Advising Philosophy

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I greatly enjoy working with graduate students and am seeking graduate students to join me at Penn State. Below is my philosophy for working with graduate students (particularly research-oriented PhD students). I am agnostic on if my students should pursue academic or industry careers. Instead, my focus is on teaching research skills and applying them to solve important problems, no matter your future work sector. That said, the bulk of my research and work experience is in academia and I am well suited to guiding doctoral students through the academic job market.

Below are my thoughts on working with graduate student advisees. If I agree to be your advisor, my commitment to you is that I will work very hard to give you good advice and feedback in a timely manner. I will communicate with you when I have concerns and I will do my best to help you achieve your academic goals. The areas outlined below (communication, respect, motivation, work ethic, biases, professional ethics, and “fit”) are all important parts of the advisee-advisor relationship as I envision it. 

Open lines of communication

There is a lot going on in graduate school: There is bureaucratic paperwork, conference papers, journal manuscripts, travel grants, lab work, class projects, recruitment of future students, round tables, and much more. In all the hustle and bustle, it is really important that we stay in touch. This does not mean I want to micromanage you (in fact, that is the opposite of the way I prefer to work with graduate students). Instead, I just want to make sure we are on the same page. 

I would rather you shoot me an email about something and it ends up it is no big deal than something turn into a big deal and me not find out about it until it is too late to assist. 

By communicating regularly and openly, we can both make sure we have similar expectations. Better communication will help me understand what your goals are and will help me to better assist you in achieving those goals. 

I will warn you: I am a writer. I like to email. That does not mean that I do not want to meet face to face. I really enjoy that, too. But sometimes we can decide something very quickly in an email versus me spending 30 minutes to come into my office and then another 30 minutes to get home for a meeting that lasts 10 minutes. I am also very happy to Zoom or talk on the telephone for meetings. But I do not go into the office every day, so it is not always feasible to meet everyday in person. 

If we are going to meet in real-time (either face-to-face or over Zoom/phone), I ask that you give me a “heads up” via email on what you want to talk about, with as many details as possible. This has multiple benefits: 1.) It helps you to plan and organize your thoughts and makes sure you don’t forget to ask me about something important; 2.) It helps me to be able to think through some possibilities or do some background research before our meeting so I can make sure I give you the best advice possible. For example, if we are meeting and you say “Hey, I think that hope is conceptually related to this interesting behavioral outcome I have observed, but I do not know best to measure that” I may not know the answer, either. But, with some advanced notice, I can brainstorm and maybe consult some other researchers, too, and we can then have a more productive conversation in person where we can bat ideas back and forth.

Mutual respect 

We are both humans with our own strengths and weaknesses, our own goals and dreams. I will respect you as a whole person, not a cog in the academic machine. I hope that you will return that respect, too. It is your life and career, and as such, I will not make demands or dictate your actions. However, as part of respecting me, I ask you to alert me and explain your rationale when you decide not to take my advice. 

Additionally, part of establishing mutual respect is alerting each other with plenty of time before deadlines. I will not ask you to do anything at the last second. Likewise, I ask that you respect my other job duties and give me advanced notice when you need something from me (feedback, a letter of recommendation, etc.). I need at least two weeks to review long documents (e.g., thesis or dissertation proposals, journal manuscripts). Conference papers may be a bit more rushed due to deadlines, but I can only help you as much as the lead time you give me. 

You should expect that I likely will not reply right away to emails sent to me late at night on the weekend (unless there’s a last-second deadline we have agreed in advance to be working on during those times). Conversely, I will try to not send you emails during those times. But, if I do, I will be sure to note that you do not need to respond to me late at night or on the weekends. 

As one part of showing mutual respect, I tell my advisees they can call me Jess. I view you as soon-to-be-peers and as fellow researchers and teachers. If you are more comfortable calling me Dr. Myrick, that’s totally fine, too. If you call me Dr. Myrick in an email, I will probably sign it as Dr. Myrick. If you want to call me Jess face-to-face but Dr. Myrick in email, that’s also fine.

Finding your own motivation 

I’m not your mother or your coach, per se. I will offer you encouragement and support, but academia is a difficult career and you need to find your own intrinsic motivation to do the planning and work necessary to achieve your goals in this field. I’m not going to constantly remind you to do your work. If you find you are consistently not able to do the work you committed to doing, we need to chat and try to figure out what the barriers are and if they are surmountable or if research-intensive academia is perhaps no longer your ideal career path. 

That said, I am not the type of advisor who will only work with graduate students who are pursuing research-intensive faculty positions. However, that is the “default” or typical graduate student in our program. So, if you are not aiming for an R1 tenure-track position, or think you may want to explore other options, you need to tell me that as soon as possible. Also, you need to be prepared that my expertise is in R1 academia, so you may also want to explore other advising or co-advising possibilities if that is not your goal. 

Work hard 

You need motivation because I expect a certain amount of effort from graduate students. This is supposed to be a challenging program. That does not mean you should suffer—I think it’s very important to practice self-care and execute time management strategies that help you lead a balanced, fulfilling life. It does mean that doing cool things requires effort. I want us to advance the science on media effects together and I want you to leave here feeling confident in your skills as a researcher, teacher, and colleague. That just cannot happen if you do not put in the time and effort. It takes a lot of practice and failure to become a successful academic. Ask me about my first ever study—such a huge failure of an experiment the means of the dependent variables for the different conditions were identical! I needed to do the work to run that horrible experiment to figure out how important the methodology was in order to do things better the next time. 

