Two UW Comm professors awarded for outstanding dissertations


Matthew Powers (left) and Benjamin Mako Hill (right)

Matthew Powers and Mako Hill each received awards for outstanding dissertations. Both joined the UW Department of Communication faculty at the beginning of this academic year in September 2013.

“It’s an honor, really. Several friends and colleagues precede me in winning the award, so it’s nice to join their company,” Powers said.

Powers’ dissertation titled “Humanity’s Publics” won the International Communication Association’s Gene Burd Outstanding Dissertation in Journalism Studies Award, sponsored by the Urban Communication Foundation, which recognizes “doctoral dissertation research that explains, enlightens, inspires, and improves the practice and study of journalism and communication.” His dissertation is about the role humanitarian and human rights NGOs play in shaping – and in some cases directly producing – international news coverage.

“This is also a nice moment to reflect on and express gratitude to the members of my dissertation committee – Rod Benson (NYU), Michael Schudson (Columbia), and Victor Pickard (Penn) – for all the collective wisdom they provided that made it a dissertation in the first place,” Powers said.

Powers is currently working to turn the dissertation into a book manuscript and said the award confirms that interest in the subject matter exists and is useful motivation in the revision process.

“One of the beauties of academic research is that you select your own issues to work on,” he said. “It’s great when others find that research interesting, but I enjoy the process of working through a research problem in its own right. Anything after that is an added bonus.”

Hill’s dissertation titled “Essays on Volunteer Mobilization in Peer Production” won the ICA Communication and Technology division’s Herbert S. Dordick Dissertation Award. Hill said he remembers the project that was awarded last year and is incredibly honored for two reasons:

“First, there’s a huge amount of incredible work done in communication and technology – it’s one of the most active and dynamic areas in the field and the competition is really incredible,” he said.

“Also, my Ph.D. is not in Communication. The fact that ICA considers my dissertation to be the very best dissertation done around technology issues in communication really makes me feel welcome and at the mainstream of the discipline.”

Hill’s dissertation includes three essays that describe and test theories on why some Internet-based collaborative “peer production” sites, like Wikipedia and Linux, build large volunteer communities and high-quality information good, while others (the vast majority) never attract a second contributor.

Hill, who ironically was one of the last people in the Department to find out he had been chosen for the award, said the visibility his research will gain can only lead to positive things down the road. Two of Hill’s dissertation chapters have already been published in the Journal of Communication and American Behavioral Scientist, and the third is currently being revised for publication.

Hill also wants to thank his dissertation committee including Eric von Hippel (MIT Sloan School), Mitch Resnick (MIT Media Lab), Tom Malone (MIT Sloan School), and Yochai Benkler (Harvard Law School) for their input and guidance.