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CCI PhD Graduate Spotlight: Hannah Shinault, PhD

Hannah ShinaultBackground Information

Hannah Shinault graduated with a Ph.D. from the College of Communication and Information with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations. Before joining CCI, she earned a master’s degree at Radford University. After two weeks at Radford, she knew she would never leave academics.  She was hooked!

What is next for you?

I am an instructor in the Department of Communication at Virginia Tech.

What did you gain from CCI?

CCI allowed me to marry my two loves – public relations and public health. My dissertation focused on using public relations tools to promote and protect public health in the Appalachian region, so UT was a perfect fit. During my time as a Ph.D. student, I presented at the American Public Health Association conference, won a scholarship to attend the TC4 Summit (a conference on cancer control) as a student representative, and gave a graduate lecture on qualitative research methods for one of my public health professors.

What courses/instructors were most influential in your doctoral program?
The CCI program provides thorough theoretical and methodological training. I use this training almost every day. Especially when I work with graduate students, I feel fortunate that CCI professors introduced me to so many research perspectives. As a Ph.D. student, I worked on two projects that are dear to my heart. Both of them were completed for the Knoxville Affiliate of Susan G. Komen (SGK) for the Cure. First, I worked with a team to complete a community profile, which is a report that uses qualitative and quantitative measures to assess the state of breast cancer in the affiliate area. Our profile was chosen as one of the top 10 out of 122 affiliates that year. Following the success of the community profile, I was invited to join a team that developed an ambassador program for the affiliate. Since SGK Knoxville serves 16 counties, we created a program to recruit one opinion leader from each county to act as a liaison between the county and the affiliate. My dissertation focused on breast cancer so these two projects helped me make contacts and gain information essential for completing my dissertation.

What is your advice for future PhD students?

Give yourself over to the process. One of my biggest challenges was learning to use criticism about my work rather than letting it devastate me. Also, do not lose sight of your passion for the discipline. There were days when I thought, “Why am I doing this?” The answer, of course, is that I would be miserable doing almost anything else. Stay connected to the reasons you fell in love with public relations (or advertising or communication studies or journalism or information sciences) in the first place.


I have stayed connected to my cohort members as well as those who came through the program around the same time. We guest lecture in each other’s courses and meet at conferences. There is a CCI bond that we all share.


Prepared by the 2016-2017 CCI Spotlight Task Force: Lindsey Bier, LaVerne Gray, Abhijit Mazumdar, Whitney Tipton