditions of interpersonal communication, performance studies, and rhetorical studies. However, faculty and graduate students in the program are also active in their fields, and therefore responsive to important changes in the discipline. Current faculty scholarship and graduate course offerings represent the current state of the discipline. Furthermore, the program is unique in that students are encouraged to explore all areas of the discipline and develop a program of study that represents their unique intellectual interests. The program is an especially strong fit for students with interests in research related to social cognition, health communication, performance practice, social justice, and identity. Students also acquire skills that prepare them for careers in areas such as higher education, film and other media arts, crisis management, healthcare, public policy, and public advocacy.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. McCann] The Department of Communication Studies at LSU receives a number of excellent applications each year and only a handful receive admission with funding. The strongest applications are ones that specifically articulate a student’s interest in LSU’s program and faculty (i.e. explaining how LSU’s strengths resonate with the applicant’s interests), and demonstrate writing and critical thinking skills that are commensurate with educational experience. Ultimately, the strongest personal statements and letters of recommendation make a case for why LSU is uniquely suited to meet a student’s interests and needs. Grade point averages and GRE scores are also considered, but are weighed differently by different faculty members.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, and rigorous research projects. What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully navigating their graduate school experience, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them?

[Dr. McCann] Time management is perhaps the single most important variable in the successful and healthy completion of a master’s program. Students should keep in mind that their primary goal is to complete their degree, and should pursue their various responsibilities with that ultimate objective in mind. If on assistantship, students should be aware of the time requirements and establish parameters with their assistantship supervisor in ways that meet expectations without exceeding the work for which the student is being compensated. Mentoring relationships with faculty should also be governed by clear expectations and boundaries that correspond with the goals and responsibilities of all parties.

Successful graduate students also treat their peers as colleagues engaged on a shared journey, rather than adversaries. Often, fellow graduate students are the most important support network a graduate student will find while pursuing a degree. Lastly, taking time to attend to life outside of graduate school is essential for overall health and helps sustain the considerable energy required to complete a degree.

Thank you, Dr. McCann, for your excellent insight into Louisiana State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!