Ohio Journalist

Doctoral Drive

By Isaac Noland | Photo by Eli Hiller

(December 1, 2015) — Professor Michael Sweeney could not stay away from the graduate program at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Sweeney received his doctorate from Ohio University in 1996. He came back 13 years later.

“I’d never heard of Ohio University,” Sweeney said. “I was told ‘you really gotta come up and see it.’” So, in January 1992, see it he did. “I fell in love with the place,” he said.

His love pulled him back after he had graduated and moved on. When the chance arose, Sweeney left his role as department head and full professor at the journalism and communications department at Utah State University to return to Scripps as director of graduate programs.

He was motivated by the “high quality of the school” and a drive to contribute to the program he loved. “I promised I would pay it forward,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney emphasized the multifaceted appeal of Scripps’ graduate program. Funding provides the most obvious attraction: Scripps offers the second-highest stipend a year for U.S. doctoral studies, with candidates receiving up to $19,000 a year for their work. The length of a full graduate program creates a draw as well.

Despite being shaken up by the change from quarters to semesters, the master’s program can be completed in one to two years. The graduate faculty voted in 2014 to give master’s students more breathing room by providing two years of funding. However, a master’s and doctorate can still be attained in four years, an enticement for many applicants.

The intimate academic environment presents another of Scripps’ allures. The size of the program is small to medium, with about 20 master’s and 12 doctoral students. “You get special attention from professors…with extensive professional experience,” Sweeney said.

“All along the way, there have been experienced professors who have seen me teach and given me feedback and who have been there to answer questions,” said recent doctoral recipient, Clay Carey. “The reason that I feel confident in my ability to do that job now is because there have been all these people that supported me.”

While Sweeney returned to contribute, students don’t have to graduate before starting to give back. The program is designed to have students pay it forward while they are still in Scripps.

“We make you teach,” Sweeney said.

Each person in the doctoral program becomes a TOR or “Teacher of Record.” A TOR is responsible for teaching one class per term, and it entails much more than being a teacher’s assistant. TORs design the class from the ground up, creating their own lesson plans.

“It’s better than saying ‘I helped so-and-so teach,’” Sweeney said. Doctoral students leave the program with tangible evidence of teaching experience, which gives them a leg up in the academic world.

“During my time here, I’ve taught four different courses,” Carey said. “When I walk into a school to talk about a job opening, I feel that I have a great deal of confidence that I can do the job that professors do.”

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