Michael Means is a doctoral student in the Media, Art, and Text (MATX) doctoral program at VCU. His dissertation, Adaptive Acts: Queer Voices and Radical Adaptation in Ethnic American Literary and Visual Culture, examines adaptation as a method of cultural engagement. Means investigates literature-to-film and literature-to-stage adaptations of Native American, African American, and Asian American art for how minoritarian perspectives challenge the way stories are told.
“Be it a favorite novel turned into a film—the traditional, quintessential form of adaptation—a popular action flick turned into a video game, or even a painting brought to life on stage, adaptation continues to shape how we tell the stories of our time,” said Means. “These adaptive acts, particularly those by and for queers of color, address the misrepresentations and under-representation of minoritarian experiences throughout society.”
MATX is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of English, the School of the Arts, and the Robertson School of Media and Culture. The program, which began in 2006, currently has 29 students enrolled and has graduated 45. Its graduates work as faculty at schools in Virginia, including VCU, JMU, and UVA, and across the country, including the University of California Santa Cruz, Temple University, and Towson University.
MATX differs from discipline-specific Ph.D. programs because it’s designed to foster cross-disciplinary interaction. It trains students to work both collaboratively and independently, as well as across and between disciplines and media.
All MATX students are required to take a course on research methods in a field relevant to their dissertation research, in addition to four core courses. Three of these are doctoral seminars that provide students with a shared historical and theoretical foundation for their independent research in a specific aspect of media, art and/or text. The fourth is a professional development workshop that prepares students for careers as interdisciplinary scholars.
“The core MATX curriculum is definitely the bedrock for my interdisciplinarity research: learning how to navigate several methodologies and working through the histories of many different mediums in order to understand their development, and the discourse that surrounds them, has been of immense help in the story of my own project,” Means said.
Beyond the five required courses, MATX students are free to pursue their own interests through courses in many departments and through independent studies and internships. For their graduate teaching assistantships, MATX students are assigned to departments according to their research interests and professional goals. They teach both required introductory courses and topics courses based on their own research.
“This program is definitely more focused on the needs of the students. In other programs, just because they’re either older or focalized around a single discipline, your curriculum is pretty much written for you already and you know all the classes you’re going to take. With MATX, the professors, leadership, and staff have to listen to the students a lot more because we’re all off doing our own thing,” said Means.
The program has strong relationships with other departments at VCU and its students work with individual professors from a variety of other disciplines including history, art history, gender studies, kinetic imaging, and graphic design. These professors direct independent studies, and they chair and serve on MATX dissertation committees.
“This program, for students, is really like being given all the best tools and support to build your own Ph.D., which is thrilling, challenging, and in the end very rewarding,” Means said.
To learn more about VCU’s Media, Art, & Text doctoral program, visit www.matx.vcu.edu.
Written by Megan Schiffres