About Dr. James J. Donahue, Ph.D.: James J. Donahue is the Graduate Director of the interdisciplinary MA program in English & Communication at SUNY Potsdam. As Director, his primary duties include serving as the academic advisor for students in the program, and serving as a liaison between the department and the university’s Graduate & Continuing Education office. Additionally, he teaches the Thesis Workshop course, which helps students develop their thesis projects and engage in preliminary research, identify thesis advisors, and navigate the other steps involved in completing their thesis. Dr. Donahue has also taught the Introduction to Graduate Studies course, which introduces students to advanced interdisciplinary thinking and research, as well as courses on Narrative Theory, Experimental Narratives, and Batman. His research into contemporary American literature and film has produced books on historical fiction, African American satire, and critical race narratology. Currently, he is engaged in research projects on contemporary Native American literature.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of The State University of New York at Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. James J. Donahue] The MA program is designed to draw from the interdisciplinary strengths among our faculty, who work in various areas of Literature, Composition, and Communication. In addition to the required Introduction to Graduate Studies and Thesis Workshop, which introduces students to interdisciplinary study and research methods, students take several electives that are developed by the faculty in their various areas of interest. Some courses, like Rhetorical Theory, Composition Theory, and Semiotics, tend to run with some regularity. Electives cover a wide range of topics in the above-mentioned areas, recently including courses on the study of digital media, contemporary topics in journalism, experimental narratives, and the body as a discursive space.
Given the program’s interdisciplinary nature and wide range of potential subject areas, we do not have a particular focus. Rather, the flexibility is designed to help students engage in diverse areas of study in preparation for their thesis projects. Often, students use their coursework to help engage in research for their capstone projects. So while students generally take the same courses, the faculty are committed to helping students use those courses to develop personalized class projects, which can become pieces of their larger thesis project. Students have complete autonomy in developing their thesis projects, under the direction of an advisor from the faculty.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of SUNY Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication program must complete a master’s thesis on a discursive issue. Could you please elaborate on what the thesis entails, and the steps students take to complete it?
[Dr. James J. Donahue] The thesis project is designed to allow students the opportunity to develop an advanced, long-term academic project that draws upon multiple discursive traditions. Upon completion of the Thesis Workshop, students have developed an abstract on their topic that explicitly draws from multiple academic disciplines, as well as an annotated bibliography of sources drawn from multiple discursive traditions.
Students then register for credits/coursework with their thesis advisor, who assists the students in developing, composing, and defending their projects. These projects are always student-designed, and our job as advisors is to help students reach their desired academic goals by means of a large-scale, well-researched, detailed exploration of a topic or issue important to the students. For instance, recent thesis projects have studied the aesthetics of the local Adirondack community, investigated the ethics of controversial stand-up comedy, and explored the changing nature of the figure of the princess in televised narratives. Students work closely with one advisor, and have the opportunity to bring other faculty into the development of their project, which concludes after being defended before the advisor and at least one secondary reader. Because students register for Thesis Credits while completing their coursework, students have continued access to several members of the faculty throughout this process, and often use their 2nd-year courses to engage in some of the research and writing of the final thesis.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in SUNY Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?
[Dr. James J. Donahue] Faculty mentorship plays an important role in student development. The Thesis Workshop is in many ways a formal mentorship opportunity, whereby the students work with the instructor of record to develop a thesis proposal tailored to the students’ interests. Students then select a primary advisor and secondary reader to help shepherd their projects through all stages of composition and development, and to their final completion. Given the nature of our department, drawing from multiple traditional disciplines in the study of human communication and language arts, students have the opportunity to work with faculty with diverse interests and professional backgrounds. This allows students to approach subjects of study from multiple perspectives, as well as prepare thesis projects that are informed by a background in the theories of and research methods from diverse fields.
The focus of the MA program is intellectual advancement and enrichment, and as such there are no career-oriented services provided by the department. However, many faculty members have professional backgrounds and contacts outside the university, and faculty mentorship can help fill this need for our students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for SUNY Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication program?
[Dr. James J. Donahue] My advice to students would be to use their applications to explain their interests in interdisciplinary study, given that they will work with faculty in courses that draw from various subjects in Literature, Composition, and Communication. Similarly, while students do not need to have a thesis project until they complete the Thesis Workshop, having an idea about such a project can help students to articulate their interdisciplinary interests more clearly. More importantly, students do not need to have an interdisciplinary background to be accepted into the program. We have welcomed students from the various departmental and disciplinary backgrounds into our program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes SUNY Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. James J. Donahue] What makes the MA in English & Communication distinctive is our interdisciplinary approach, whereby students work with faculty from a variety of areas engaged in the study of language and communication, from the study of literary aesthetics, to the development of professional writing, to the exploration of the role of digital technologies in communicative acts. Additionally, our program welcomes part-time as well as full-time students, and run classes that fit into the schedules of students working full-time. The wide range of academic topics for study, as well as our scheduling endeavors, afford students the opportunity to engage in multiple areas of study in ways that fit into their scheduling needs. Our focus, especially so once students begin work on their thesis projects, is on the development of students’ individual academic interests. And while our program does not have a career-oriented focus, our graduates have gone on to a variety of careers, including higher education, the private sector, and the continuation of their education in PhD programs.
Thank you, Dr. Donahue, for your excellent insight into SUNY Potsdam’s Master of Arts in English and Communication!