Meet Newly Paul – PhD Candidate

Meet Newly Paul – PhD Candidate

Newly Paul

Meet Newly Paul, a third-year PhD student from India at Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. She offers valuable insight into many aspects of the PhD experience, from choosing the right program to putting together a strong application. Continue reading to learn about Newly’s journey in higher education and how it has shaped her career path and personal philosophy.

  1. You are currently pursuing your PhD Tell us about your typical day as a PhD candidate.
  2. What is your background, both academic and professional?
  3. Why did you decide to pursue your PhD?
  4. And why did you decide to pursue your PhD at Louisiana State University?
  5. What are (were) the requirements for reaching candidacy in your program?
  6. What should a student consider when determining where to pursue their doctorate?
  7. What are your career goals after you complete your degree?
  8. What skills do you consider to be essential for success as a PhD student?
  9. Have you begun the dissertation process and how is that going so far?
  10. What is the one piece of advice you would offer to students considering a PhD?

1. You are currently pursuing your PhD. Tell us about your typical day as a PhD candidate.

I’m currently in my third year of PhD. and I have a few classes to take in order to finish the course requirements, in addition to my teaching duties, so my typical day is pretty packed. I’m an early riser—I get up around 6ish on most days. I usually start my day by surfing the Internet and reading the news. I teach two days of the week, and on those days I spend most of my mornings preparing for class. Those are also the days when I have to attend my own classes, and they usually go on till the evening, so by the time I get home I am dead beat! On the days when I don’t have class, I try working from home or go to the library and get my readings and assignments done. As PhD candidates, we’re encouraged to present and eventually publish our work, and so there’s always a conference deadline or two looming in the horizon. I use the days when I don’t have class to catch up on writing academic papers. I also like to attend various lectures, seminars and workshops dealing with anything pertaining to research. In the evenings I try and make a simple (somewhat healthy) dinner, watch some TV, chat with my husband, and then get back to my desk to catch up with work. I just realized that I spend more than half my waking hours in front of a computer…it’s a miracle I don’t wear glasses yet! But my days are not all about reading and writing. I’m planning to run a 10K soon, and so I go for evening runs with a local running club. On Sundays, a few people from my cohort meet up for brunch, and we have a really good time.

2. What is your background, both academic and professional?

I was born and grew up in India and I completed my school and undergraduate degree there. I majored in English as an undergrad and then went to graduate school in India for a Master’s degree in English. After completing my masters I decided I wanted to work as a reporter and so I did a short course in Journalism. This helped me get a job as a reporter at a national news magazine in New Delhi. I worked there for about four years, and did a variety of assignments including features on nightlife, green architecture, education, and food reviews. It was a great experience, but in the back of my mind I yearned to do more challenging things—and I was not done with academia yet. So I applied for a masters in journalism at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. American media operates very differently from the media market we have in India, and so initially my learning curve was very steep. In my two years at USC I learned to shoot and edit video, design a basic website, write for online and print media, and report for radio. I spent my summers interning for a local radio station in Los Angeles, and after graduating, I landed a job as a reporter for a local online startup, Patch.com. The year I spent working for Patch was very rewarding, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that my true calling lay in an academic career. In the Fall of 2011 I was accepted into the PhD. program at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication. I’m two years down in the program, and have two more to go!

3. Why did you decide to pursue your PhD?

Honestly, it just seemed like a natural next step to take in my career. If I wasn’t in academia, I don’t know what else I would do! I’ve always had a love for higher education and I believed strongly that I would fit in well in an academic environment. I like that a doctoral program gives you the luxury to delve deep into the issues that you really care about. For me these issues are about the depiction of minority political candidates in the media and the effect this has on voters. I think this issue has important implications for democracy and I’m grateful for the chance to pursue a PhD to explore this further. I could have been a political journalist, but that would not have given me the time and resources to explore this topic deeply, in a scholarly way. I would not have been able to learn the statistical tools to collect and analyze data and conduct meaningful research on the topic. The other thing I like about a PhD is the fact that we’re expected to produce knowledge, not just consume it. We’re expected to be experts in an area that interests us. This is a huge responsibility, and fills me with dread and hope at the same time. How awesome it would be to know that as a scholar I made a tiny contribution to my field—a contribution that answered a few relevant questions, helped real-life political communicators, and maybe helped advance my area of research just a little bit more.

4.And why did you decide to pursue your PhD at Louisiana State University?

There are several reasons why Louisiana State University was my first choice for PhD When I came down here for interviewing, I was struck by how warm and friendly the faculty members were. They were really approachable and took the time to answer all my questions. Having done my masters at a professional program, I did not have a good idea of what to expect at a research program, and so I had quite a few questions—including some very naïve ones. But the faculty never made me feel ignorant. Besides, I loved the campus—the beautiful oaks, the vibrant azaleas—and I instantly felt that I belonged here. Other than this, there was the research factor. I spoke with several faculty members who shared similar research interests as mine (race and gender in American politics) and I felt I would be able to learn a lot from them. The school offers full funding for four years (students are expected to graduate within this time) and typically accepts four to five students each year into the doctoral program, and I think that’s the perfect size for a group at the doctoral level. The people in our cohort are pretty close-knit and I don’t think that would have been possible in a larger group. I also love that the Manship school’s program plan allows students to take a few classes at other departments, and I know several students who have ventured into the political science, environmental science, communication, and law departments. Then there’s the swanky media effects lab that allows for cool experiments to be conducted using heartbeat monitors and eye-tracking software. Other than a strong academic record and warm professional relationships, I found Baton Rouge to be a lovely city with plenty of Southern charm and few of the problems that plague life in big cities and I was confident that I would be able to live comfortably with my graduate scholarship funding—which, by the way, is really good compared to some other doctoral programs. Overall, my decision to join LSU was based both on the people and environment here as well as the quality of the program.

