About Susannah Bannon: Susannah Bannon is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing her Ph.D. in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Rhetoric and Language. She is currently completing her dissertation while working part time as a teaching assistant. In addition to this, Ms. Bannon serves as Director of Communications for the Texas Inmate Families Association, a non-profit that provides support, education, and advocacy for family members of incarcerated individuals in the state.
Ms. Bannon earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from the University of Houston-Downtown in 2012. She completed her master’s in 2014, graduating from the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at Texas State University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Susannah Bannon] My degrees are all in communication studies. I graduated from the University of Houston-Downtown with my BA in communication studies in 2012 and my MA in communication studies from Texas State University in 2014. I’m currently a doctoral candidate working on my dissertation at the University of Texas at Austin. My Ph.D. will be in communication studies with an emphasis on rhetoric and language. My dissertation topic is rhetorical advocacy in the formerly incarcerated, which I’m interested in because I am a formerly incarcerated advocate in addition to being a graduate student!
I work part time at UT as a teaching assistant as well as serving as Director of Communications for a non-profit, the Texas Inmate Families Association. When I finish my dissertation next year, I hope to find a full-time teaching position, or a full-time communications job in the public sector.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program at Texas State University?
[Susannah Bannon] I decided to go to graduate school the semester that I graduated from college. It was in my last year of my undergrad that I discovered critical rhetorical theory, and was able to use it to understand my experiences as a formerly incarcerated person who dealt with stigma on a regular basis. My adviser and mentor at the time encouraged me to pursue an academic track, as she found my research perspective valuable.
I thought that being a college professor could help me make a difference in other peoples’ lives, so I applied to a couple of schools in Texas. Texas State’s emphasis on pedagogy is what drew me to the program initially. The Dept. of Communication Studies Teaching and Learning Academy was an INTENSE and invaluable experience, and I know I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today if I didn’t go to Texas State.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Texas State’s program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Susannah Bannon] Texas State’s program allows students to choose their degree focus: rhetorical studies, organizational communication, interpersonal communication, instructional communication, health communication, or communication training and development. You take classes that are within your area in addition to a few that are from different areas (for example, I took health communication as a rhetorical studies student).
Every graduate student takes a research methods course where they learn the basics of research design and how to write up research findings. Texas State’s methods and research practicum classes provide a fantastic base for anyone interested in doing research or pursuing a Ph.D. While at Texas State, I had the opportunity to conduct a research project that I designed in my research methods class with Melinda Villagran in a research practicum course. The paper I wrote ended up being published the following year. To be published as a MA student was pretty awesome.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience preparing for and taking your comprehensive capstone examination? What were the components of the exam, and were they tailored to your individual course of study? What advice do you have for students in terms of preparing for their comprehensive exams?
[Susannah Bannon] Oh my gosh. The dreaded comprehensive exams. The experience is a trip, that’s for sure—but it doesn’t have to be. I think part of being a graduate student is the ritual of comps—like they are made out to be this horrible experience and we almost MAKE them that way by agonizing over how unprepared we feel.
I got to choose the members of my comps committee. My exam committee was two of my (now) absolute dearest friends, who are both rhetoric professors. At Texas State you are given the questions well ahead of time. Then you schedule a time to sit in a conference room and have a conversation about your response to the questions. You don’t have your notes in front of you, but if you study you really should be fine. The questions typically come directly from the course material of the professors on your committee.
My top advice is to breathe, and remind yourself that you know more than you think you do. In the weeks prior to my exams, I simply went one by one and answered the questions they had given me by reviewing class notes and lecture slides, rereading books chapters, and talking to friends.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Texas State’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Susannah Bannon] I gave a talk at a Texas State TEDx event last year. I was encouraged to apply by my former professors. I never would have done that entirely on my own. It was a huge success and landed me in a documentary currently being produced by Columbia University. Through my participation in events like Communication Week, I’ve been contacted to give guest lectures and talks at other universities and institutions.
Like I said previously, the Teaching and Learning academy at Texas State made me the educator I am today (a good one). I have had an amazing experience over the last six years, teaching at both Texas State and the University of Texas, and really do feel like I owe that to what I learned as a new teacher at Texas State.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MA in Communication Studies program at Texas State University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Texas State or another university?
[Susannah Bannon] First-years at Texas State: pace yourself. It is easy to run yourself into the ground in an attempt to read and make sense of every chapter or journal article you’re assigned to read. Do the best you can. If you’re not used to reading journal articles, don’t freak out if they don’t all make perfect sense. It is okay to look up words. Lean on your cohort. My best friends in this whole world are the people I met in my MA program at Texas State. There really is something magical about that place!
To everyone interested in graduate programs more generally, my advice is to make sure you apply to programs that prioritize what you want out of your degree. By this I mean if you want to be a tenured professor someday, do your research to locate a program that places an emphasis on research methodology and conference participation. If you really want to teach and don’t want to produce mass quantities of research, locate schools that place an emphasis on teaching methods and provide opportunities for graduate students to teach their own courses.
Thank you, Ms. Bannon, for your excellent insights on Texas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!