Working hard includes paying attention to methodological details of published studies similar to yours, studying good writers and working on writing, working to learn new analysis techniques, and reading relevant literature (including staying up-to-date on the latest literature in your area). Do not be surprised if you ask me a question and my first response is “what do you think the answer is? Look up similar literature and let me know how others in the field address this issue.” The Socratic method, while painful, is effective 🙂

Check/recognize potential gender biases

Sometimes, in my experience, grad students expect me to be extra sensitive/sympathetic and I will warn you that I don’t necessarily fit that gender stereotype. For instance, I went through a three-year PhD program and during two of my semesters I had to take 16 credit hours of coursework. So, if you tell me that taking 9 hours of coursework is too much work, do not be surprised if I stare blankly at you and shrug my shoulders and move on to the next topic. 

That does not mean that I do not care about you or your wellbeing. I do care about those things! It just means that my personality is not a bubbly, perky, effusively positive one. It is nothing personal. And, I don’t think people would respond to me the same way if they didn’t have some pre-existing notions that female faculty are the super-sensitive, always-have-time-to-listen, cookie-baking types (I can’t bake, just another warning!). 

Another example: I’ve had multiple graduate students come to me and say “I was going to talk to [insert male faculty member’s name] about this methods question” or “I was going to ask [insert male faculty member’s name] to be my advisor,” and then go on to say “but he is really busy, so I’m asking you instead.” I don’t know if this is a gender or age thing, but to me it seems like these students respect my time less than they respect the male faculty member’s time. So, just know that all of your female faculty members are just as busy (often MORE busy due to gender norms about childcare and housekeeping) than male faculty members, and “perceived business” is not a good way to judge who you should or should not ask for assistance or advising. If someone is too busy, they will tell you “no,” or redirect you, but please do not let your perception of their business (which may be inaccurate) dictate if you will make a request or not. Instead, ask your questions or requests of people with relevant expertise or interests.

Act ethically at all times

Before you make a decision, think about if you would be happy if the whole world knew about it (including me, your parents, etc.). If not, think again. Another trick: Think about if you would be just as happy with that decision 10, 20 years from now when you look back on your life as a graduate student. If you have questions about what the right or wrong course of action is, don’t hesitate to ask me about it. I won’t make your decisions for you—you are an adult—but I can provide advice (that’s why they call it “advising”) and offer some additional life experience and perspective to the conversation. 

This seems abstract, so I’ll write out the two most common ethical issues I see with graduate students: 

  • Fudging on IRB
    • Just take the time to directly contact IRB and ask if you need to file a new IRB or an amendment. Then do what they advise.
  • Authorship disputes
    • Follow APA Guidelines 
    • Discuss authorship openly and frequently with all potential authors
    • When a paper comes out in a conference program or journal, there should be no surprises and ideally no hard feelings

“Fit”

I have experience advising graduate students with a wide range of research interests. However, I find that it works out best when the graduate students share some of my core research interests, too. That is not because I want to force you to work on things that interest me, but it is actually because I have the most knowledge on the topics that interest me and I can, therefore, give you more detailed, concrete feedback. If you are studying something that strays from my main areas of expertise, there will be more times where I am going to have to tell you to consult the literature yourself and talk to other faculty who are more expert in those sub-areas. And if you are willing to do that, then great, we can make this work. But, if that seems like too much additional work (it does take extra time and persistence), then you might consider asking someone else to be your advisor or co-advisor. 

Below I list my research areas and primary methodologies. If you are primarily interested in a topic that does not appear in this section below, then I am probably not the best person to be your advisor. If you have questions about this, just ask me.

My primary interest is in the role of emotions in shaping audience responses to messages about health, science, risk, and/or the environment. I primarily work from a discrete emotions perspective (e.g., examining fear, hope, anger, compassion, etc.), but have done some work applying valence-arousal perspectives. I am increasingly interested in shifts in emotional responses to media over time.

I have studied a lot of different topics within health communication, but I have particular interests related to cancer, diet, physical activity, mental illness, and substance use. With regards to environmental communication, most of my work in this area has looked at climate change but I am also interested in expanding that into the areas of energy and sustainability communications. 

Another important part of my research is examining how people relate to mediated personae. Much of my work examines identification and parasocial relationships with public figures and media characters. I am very interested in how celebrities/public figures and pop culture media shape our attitudes and behaviors regarding health and the environment.  

If asked to typecast myself more broadly, I would say I am a media effects scholar who looks at health and environmental message effects. I am familiar with both persuasion and journalism perspectives in this area. I am agnostic as to the particular media (video, print, social media, etc.). 

I have some background in human-computer interaction and computer-mediated communication (primarily in looking at online health information seeking), but communication technology is not a primary area of interest for me. Affordances of technology are occasionally variables in some of my research designs (when they are relevant to emotional arousal), but if those are not my main interest.

I am a quantitative social scientist who primarily employs experimental methodologies to answer my research questions regarding causal effects on audiences. Most of my work involves online experiments, but I am increasingly moving toward lab-based approaches that include eye-tracking and facial expression analysis. I do not enjoy content analysis, but have done a few (whenever I do them, I regret it). The occasional survey is fine, as long as it is theoretically grounded. The students who work with me typically do an experiment or two for their dissertation (and not a survey or content analysis).

Much of my work is interdisciplinary. That is, it often combines theories and concepts from media effects with perspectives take from social psychology, health psychology, health behavior, and environmental psychology.