About Dana L. Cloud, Ph.D.: Dana L. Cloud is the Graduate Program Director for the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. As Director, she advises students and supports them throughout their enrollment, and also manages curriculum developments and additions to the Department’s Master of Arts in Communication and Rhetorical Studies program. In addition to responsibilities as Director, Dr. Cloud is also a Professor who conducts research in rhetorical and media criticism, critical theory, public sphere theory, Marxist theory, feminist theory, and social movements. She teaches Feminist Theory, Public Sphere Theory, Marxist Theory, and Social Movements at the graduate level, and Challenging Racism Then and Now and Persuasion at the undergraduate level.

Dr. Cloud earned her Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in 1986 from Pennsylvania State University, majoring in in English and Telecommunications. She subsequently earned her Master of Arts in Rhetorical Studies from the University of Iowa in 1989, completing a five-year fellowship at the same institution. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1992, concentrating in Rhetorical Studies.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Syracuse University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Rhetorical Studies program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Cloud] Our program is a theoretically oriented and PhD preparatory program that features critical and social justice curriculum. Graduate students take two required courses and beyond those have flexibility in constructing a program of study leading to their thesis. 33 hours of course credits are required.

The first required course students take is the Professional Seminar in Communication (CRS 601), which is an introduction to the foundational social science theories and research paradigms that define communication studies, as well as how language impacts human interaction and culture. The second core course is Contemporary Theories of Rhetoric (CRS 603), which covers rhetorical concepts and methods that were introduced in the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain, America, and the Continental regions. From this background in communication theory, history, and methods, students then have the flexibility to take classes according to their individual interests. Examples of courses available include Medieval and Modern Theories of Rhetoric, Social Movement Rhetorics, Business Communication, Communication, Power, & Gender, and Intercultural Communication.

Our areas of concentration are rhetorical theory and criticism (courses with Amos Kiewe, Charles Morris, Kendall Phillips); feminist, Marxist, and queer theory (courses by Dana Cloud, Erin Rand); visual culture (courses by Rachel Hall); language and symbolic interaction (courses by Richard Buttny and Sylvia Sierra); social movements (courses by Dana Cloud, Charles Morris). In Fall 2018 we are adding faculty in a concentration in critical communication on digital platforms.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between completing a master’s thesis or taking a comprehensive examination and additional coursework. Could you elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Cloud] For their final graduation requirement, students have a choice between completing a thesis or passing a comprehensive examination that is comprised of oral and written components. Students who choose the thesis route take 27 hours of coursework and six hours of thesis credits, while students who choose the comprehensive examination must complete 33 hours of coursework. We generally recommend the thesis option for students who wish to pursue further graduate studies in communication at the doctorate level, while the comprehensive examination is often a good choice for students who wish to go into industry upon graduating, and/or who would prefer taking more courses over completing thesis research.

The Thesis Option

We support students throughout their work on their thesis or their preparation for their exam. The Department instates key deadlines that students must meet throughout their thesis work, which helps them to stay on track. By April 15th of their first year, students must decide and declare their final graduation requirement choice, as well as their choice of advisor and committee members to the Graduate Studies Program Coordinator. Students’ thesis advisor is also their major advisor, and they are required to select two other faculty members to serve on their three-person committee.

Students must also submit a thesis proposal that provides an overview of the subject matter for their research project (i.e. what communication issue or phenomena they are investigating, such as organizational communication in corporations, the rhetoric of family dynamics, or feminism in social media), and also outlines the quantitative and/or qualitative research methods by which they will conduct their investigation.

By December 15th, students are expected to have defended their thesis proposal before their committee, and by April 15th of their second year they must defend their completed thesis. Thesis projects should contribute to the existing research and literature in students’ chosen specialization within communication. Students are expected to directly apply the concepts and methods they have learned in their courses to their thesis, and can also use questions they have developed from a term paper as the foundation for their thesis work.

The Comprehensive Examination Option

Students debating between the thesis and the exam option should note that the examination option is no less rigorous than the thesis route. The comprehensive exam is comprised of three questions that students respond to in the form of three 12-15 page papers, as well as an oral defense of their responses, which requires a committee and extensive preparation.

