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Q&A With PhD Student Darina Sarelska

After more than 15 years away, Dania Sarelska returned to Rocky Top in 2018 from her home country of Bulgaria to pursue a PhD in Communication and Information with an emphasis in Journalism and Electronic Media.

She was part of two Journalism and Electronic Media non-degree exchange programs in 2000 and 2003 while studying at Sofia University. Since graduating, she has been a news producer and director in Bulgaria.

What made you decide to pursue your PhD at UT?

I have a long-lasting relationship with UT dating two decades back. In 2000 and 2003 I was here on different non-degree exchange programs. As a young journalist in Bulgaria I was lucky to get the professional training with Dr. Sam Swan here in our School of Journalism and Electronic Media. He was my mentor throughout the years so when I made the decision to pursue a doctorate, UT came as the most natural of choices.

What has it been like juggling being a TA while attending graduate school full time? Do you have any time management tips?

It’s been challenging. I am not going to lie. But in my case, having had an active broadcast journalism career for 20 years taught me a lot about working around the clock and meeting impossible deadlines. With that experience under my belt, I felt more prepared for the workload of teaching, doing research and being a full-time student, while also being a full-time mom and my own person too, occasionally.

What has been your favorite part of your time at UT?

People. Of all things I’ve learned — and I did learn a whole lot — meeting some outstanding faculty and colleagues is by far the biggest benefit of my experience here. I’ve found friends that I am going to carry with me wherever I go from here. Another highlight was my fantastic cohort of brilliant young scholars. Also, getting to work with students, the future leaders of our industry, teaching and learning with them has been an inspiration.

What is it like to be in graduate school during a pandemic? Are your classes online?

This last year was one of those tests that life sometimes puts us through. This one obviously was a major one, for everyone. Luckily for me I was almost done with classes when it all started, last spring. The last two semesters I’ve mostly worked on my dissertation, which itself is a lonely endeavor. In a way, the lockdown almost came in support of my research effort, depriving me of all the social distractions from the “old times,” fewer dinners with friends, fewer field trips with the kiddos, fewer concerts and other events; more time for focusing on my work. So, I am not entirely unhappy about it. But, with my dissertation being in its finishing stages, I am ready to go back into the world.

Why did you choose to study Journalism?

It wasn’t really a choice. I’ve been a journalists ever since I left college some 20 plus years ago. That’s the only career I’ve ever known. And at some point when I decided I needed a change of direction I transitioned from doing to teaching journalism. That’s what brought me into this program.

What is it like being an international student?

Leaving abroad and expanding your perspective outside of the culture you’re born into is a life-changing experience. I am very happy I had the opportunity to do that yet again, this time with my family and my two young daughters. Just knowing that there’s more to the world than the tiny slice you inhabit- it changes who you are and how you think about everything, I believe. I had lived in the US before – for a year, and in Knoxville again. So, coming back here was like reconnecting to an old friend. One that you haven’t seen in a long time, but, when you do meet again, you keep the conversation going from where you left off. Like you never actually stopped. That’s how it felt with me and UT.

What are your plans for after graduation?

Plans? My main plan for the last year was to learn not to make plans. To let go of the control. In that I failed.  So, my next big plan is spending the summer with my family and friends back home, in Bulgaria. I’ve planned for some beaches and mountains. In the fall, I will be back to teaching broadcast journalism, hopefully both here and in Europe.