PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania
PhD in Communication, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania ’22—expected
Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts, University of Pennsylvania ‘17
Master of Arts in American Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston ‘15
Bachelor of Arts in History and Legal Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst ‘11
“The first class I ever took in the Master of Philosophy in Liberal Arts (MPhil) program was on the subject and theory of publics. That shaped my theoretical framework for my PhD research and probably for the rest of my academic career,” shares Ryan Tsapatsaris (MPhil ’17), a PhD student at the Annenberg School for Communication. Ryan was first drawn to the University of Pennsylvania while reading Getting It On Online: Cyberspace, Gay Male Sexuality, and Embodied Identity. The book was written by Dr. John Edward Campbell who also received his PhD from the Annenberg School for Communication. “That book made me want to come to Penn,” he adds.
Ryan decided to apply first to the MPhil program to prepare for doctoral studies and continue his work in the media practices of subaltern groups, specifically the LGBTQ community. He attended the program full time and studied subjects ranging from behaving with technology to revolution and social movements.
“I was drawn to Penn because I could expand my research and benefit from the multitude of departments in the School of Arts and Sciences and across the University,” he adds. Ryan also preferred the self-directed nature of the MPhil program. He selected all of his courses and tailored them to his doctoral interests. Ryan notes, “I liked being able to make my own decisions, for me that was very attractive. Every time I contacted the program director Dr. Chris Pastore for help, he got back right away. Even though I often designed my MPhil independently, I always felt supported.”
For his MPhil thesis, Ryan explored the parallels between the media uses of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. “When I learned in one of my courses that ‘Make America Great Again’ was first Reagan’s slogan, I knew I had to research it.” His thesis method tied into his doctoral work which also looks at diachronic instantiations of media practices. He explains, “In my research, I discovered that identity plays a more significant role in media practices than medium-specific affordances.”
Ryan’s MPhil thesis readers and advisors were Dr. Guobin Yang and Dr. Sharrona Pearl—faculty members with dual appointments in the Annenberg School for Communication and the School of Arts and Sciences. Ryan took courses with both professors during his time in the MPhil and now studies with them for his PhD. He was empowered in his work through their interdisciplinary lenses. “They helped expand my knowledge bases without compelling me to fall into their philosophies,” he continues, “They gave me the freedom I needed to accomplish my goals.”
It was during his thesis process that Ryan was formally accepted into the PhD program at the Annenberg School for Communication, and he soon after matriculated. “The learning curve was drastically different for me. I already knew so many professors and had a great deal of institutional knowledge,” he adds, “The MPhil coursework was extremely productive, maybe even more so than my focused master’s. Having the ability to choose from a vast array of disciplines was unbelievably useful. I can’t state that enough.”
As for Ryan’s future goals, he plans to become a professor at a community college or state school and teach communications and English. He shares, “I believe you can teach theory with anything. I can use Facebook and Twitter to explain dense concepts. If I can help a student understand through their media and framework, isn’t that the point?”