Caleb T. Carr, Ph.D.

Professor of Communication











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Information for Prospective Graduate Students & Advisees


An open letter to prospective graduate scholars interested in working with me in some capacity (beyond enrolling in a class) during their graduate studies:


To begin, thank you for your interest in working with me as either an advisor, committee member, or research team leader during your time in the School of Communication (SoC) graduate program at Illinois State University. There are many paths to success in the SoC's graduate program, and many unique faculty with whom to work. The following is offered to provide initial information for those scholars interested in working with me, laying out details on expectations, workflows, and timelines. Of course, interested scholars should contact me directly to express interest; but this page can provide an initial source of information, answering some initial questions and helping you make an informed choice about our fit.


One thing to keep in mind is that I can only take on so many advisees and so much thesis committee work at any given time, and that number can vary based on each semester's workflows, projects, and my other commitments. I really like to serve on committees and work with engaged and interested students who want to really understand and engage with communication science. To that end, I work to advise and serve on committees where I can offer meaningful scholarly insight and contributions: theoretical, topical, or methodological. I'm primarily a post-positivist scholar who typically asks questions best-answered through controlled lab experiments and surveys; but I'm always happy to be involved in projects that take other approaches, provided they intersect with other areas of my work. If I say, "No," to serving on your committee or advisor, please know it is likely not about you or your scholarship; but rather than (a) I am already overcommitted and cannot give you the time and emphasis you deserve; and/or (b) there is not a meaningful fit between your work and mine that would allow me to contribute and help your work and achieve your intended goals. In all cases, I recommend you form your committee as soon as you are comfortable doing so, as each faculty's timeline can be different.


Information for Scholars


Questions for You to Consider

Whether you are interested in me serving as an advisor (i.e., thesis director, research mentor, and academic guide) or a committee member (i.e., reader and extra set of help on your thesis), you have a lot to consider. You can get a good sense of who I am and the type of work I do by going through my CV, and taking a look at a few articles--particularly if there are some in your area of interest--before we chat. Additionally, there may be some questions to ask yourself about why you want me to be on your committee (either as advisor or committee member) and what role you see me serving prior to our chat.

What is your primary research interest and how does it intersect with mine?
What are you curious about studying? More than a broad technology (e.g., "social media") or area (e.g., "interpersonal communication), what are you particularly interested in exploring? It may be a particular theory, communication phenomenon, application of communication, or problem/issue you've seen. Consider how you think that interest may relate to my scholarship.

What do you see me doing in your committee, and why?
What is your goal or desire for my involvement? If you want me to advise you, why me rather than other faculty? What do you see that I can contribute specifically to you and your research? If you want me as a committee member, what contribution do you see me bringing to the table? What are your goals for us working together?

What would the ideal advisor / committee member do for you?
What are you looking for from me? Do you need someone to bounce ideas off of? To complement strengths from the rest of your committee? To serve as a guide to the "hidden curriculum" of graduate studies? To expose you to the field? To help get into a Ph.D. program or job after graduation? Think about what your goals are and how I may be able to help you achieve them.

Are you self-motivated and independently driven?
I work with my students in almost whatever capacity they need; but ultimately the thesis (and, to a lesser degree, Master's degree) is driven by the students. If you need biweekly meetings to keep you accountable, I'm happy to do that. If you would benefit from sending me outlines or paragraphs to read and iteratively assemble, I can do that. I'm certainly here to provide a safety net and support system to let you achieve your potential. However, be aware I do not micromanage, and ultimately it is up to you to manage workflows and deadlines. Let me know if there are concerns or problems, but if you need daily check-ins or a constant steering hand, other faculty members may be more complementary.

Do you want to do a thesis, 39-hour option, or documentary?
I primarily work with theses. I have no documentary knowledge or experience. I can often serve as a second committee member on 39-hour options; but my strengths lay in conducting and guiding original scholarship and research. To that end, I do not often work with 39-hour options.



Time Line for Advisees


In general, if you are asking me to be your committee chair, that request is best-timed when it is made by late-September of your first semester, if not earlier. I know this is far prior to the SoC's recommended guidelines; but the timelines of academia demand it. One goal I have for my advisees-especially those who may be interested in a Ph.D. program after completing their Master's degree-is to begin developing their CV (i.e., curriculum vitae or academic resume), and be able to be "on the market" in their second November so they can talk to PhD programs at NCA's annual convention. To that end, advisees working with me follow a general time line:

  1. October/November of your 1st year - Work with me to conduct original research to be submitted to ICA (due late-October/early-November) and NCA (due late-February/early-March). Though submitted in your first year, the conferences are held in the subsequent May and November, respectively. This means you have experience conducting research from inception-to-presentation, a paper to present at the two key convention in the communication discipline, and have begun to work toward publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
  2. January of your 1st year - Begin working on your own thesis: Idea and literature review. Now that you've seen how research works (at least with me), in your first Spring semester we pivot and begin working on the work you're driving. During Spring semester we start iteratively working through thesis ideas and writing up the "front end" of your thesis. This process usually lasts through summer, with the goal of proposing your thesis early in the start of your second year.
  3. May of your 1st year - Attend ICA's annual convention to present work, learn more about the field, meet scholars, and begin to explore potential PhD program. See ICA's list of upcoming conventions for specific dates and locations.
  4. September of your 2nd year - Propose your thesis to your committee. Around this time you will have completed your prospectus: the front half of your thesis, which includes the literature review and method section. This document explains what you're looking at, how you'll explore/test hypotheses and/or research questions, and why it all matters. In some ways, this is the most difficult part of your thesis, as everything that follows is guided by this. You'll need to give your committee members 2-weeks notice before meeting to read this document.
  5. October of your 2nd year - With committee approval, you now conduct your research, gathering the data in the way you've proposed. Also, time to start deeply exploring Ph.D. programs.
  6. November of your 2nd year - Attend NCA's annual convention to present work, learn more about the field, meet scholars, and carefully court Ph.D. programs to determine interest, fit, and funding. This becomes a very critical NCA to attend, as you are "on display," and can talk about not just the research we have done; but your own unique research and potential future research agenda.
  7. January of your 2nd year - Close data collection and begin analysis. Begin applying to Ph.D. programs.
  8. March of your 2nd year - Submit your complete thesis to your committee. You revise your method from the prospectus to reflect what you've now done, add on analyses (i.e., H/RQ testing) and a discussion, and set up a time (with two weeks notice) to defend your work. Please note, the "defense" is a bit of a misnomer: It's really a chance to present and discuss your work, and the committee is just there to check that you understand why and how you've done what you've done. Though rigorous, the defense is not intended to be combative or confrontational. Also, Ph.D. program decisions tend to roll in beginning late-February and early-March.
  9. April of your 2nd year - Finish classes, submit thesis to graduate school, do your happy dance, and start packing up your stuff.



Concluding Thoughts

As a graduate faculty member, I seek to draw out the best of what my graduate students are capable. This does not mean the best that you think you are capable of; but rather the potential that I see inside of you. While I do not take myself terribly seriously, I take my work and my students very seriously; and strive to put into your studies as much as you do. I want to foster an environment for smart, clever scholars to grow as social scientists, engage in the communication discipline with their peers, and nurture their burgeoning scholarship. For those who seek such an environment, I'm eager to meet and chat with you more.


Caleb T. Carr, Ph.D.
School of Communication, Illinois State University



This page was inspired and heavily influenced by a similar open letter from Dr. Elizabeth S. Parks.


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