COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Merrill College Ph.D. candidate and popular journalism adjunct lecturer Rob Wells will be heading to Fayetteville, Arkansas and the Lemke Department of Journalism this fall. As an Assistant Professor, he’ll be teaching data journalism as well as developing new classes there. Another Merrill College Ph.D. graduate – Ray McCaffrey – is the director of the Ethics Center in the Lemke Department of Journalism at Arkansas.
We had an opportunity to talk with Wells about his upcoming job and what he has learned here as a Ph.D. student in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism:
1) Tell me about the new job and what you’ll be doing.
I will be teaching data journalism at the Lemke Department of Journalism in Fayetteville, a very nice town in the northwestern corner of Arkansas. The department has a mix of journalism, advertising and public relations students, which I find interesting because of the different perspectives students bring to class. This will be a basic data journalism class examining how to use spreadsheets, data visualization and relational databases, and will draw material and concepts I’ve developed in my business journalism classes. I will also be teaching the graduate level communications theory class, which is very exciting since this is at the intersection of history, philosophy, culture and journalism. I will be able to drop some Plato and Aristotle and Marx on the students and make their heads explode – which is exactly what happened to me here and at St. John’s College when I read this material. I am very, very excited about this class as well.
2) You’ve been working on a new online statistics course for journalists – how challenging has that been? Why online?
Professor Deborah Nelson and I have developed a statistics class for journalism students. It will fulfill their analytic reasoning requirements in the general education sequence. This covers all of the material in your basic college statistics class but the examples and context are for journalists. I intend to cover a variety of typical reporting problems that involve statistics, from medical studies to sports scores to crime rates to economics news. The whole idea is that journalism students need to improve their numerical literacy, or nummeracy. Being well-versed in basic statistics is a very powerful reporting tool. You can really turn the tables on a company or a government agency if you have your statistical chops down. I’ve seen this done before. I will develop this class over the summer and, yes, it will be challenging to present it in an engaging way. We are doing it online because it is about time we do it online! The material lends itself to an online presentation. If we get this right, hopefully we can scale it up.
3) What have you learned as a Ph.D. student here at Merrill College? What should a student know coming in about the program?
This is tough to answer in a concise format. I learned how to become a much more effective teacher and how to experiment in the class. I learned the power of collaborating with awesome colleagues like Sandy Banisky, Sean Mussenden, and Deborah Nelson, and how that can make the classes so interesting and special for the students. My Ph.D. cohort ally Pallavi Guha and I figured out the immense amount of talent and resources available here for teacher training and professional development. That was a surprise and a welcome benefit of the program. The Ph.D. process is daunting and I was grateful to have allies like Pallavi, James Gachau and Carole Lee as members of my cohort – we worked through the problems and supported each other a lot. We edit each others’ papers and discuss presentation strategies. I could not have finished this program without those guys. The major thing is you have to go out and make the program work for you. There are general guidelines but you have to work really hard to find a dissertation committee that makes sense, find relevant classes, and reach out to a wide range of faculty both within and outside Merrill College. I was also glad I had experience in management before coming here, because so much of this involves working with your dissertation committee and telling them what you need and figuring out how to align your work with their schedules. My committee – Sarah Oates, Kalyani Chadha, Mark Feldstein. Ira Chinoy and David Sicilia – has been very demanding but also very supportive. Linda Steiner isn’t on my committee but was always ready to help me. I am surprised by their energy and commitment, and hope to reciprocate when I advise master’s students.
About Rob Wells
Rob Wells is the former deputy bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal in Washington, D.C., where he oversaw 22 reporters who covered real-time business, economics and financial news in the nation’s capital. Prior to this, he was a business reporter for Dow Jones, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press. He holds a master’s degree in liberal studies from St. John’s College in Annapolis, where he studied philosophy, literature, history and political science. His 2015 paper on business journalism and financial history, “A Strong Sense of Outrage: Stan Strachan, the National Thrift News and the Savings and Loan Crisis” was awarded top student paper at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in 2015.
He was a 2012 Reynolds Visiting Professor at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, a program sponsored by the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism.
He is currently finishing his dissertation.