Written by Natalie Hulla

Graduate students studying Film at Ohio University have two different paths to tread: the two-year, scholarly M.A. Film Studies path and the three-year, hands-on M.F.A. Film Production path. These programs are distinctive in and of themselves. While the M.F.A. prepares students for careers in the film and television industry or academia, the M.A. prepares students for further study at the doctoral level and/or careers in film criticism, art administration, or archive and preservation work.

M.A. students Megan Pease, Stephanie MacDonell and Sophia Alioto discuss film theory after class

M.A. students Megan Pease, Stephanie MacDonell and Sophia Alioto discuss film theory after class

Assistant Professor of Film Studies Dr. Ofer Eliaz provides an overview of the M.A. In Film Studies: “During their first and second years in the program, the students take a number of classes that help them master the fundamental skills of film scholarship such as film analysis, theoretical methodologies, historical and social work with film texts. In addition, core track courses in film history and film theory give students a broad overview of the field, the way ideas and texts are organized within it, and the major questions, debates, and problems taken up by scholars in film studies.”

During their study in the M.A. program, each student completes either a comprehensive exam or a written thesis as their final project. For those students who intend on continuing study at the doctoral level, the written thesis is the recommended path.

Although the number changes with each class, Dr. Eliaz estimates that roughly 60 to 70 percent of students in each class pursue a doctoral degree after earning their M.A. in Film Studies at Ohio University. These students tend to gravitate towards Ph.D programs in film and media studies, often within English or cultural studies departments.

“The thesis trains the students in how to develop research questions, how to locate their ideas within a disciplinary conversation, how to conduct scholarly research, and how to organize and write a lengthy, sustained scholarly project,” says Dr. Eliaz. “Chapters from the thesis often serve as strong writing samples, and the students’ ability to demonstrate mastery in a particular question makes them attractive to doctoral programs.”

I continued toward the Ph.D because I felt so invigorated after earning my M.A.
— Megan Brown (M.A. 2012)

Ohio University Film alumna Megan Brown earned her M.A. in Film Studies in 2012 after completing her thesis work in machinima (films made from video game footage). She is currently a Ph.D student at Indiana University in the Department of Communication and Culture. Her area of research includes science fiction media and perceived scientific verisimilitude.

“I continued toward the Ph.D because I felt so invigorated after earning my M.A.,” says Brown. “Being in academia has never been a lifelong goal, to be honest, but I finally felt like I found something I was good at and passionate about.”

Having been a lover of film and cinema all her life, Brown says the M.A. program was more challenged her than she had expected, including the ability to read scholarship in a much more critical way.

“I remember working on an independent study with Dr. Louis-Georges Schwartz and I was getting frustrated with one of the week's readings,” says Brown. “He asked me what wasn't working for me and I initially hesitated to criticize the piece, as it was one of those ‘big name’ scholarly works. He said, ‘Just because someone wrote it, that doesn't mean it's right.’ It may seem obvious, but I hadn't previously been comfortable criticizing and pulling others' arguments apart.”

While the Ohio University Film division does not offer a Ph.D program that immediately follows the M.A. in Film Studies, the university houses doctoral programs in both the School of Media Arts and Studies and the School of Interdisciplinary Arts (IARTS). The Film Division works closely with both schools between faculty and students by way of curriculum.

Film Division Director Steven Ross says of the relationships, "It is a comfort for many of our M.A. Film Studies students to know that thanks to the close relationship between Film and Media Arts and Studies and between Film and IARTS, that there are Ph.D options in their area of study right here at Ohio University."

The School of Media Arts and Studies

“It was about a year and a half ago that Film and Media put their heads together and said, ‘How can we collaborate to our mutual benefit?’” says Dr. Drew McDaniel, Director of the School of Media Arts and Studies.

Beginning in the 2015-2016 academic year, the Film Division and the School of Media Arts and Studies began to work together to develop new ways to partner. Film Division graduate students, for example, are teaching undergraduate classes in the School of Media Arts and Studies. Film professor Dr. Louis-Georges Schwartz is slated to teach a summer course on Militant Cinema to graduate students in the School of Media Arts and Studies.

“Both schools had challenges of various sorts and we envisioned ways in which those challenges could be at least partially addressed by working together in various ways,” says McDaniel. “That’s led to many, many different points of cooperation. One of the points is the doctoral program in Media Arts and Studies.”

The Ph.D in Mass Communication-Media Arts and Studies has widened its scope to include a film studies option. This means now that M.A. In Film Studies students have a nearby option for continuing into a doctoral program.

The doctoral program in Media Arts and Studies encompasses a spectrum of fields pertaining to media. Many of its candidates who apply to the program have backgrounds in communication, international studies, media studies and film studies. A few, specific areas of research performed by current doctoral students include representation of homosexuality in Islam, gender studies, and alternative/participatory media and social change.

Steffi Shook is a current Ph.D student in Media Arts and Studies and entered the program after receiving her M.A. in Film Studies at Ohio University in 2013.

