PhD in Communication

Di Pei, 2020

Di Pei

Describe your dissertation.

My doctoral dissertation, conducted under the supervision of Dr. Xiaoquan Zhao, examines the cultural and family communication factors that lead to Chinese parents’ decision to use antibiotics for children without consulting health professionals. This is a very serious problem in China, responsible for numerous child deaths and adverse incidents. Although epidemiological evidence for the problem is accumulating, little research has been done to understand the culturally rooted beliefs and attitudes underlying the issue, thus hindering the development of effective communication interventions. The study was conducted with a two-step exploratory design: using the first method (qualitative) to help inform and develop the second method (quantitative). Step one collected data using semi-structured interviews from parents of 6-12 years old children to identify the main factors that contributed to the prevalence of the issue in China. In step two, an online survey was administered to more than 900 parents in three cities in China. Based on the findings from both studies, implications for future health communication interventions to reduce parental misuse of antibiotics in China were discussed.

How did you choose your specific area of study?

During my first year at Mason, I took multiple classes in the area of health communication, and reached out to Dr. Xiaoquan Zhao to discuss my research interests. He carefully listened to my research and study plans, and agreed to be my academic advisor. In the following years, under the supervision of Dr. Zhao, I was able to finish the required coursework while conducting research that I am most interested in.

How did your academic experiences in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences impact you?

My academic experiences in CHSS has influenced me in many ways. Most importantly, the academic training prepared me to be a capable researcher. From the intro-level theory and method classes to the upper-level seminars on emerging topics, I was able to build a solid foundation for future career. Moreover, through the communication and interaction with people from different cultural backgrounds, I achieved a better understanding of my own cultural values and biases, and developed a more sophisticated way of looking at the world. Being exposed to the diverse student population prepared me with the awareness and sensitivity to difference. I truly appreciate the opportunity to develop a greater diversity of friends and learn from them.

What accomplishment(s) during your time at Mason are you most proud of?

One thing about my Mason experiences that I am most proud of is, I have grown, from a person who was always intimidated by the feeling of belonging to a minority group, to a confident communication instructor and researcher who believes in the power of inclusive communication and understanding. What helped me the most is the support I have received from the Department of Communication. The environment and people there are so caring and supportive that I gradually let down my defenses and feel more comfortable expressing myself. Moreover, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share my experiences and perspectives with others who might be going through similar stages of life. I taught a communication basic course as a graduate instructor during my time at Mason, which allowed me to use my international background to its fullest. I began my class each semester with a discussion of the importance of inclusive communication in the classroom, and always encouraged discussions on how diversity and inclusion improves collaboration in the society.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career? Please give an example of this impact if possible.

Earning this degree was a challenging process, and many people at Mason have supported and guided me along the way. First of all, my advisor Dr. Xiaoquan Zhao has provided me the necessary directions from the beginning to the final phase of my graduate study. Communication with Dr. Zhao has always been consistent and clear. He patiently listened to all my queries and provided thoughtful responses. He has shown me, by his example, what a good social science researcher should be. My committee member, Dr. Gary Kreps, also made a difference during my Mason career. I met Dr. Gary Kreps in his Health Communication Campaigns class. The weekly readings and discussions inspired me to conduct research that can be translated into sustainable health promotion practices, and to always have people’s wellbeing at heart. Dr. Tim Gibson, another committee member on my dissertation board, has showed me how to be a gentle scholar with a rigorous, inquiring mind. Every time I sent him something to review, he always provided detailed comments and asked intellectually inspiring questions. His advice provided me with new perspectives to look at my research. Staff members at the Department of Communication are very friendly and helpful. Brittany Sanders is the best graduate coordinator one can ask for. She must have spent a lot of time to know each graduate student at the department, so that she could answer all our strange questions and solve our problems whenever we need her. Maria Carabelli, our finance coordinator, seems to know the secret of being a rigorous finance staff and a charming person at the same time.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

Be open-minded and be prepared to be amazed.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

My current career plan is to find an academic position that not only allows me to apply the knowledge and skills I have developed at Mason, but also provides opportunities for me to learn and challenge myself. My long-term career goal is to be a social science scholar who always values theoretically driven research that seeks to solve real-world problems.