Rongwei Tang (MA ’22) on applying for PhDs, IP writing, and making the most of the TC experience

Rongwei Tang is a second year MA student studying the dissemination of Chinese intangible cultural heritage on Chinese social media. She was recently accepted into the Mass Communication Doctoral Program at the University of Minnesota and will be attending in the fall.

First of all, congrats on your acceptance to your PhD program!

Thank you!

What school will you be going to?

The University of Minnesota in their PhD in Mass Communication Program.

How did you get into Mass Communication from anthro?

Well, at TC, there are many opportunities open for students and I learned about a lab called media and social change lab in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program. They have an interest group about media literacy and my undergrad thesis was on media literacy, so I’ve had interest in this area for a while. I joined the lab and continued my interest in media literacy and media literacy education. I also met other Professors at other universities and joined their labs for media literacy education as well. I found my real passion in media literacy and media literacy education. I actually applied to both the education and the mass communication programs, but for now I really like the mass communication doctoral program.

That’s a really interesting topic! So, thinking about your doctoral program and where that will take you, what is your IP about and how’s it going?

I investigated the dissemination of Chinese intangible cultural heritage in Chinese social media. For example, how artists upload and record videos, share them with their audiences, and how they think about their experience. Through my interviews, I found that media literacy also played an important role in their experience, since they need to know how to upload and record the videos and how to appropriately organize their content so they can attract audiences. I was able to connect my interest in media literacy to how the artists use social media to show themselves, express themselves and experience their personal influence on Chinese intangible cultural heritage.

Cool! So, are you personally interested in art? Is that how you came to this subject?

Actually, I’m not very into art! But I was watching videos on popular Chinese social media and I found that there were many artists that the social media platforms identified as intangible cultural artists who had many views on their videos. I was pretty curious about this because in real life I know very little about intangible cultural heritage. I was so surprised that these artists have so many followers and fans.

Do you think you’ll continue this line of research for your PhD or will you switch it up?

I think I’ll switch it up! I have a temporary supervisor who was appointed to me in the Minnesota program and her interests are in news literacy which are quite similar to my previous interests in media literacy. I hope to be guided and cooperate with her to do some research about news literacy. I would also like to do some investigation about health communication since media literacy also plays an important role in health communication.

Awesome! Backing up a little… you had mentioned that you came to the TC Anthro program with a background in media studies. How did you come to anthropology through that?

Most of my undergraduate studies were focused on quantitative research methods, but I wanted to see the world from a different perspective through my master’s study.  I wanted to learn more about qualitative research. I read some papers written by media ethnographers and I found their studies easy to read and decided the area of media ethnography is the potential direction I want to go. I became very interested in how to use qualitative and ethnographic perspectives to understand people’s media practices, and that’s why I entered the anthropology program.

In another one of these interviews, I had a conversation with an alumni who works in a political science department who said that he feels like his anthropological perspective is the most valuable when he’s in a room filled with people who aren’t anthropologists. Since you’re taking your anthropological training into a non-anthro program, what do you think is going to be the most valuable thing you bring with you from our program?

Reflexivity. Doing my research in the mass communication program I will reflect my positionality and use anthropological thinking.

That’s a great answer! Ok I’m going to jump around again so bear with me. What has been the most challenging part of writing your IP?

Finding my interviewees since they’re all Chinese intangible heritage artists and they’re identified by the Chinese government as the inheritors of this culture. They also have a large number of followers. On average, each one has around 300,000 followers so it is hard for me to contact them. Some of them refused me but others were kind enough to take some time to chat with me even though I was here in the US and they were back in China. I was really grateful that they agreed given that they have so many followers and that we’re strangers. The time difference was another challenge.

So where are you in the process? Are you done with your interviews?

I am done with my interviews and have completed my first draft, which has been sent back to me with comments. The next step is to re-edit my paper back on those suggestions and hopefully I can get it done by March 10th so I can send it to Professor Gundaker.

March 10th! That’s in 2 weeks!

That’s when the second draft is due!

Gotcha. How have you found balancing doing coursework and doing your IP writing and research?

Well, we have a lot of time to generate our idea and there’s no strict timeframe about when we’re meant to start, so we can begin any time, so writing the IP is fine. But balancing course work and research is a challenge. After I enrolled at TC, I joined two different labs and I’m a volunteer research assistant at both. I don’t get paid, but I’m gaining research experience, which will contribute to my future research. As a research assistant, I have to complete 5 to 10 hours a week for each project. I sacrifice some of my free time to devote myself to both course work and research work.

Wow, it seems like you’ve got a lot on your plate!

Yeah, especially last summer, I had to interview three or four different teachers in Rhode Island schools and because I’m not a native English speaker I was quite nervous to interview them. Since they’re native English speakers I was worried they may judge me. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to study this kind of stuff!

That’s very brave of you! It’s nerve-wracking to do an interview in the first but doing an interview in a language you’re not a native speaker in is really scary! It sounds like you really took advantage of all the opportunities TC had to offer, which is incredible, and I’m sure supplemented your PhD applications! So, I was wondering if, aside from going out of your way to make sure you had research experience, you had any advice for MA students thinking about applying?

I think I would advise to get prepared as early as possible since you might have many things going on at the same time. And pay attention to the emails that TC sends because they might contain some research opportunities that you should take advantage of. If you can’t find appropriate opportunities for your research interests, you can try searching key words on the internet like “research assistant” plus their research interest area and if you’re lucky you might be able to find opportunities related to that. I mentioned that I joined two different labs. One is within TC, the other is at the University of Rhode Island. I found this opportunity though an ad posted by the professor on the internet. The professor is a big name in the area of media literacy. I think we should try to find these kinds of opportunities online.

That’s great advice! More specifically about your experience at TC, what was your favorite or most helpful class during your MA?

I’m also interested in educational technology and at TC I look some classes in the educational technology program. The class I loved most was called “Equity, Ethical and Social Issues in Educational Technology” taught by Professor Paulo Blikstein. I really enjoyed taking this class because it talked very much about how to make technology use more equitable instead of using it to surveil people. I think the core value of this class fits quite well into our anthropological values and instilling importance in using educational technology in an equitable way. And through this class I met some great teammates and together we designed a project called “The ARt of Inequality”. We developed a curriculum using AR [augmented reality] to empower high school age youth from minoritized backgrounds through arts activism in virtual spaces. We submitted the curriculum to CICE and we were accepted and published the project.

That’s so cool! I think it’s so important to supplement anthropology with experiences like that. My last question is: What’s the one thing you wish you knew as a first year MA student?

I think about this a lot. I continue to regret that I didn’t take a class taught by Ioana Literat. She’s a professor who teaches classes related to media literacy here at TC and I thought about taking one of her classes, but I didn’t and I don’t know why. I think it was because we were in different time zones. After I decided not to take it, I learned that it was actually an asynchronous class. And this year she’s not teaching. So if I knew that it was an asynchronous and that she wasn’t going to teach any more classes, I would have taken it in the first semester!

The lesson there is never put anything off!

Interview conducted by Emily Bailey


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