Mass Communication-Media Arts & Sciences Ph.D. student Steffi Shook leads an undergraduate class, Media and the Creative Process

Mass Communication-Media Arts & Sciences Ph.D. student Steffi Shook leads an undergraduate class, Media and the Creative Process

“Admittedly Film and Media are, as of now, two very different programs,” says Shook. “Media is a social science program, so much of the coursework we do is nothing like the coursework done in Film. However, almost everything I learned in Film has helped me in my doctoral program, even while the areas of study differ. The grueling work of writing a master’s thesis gives me confidence in my ability to complete a dissertation.”

Shook’s doctoral research includes video game criticism and she credits the range of diversity in Media Arts and Sciences as the deciding factor in her decision to apply and accept a position.

“The diversity in research indicated there was a lot of freedom within the department and I’m happy to report this is definitely the case,” says Shook. “Even within my cohort there is tremendous diversity in research. From new media activism to social media to gender and sports, I am able to learn a lot from my classmates because our areas of interest are so varied.”

Shook works closely with Dr. Eliaz, which has proven to be another advantage of Film and Media’s collaborative efforts.

“It’s an advantage for us to have this relationship, because if Film sends us a student and says, ‘This is a good student,’ then we have experience to build on,” says McDaniel. “It’s not just a piece of paper, it’s a real person who’s been on this campus, who’s had to interact with the kinds of courses and deal with the academic environment here. So, we’re pretty confident that they’ll be successful here.”

An additional benefit to pursuing a doctoral degree in Media includes the promise of funding. While the program only accommodates six incoming Ph.D students every year, every doctoral student is guaranteed funding.

Dr. Eliaz explains that these collaborative efforts also strengthen the M.A. Film Studies program.

“We are also starting to select students into the program whose interest may lead them into the Media doctoral program, offering a complete path to dissertation,” says Dr. Eliaz. “As we continue to integrate our programs, we hope to have more Media students in our classes, giving the M.A. in Film Studies students a broader sense of methodologies and problems that they may not have considered.”

The School of Interdisciplinary Arts

Located just across the hall from the Film Division offices at 31 S. Court St. are the offices of the School of Interdisciplinary Arts (IARTS). Markedly different from the Media Arts and Studies program, IARTS leans towards a more qualitative research approach and spans across a broader spectrum of disciplines that lie outside the world of communication and media.

Gordon Briggs, a graduate of the M.A. in Film Studies program and current doctoral student in IARTS, for example, focuses his main areas of research in film and aesthetics, and values the goal of the IARTS approach.

“Taking courses outside your area or comfort zone is crucial. This is something the IARTS department has always emphasized,” says Briggs. “I, for one, took courses in post-colonial theory, art history, literature, and of course film courses. I believe you should think of your education like it’s geographic territory. Your main area of discipline -- in my case, film -- is like your home base, but you should be able to use your knowledge to build bridges into other areas.”

Briggs works with Film faculty throughout his research and aims to earn his Ph.D in order to teach.

I believe you should think of your education like it’s geographic territory. Your main area of discipline is like your home base, but you should be able to use your knowledge to build bridges into other areas.
— Gordon Briggs (M.A. 2007, IARTS Ph.D. Student)

“It was now or never for me. I had just completed my Master’s and I knew if I didn’t do it now when I was in my late twenties, it would probably never get done,” says Briggs. “More importantly I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. I really wanted to teach students about film and I still do. I felt that getting a Ph.D would be the best way to make that happen.”

The goal of many university-trained scholars is a career in academia.  Ohio University alumnus Andrew Max Tohline earned his M.A. in Film Studies in 2009, his Ph.D. in IARTS in 2016 and is now Assistant Professor of Art and Film at the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

“I teach two intro-to-film-studies sections per semester, run the S&T Free Film Festival, and I teach one additional special topics class on film, philosophy, art, or media studies each semester.  Topics vary broadly, from Philosophy of Comedy to Experimental Film and Video and lots of other stuff, too,” says Tohline.

Tohline recalls the close, collaborative relationships between Film and IARTS that helped to make the transition from earning his M.A. to earning his Ph.D smoother.

“IARTS was like drinking from a fire hose when I first entered it,” says Tohline. “I had already taken one class in IARTS before, a theories of the body class with Dr. Peterson, and that might've been the most over-my-head class I've ever been a part of… But enough of the faculty overlap that for me it didn't feel like a terrifying transition.”

Shook has also been able to establish herself in a teaching role comfortably, having gained experience both as a T.A. and standalone instructor during her time in the M.A. Film Studies program. She teaches Introduction to Mass Communication.

“The Film Division gives substantial opportunities to teach for a two- to three-year program,” says Shook. “I have friends at other universities who did not teach their first class until the second year of their Ph.Ds.”

The M.A. Film Studies program at Ohio University generally enrolls 10-15 students at any given time. These emerging scholars engage in a wide range of research areas including masculinity in comedy to body image in film to gender studies to postmodernist theory. Read more about them at our blog in our ongoing interview series, Coffee & Cinema with O.U. Film M.A. Scholars.