5. What are (were) the requirements for reaching candidacy in your program?

The Manship School offers a four-year doctoral program in media and public affairs. They have a focus on political communication but students can choose to focus on other areas such as health, law, digital media, science communication and others. Candidates need to finish all their coursework before they can take their comprehensive examination and write their dissertation. Typically it takes students about 5 or 6 semesters to finish coursework. This includes 31 credits of core classes, 12 credits of mass communication electives, 9 externship credits, 6 credits of advanced methodology or statistics courses, 12 credits of outside area of concentration, and 18 hours of dissertation. Up to 15 credits can be transferred from the master’s program. Typically students can transfer media law, media ethics and media theory courses as these are among the most commonly offered courses at the master’s level. Those students who don’t have much professional experience can complete their externship hours by signing up for internships at media organizations such as newspapers, PR firms, political communication organizations, etc. However, they need to produce an academic paper with knowledge gathered from their work experience. Other students can complete their externship hours by writing two academic papers which they can then present at mass communication conferences.

6.What should a student consider when determining where to pursue their doctorate?

I think one of the first things to consider is the research interest of the faculty members and the level of involvement they have with students. This can easily be found by looking at the department’s webpage, selecting the faculty members you might be interested in, and then looking at their CVs. You want to look at their list of publications, their teaching areas and their history of mentorship. Another way of finding out about this is talking to students at the department who has been there awhile and has worked with some of these professors. I think it’s also important to determine that the school has a genuine interest in training its students for careers in academia and research and is not just looking for low-paid TAs to help with the teaching load. Another point to consider is of course, the funding. Going to graduate school and amassing a huge student debt is definitely not desirable. Sometimes, departments that don’t offer a very generous funding, have other avenues to help students, such as research grants (awarded to professors, but students can work as paid graduate assistants) or student jobs at other departments in the university. These can help a lot. It’s important to make a realistic assessment of the financial import of the program before making a decision. Bottom line, make sure the program is a good fit. That you are surrounded by people who do cutting-edge research, are willing to provide help and encouragement, and can help you do your best.

7. What are your career goals after you complete your degree?

I would really like to be involved in research and teaching at an institute of higher education. I love sharing my enthusiasm for media studies with students, and often in the classroom I come across such diverse points of view and new ways of thinking, that it really helps me gain a fresh perspective in my own work. I would also love to expand my area of research, learn new data analysis skills to make my work more nuanced, and maybe write a book!

8.What skills do you consider to be essential for success as a PhD student?

I think the number one skill is perseverance, a never-give-up attitude, a will to believe that there’s light at the end of this long winding dark tunnel. But generally, I think PhD students should be willing to work hard and be prepared to read and think a lot. Our coursework requires a lot of reading—sometimes two books a week in addition to several 25-page journal articles. When you start reading for your dissertation, that number grows tenfold. Therefore I think it’s essential that a PhD student devises a way to read smartly where she knows when to skim the material and when to stop and read more carefully. Listening—especially as a new doctoral student—to what others are saying about their research (which might not always be aligned to the student’s area of interest) is also a great skill to have. Equally important is the capability of networking, of talking to people about the ideas you have, and brainstorming with them. When people know you and your research, it gives you a definite edge when you’re in the job market. Another major skill for a potential PhD student is the ability to manage time well. Procrastinators and those addicted to mindless surfing and “Facebook-ing” really need to pull themselves together. Balancing classes, assignments, teaching and research duties and a social life/ family responsibilities is no less than a Vegas juggling act, but it’s a definite requirement for a PhD. And did I mention resilience? Those journal articles don’t get published on the first try. Or even the third!

9. Have you begun the dissertation process and how is that going so far?

I have not completed all my coursework or taken my comprehensive exams yet, and so I haven’t started formally working on my dissertation. But I should be ready to start by next summer. But yes, I do have an idea of what my dissertation will be about: how women politicians’ depiction in political ads and coverage in newspapers affects voters’ perceptions. At this point I need to read. A lot. The aim is to reach the “edge of knowledge” about this particular topic and be in a position where I can point out a tiny area where the existing literature is lacking or weak or inconsistent, thereby giving me the chance to contribute (in a very small way!) to that particular area.

10.What is the one piece of advice you would offer to students considering a PhD?

Academia involves a lot of hard work and at least in the beginning, the pay will not match up to the hours you put in. Therefore, it’s essential that at the very start you know what you’re getting into. It’s easy to get disenchanted with this life especially when your research doesn’t progress in the direction or speed that you want it to. But if you persist, you will succeed. And ultimately, if research is your life, there’s nothing more rewarding than a career in academia!

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