For their exam committee, students choose one faculty member in the subject area of their choice, and the other two members are the faculty who taught their two foundational courses, CRS 601 and CRS 603. As with the thesis option, students who choose the comprehensive examination option are expected to submit their decision and their selected committee members by April 15th of their first year. However, students who initially choose the thesis and who in collaboration with their advisor later determine that the comprehensive examination is better suited to their goals can apply to change their final graduation requirement to this option. Furthermore, students who do not pass the oral defense of their thesis proposal are automatically enrolled in the exam option.

Students are given their comprehensive examination questions around the start of their last term in the program, and are given the entire semester to prepare for and complete their exams. Each professor in the student’s committee writes a question. The professors of the core courses CRS 601 and 603 develop questions that test students’ knowledge of human communication, interaction, and culture, as well as contemporary theories of communication research and rhetorical criticism. The third and final question is written by the professor of the student’s choosing, and concerns an area of expertise that students have developed over their individual course of study. After students complete their written responses, they orally defend their answers before a committee no later than May 1st.

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

[Dr. Cloud] In addition to coursework, faculty members provide extensive mentorship to students in the program. As mentioned earlier, during the spring of their first year, students choose an advisor and they work closely together on thesis development, publication at conferences and in journals, and career advice. Faculty are there to support students as they navigate their course of study, and their doors are open for students to come in and discuss concepts from class as well as independent research ideas.

The Future Professoriate Program is a University-wide initiative that also offers pedagogy training and career mentoring. As part of that program CRS faculty observe and evaluate student teaching. We offer substantial financial support for student travel to conferences.

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

[Dr. Cloud] Applicants should speak to their fit with our faculty and our interests. Applicants should be geared toward an academic (faculty) career, with the goal of pursuing a Ph.D. after our M.A. Applicants should seek to do work in areas of social justice and public engagement. Strong applications feature a letter detailing academic experience and interests and referring to any faculty members of ours with whom applicants would want to work. We strongly encourage women, LGBTIA students, and students of color to apply. We look favorably on applicants with experience in activism (through work, volunteering, and organizing) and critical approaches to studying communication.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Syracuse University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Rhetorical Studies program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Cloud] Our graduates are extraordinarily well prepared for Ph.D. programs. All who seek placement in Ph.D. programs are placed; most receive full financial support. Some graduates go on to work in political consulting and/or public relations, but that is not our main orientation. We prepare students for Ph.D. level study by immersing them in coursework with premier scholars in the field whose ongoing research programs keep them on the cutting edge of scholarship in the field.

Our students are prepared for these placements in their coursework with stellar scholars in the field: Dr. Charles Morris, leading historian and theorist of queer rhetorics; Dr. Erin Rand, queer theorist and feminist scholar; Dana Cloud, activist and Marxist public sphere and social movements scholar; Rachel Hall, specializing in security studies and visual rhetoric; Amos Kiewe on public address and presidential rhetoric; Kendall Phillips, who studies and teaches popular culture, horror film, and postmodern theory; and Sylvia Sierra, a cutting-edge discourse analyst who studies the production of identities in everyday talk. We are expanding this year in the area of communication and technology studies, with a new graduate faculty member: Whitney Phillips, who studies digital media and democracy. Among our faculty, students receive depth and breadth of training in communication and rhetorical theory and criticism.

[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. Cloud] Avoid perfectionism. Work as hard as you can but also take time for recreation. Nurture your scholarly work by setting aside absolutely sacred time for that work; prioritize it over teaching obligations. Teach well but do not burn yourself out. Read fast. Grade fast. Try to develop a “mind map” of disciplinary concepts and camps as they relate to one another as you read. Take notes for class: summary of reading; concerns with reading; others’ perspective on/reviews of reading; questions about reading. Be part of your department community, stepping up when given the opportunity to serve.

Thank you, Dr. Cloud, for your excellent insight into Syracuse University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Rhetorical Studies program!