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Q&A with PhD Graduate Scott Sikes

After being inspired by his wife simultaneously working and earning her Master’s degree, Scott Sikes looked to Rocky Top for his return to higher education. He earned his Master’s degree in Information Sciences in 2018 and recently completed his PhD with a concentration in Information Sciences in 2021.

He successfully defended his dissertation, “In Our Very Blood: The Use of Social Media in the 2018 West Virginia Teachers’ Strike.”

What made you decide to pursue your masters degree and PhD at UT? What made you decide to go back to school?

When I was looking at graduate programs, the one at UT simply was the best fit for me in many ways. From my first contact with the school, everyone was friendly, welcoming, and open to allowing me the space to focus on the things that interested me most. My PhD concentration was in Information Sciences, but I felt like I was able to design my own individualized and interdisciplinary course of study. It was really important to me that I was able to explore across a host of other academic areas. This was in addition to being a part of a PhD cohort with students from other concentrations within the College of Communication and Information. This gave me a much broader perspective than I would have gotten otherwise and added so much to what I learned.

I went back to school because I had put it off for too long. My time as an undergraduate student was less than auspicious, to put it one way. I had long felt that I had something more to prove, but it took some years before I had the confidence to make it happen. I am glad I did because I was reminded on the first day that writing, research, and scholarship are truly what I am meant to do.

What has been your favorite part of your time on Rocky Top?

I had a great time in every single course I took. I relished the discussions, the interactions with my colleagues, the fun we had raising questions together and challenging one another. Truly, I tried to savor that experience because that kind of opportunity for focused intellectual engagement does not happen everyday. Not only that, but there was never a time when I did not get a little bit of a thrill walking by Neyland Stadium on my way to class. I am a lifelong Vol fan, and I felt lucky to be there.

What has it been like going to graduate school during a pandemic? Have your classes all been online?

Most of the pandemic year I spent doing work on my dissertation. In that way, it was actually an opportunity that freed up chunks of time for me to get the research and writing completed. Not to diminish the sadness and stress of the event, but it turned out to be helpful to me in that way. The move to online classes only affected the last few weeks of my coursework. Honestly, other than not being present in the same room together, our discussions and interactions did not suffer. Our engagement with one another carried over from the classroom. It certainly helped that all faculty and staff were so supportive. Everyone worked incredibly hard to make things work, to check in with us, and to be as flexible as possible.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I will be moving into a tenure track teaching position at a small college in Virginia.