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Q&A with PhD Student Dennis McCarty

Dennis McCarty is beginning his fourth year as a student in CCI’s doctoral program and is a graduate teaching assistant in the School of Communication Studies’ Public Speaking Center.

McCarty earned his bachelor’s degree in print journalism and his master’s degree in education from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.

What made you choose to get your PhD communication studies? What are your previous degrees in?

My previous degrees are in journalism and education, and I first became attracted to communication studies because of the theoretical components of my experiences teaching English as a second language and public speaking. I think the approach communication studies brings to understanding human behavior is an effective way to understand and develop interventions for social problems, such as intergroup conflict and the spread of disinformation.

What is your research in?

I have primarily researched the identity factors involved in social influence, and my dissertation is examining particular persuasion and compliance gaining tactics that take advantage of individuals’ group-identity-supplied attitudes.

What has been your favorite part of the PhD experience and being on Rocky Top?

My favorite part of the PhD experience has been developing relationships with all of my unit’s faculty — they are a treasure trove of knowledge.   I especially appreciate my advisor, Dr. Kotowski. He’s like a kung fu master, very good at getting me to stay grounded and purposeful. I honestly don’t get out much, so I don’t quite feel that I’ve gotten to know Knoxville very well, but I’ve enjoyed vicariously experiencing the “Rocky Top” culture through my students.

What do you plan to do once you obtain your PhD?

Once I get the PhD, I plan to continue doing research and teaching, hopefully at a university with a healthy respect for both.  I have some vague inclinations toward political action, such as promoting ranked choice voting and/or sustainable energy.

What would you say to someone on the fence about getting their PhD?

That’s a pretty big question. Let’s assume that person is capable of uprooting their life. If someone has similar goals to mine and enjoys unlocking the mysteries of human potential yet remains on the fence about getting a PhD, I would direct them to look at the richness of knowledge gained within the history of social experimentation, and how communication research provides answers to the great pains of their life.  Getting the letters is about more than a pay increase and yet another educational promise of job security — it’s about getting closer to an understanding of nature, and joining with a diverse group of people committed to doing the same.

What is your favorite part about living in Knoxville?

I don’t have to pay state income tax. Also, it’s the kind of small city that doesn’t try to shove its personality in your face all the time. There seems to be a low felt need for pretense here.