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CCI Graduate Spotlight: Michelle Garland

Michelle Garland

Michelle Garland is a current Communication and Information PhD candidate with a concentration in Communication Studies. She intends to graduate in Summer 2015. Michelle’s dissertation topic is on the impact of faculty verbal messages on college student identity and student outcomes. After graduating this summer, Michelle will begin her career as Basic Course Director/Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Continue reading to find out more about Michelle’s background, how she got to UT, and her experiences and advice in getting a doctoral degree.

What is your educational background?

For my undergraduate BA degree in Communications, I attended the College of Charleston with focuses in both broadcasting and public relations. I then came to the University of Tennessee to pursue my master’s degree in Communication and Information (Communication Studies concentration) with a focus on communication/educational assessment.

Why did you choose the University of Tennessee for your PhD program?

Upon finishing the master’s program in 2006, I began teaching Communication Studies 240: Business & Professional Communication full-time for the unit. After five years, I knew I wanted to continue to teach but needed my Ph.D. for job security and earning potential. UT Communication Studies was home for me, and I had no desire to leave. This was the only program I applied to, and I figured if it was meant to be, then it would work out. Thankfully, it did! 

What experiences have you had here at UT while in the program that have helped you prepare for the future? 

I have had the opportunity to gain experience in the three prongs of the academic trilogy, so to speak.  In terms of research, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of faculty members who have guided me along the way. Their guidance has led me to present at a number of regional and national conferences as well as publish in academic journals. Service opportunities have also been abundant, but I had to seek these out on my own. I have served the college, university, and the field in a number of ways, from serving as a judge for campus events, reviewing papers for conferences, and serving in leadership roles for the Instructional Development division of both the Southern States Communication Association and International Communication Association. Additionally, I was given a very unique opportunity to serve as an interim undergraduate advisor. Teaching is my favorite aspect of the academic trilogy. I am passionate about teaching and that enthusiasm is apparent in the classroom. Given my background with the program, I have been given the opportunity to teach many of the courses that the program offers: Business & Professional Communication, Interpersonal Communication, Communication Theory, Research Methods, Professional Skills Development, and Capstone.

What advice do you have for students considering a PhD program? 




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My best advice would be to put yourself out there and don’t hesitate to follow your heart. Faculty will not seek you out, so work to get to know them and ask to conduct research with them. Listen to the advice that they give you, but don’t let them take away your passion. Just because they aren’t interested in your interests doesn’t mean it is not worth researching and/or pursuing. The doctoral program process is not easy, and you will take a lot of hits but in the end, you come to appreciate those hits and challenges as they help you grow both as a scholar and a person. You are capable of more than you know. You will hit a wall, at least once, and you will want to give up, but don’t. Your family and friends will not understand, but be patient with them. You will have your cohort and your mentors as your support group because you are in it together. Stay out of program politics and always behave and communicate professionally. Pick your committee early and carefully, and have a strong chair.  My chair is also my mentor, and she is the best! She supports and encourages me when I am down and challenges me when I need to be pushed. No matter what, I know she always has my back, and it is my hope that every graduate student should be so blessed to have such a mentor and chair.