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John Watson

Mentor Spotlight | Summer 2021

Department: Journalism and Mass Communications

Describe your research/creative scholarship in a few sentences that we can all understand:  Media coverage of athletes with disabilities often highlights the medical aspects and tragedy of disability instead of athletic performance. My primary research aims to learn more about disability sports in traditional media and social media from adaptive athletes themselves. 

Q: How did you first get interested in doing research or creative work?

A: As a wheelchair basketball player at the University of Texas at Arlington, I noticed that my team didn’t receive nearly the quantity and quality of media coverage as the non-wheelchair basketball team despite having seven more national championships. This discrepancy led to my thesis about student news coverage of adaptive sports across the nation. I wanted to start learning how the media can change the way we view adaptive sports and disability. The PhD program at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications helped me continue my research into the domains of social media and audience reception of adaptive sports content.


Q: What do students in your discipline learn by doing research that they wouldn’t learn by just taking classes?

A: Researching journalism and mass communications teaches students to analyze media sources and content to stay informed about the world around us. Undergraduate researchers also gain important skills in writing and communicating a clear, concise story about how their own research contributes to the current body of literature.


Q: What do you find to be the most exciting part of doing research or creative work? What makes this line of work meaningful and interesting to you?

A: Great question! I had the chance to work with Emerging Scholar, Emme Tucker, and our faculty mentor, Dr. Peter Bobkowski, on a content analysis of media narratives about family members who were reunited using at-home DNA tests. All three of us agreed that the most rewarding part was bringing our hard work together to complete a paper. The year-long project culminated with Emme’s tremendous presentations at KU’s Emerging Scholars Symposium and Undergraduate Research Symposium.


Q: What advice do you have for undergraduates interested in doing research in your field?

A: Three things come to mind: (1) Do your best to get involved in any type of undergraduate research because the experience is professionally and personally rewarding. (2) Work with a mentor(s) who you can communicate with openly and often. (3) Research something you and your mentor genuinely enjoy learning about together.


Q: How do you spend your time outside of work?

A: I try to stay active by exercising and throwing the ball around with my English Mastiff nephew, Norman.

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