By Eugene White
Dr. David Tewksbury, UIUC professor and Department Head of Communication, is perhaps best known for his rise to fame on Twitter. After granting one of his students a midterm extension so he could attend last year’s decisive National League Wild Card baseball game between the Cubs and Pirates, the lucky student tweeted a screenshot of their email exchange. The viral tweet generated over 3,000 retweets and even made national headlines, including a post from USA Today.
Now, a year later, Tewksbury continues to teach Introduction to Mediated Communication and oversees various parts of the communication department. And although he has been at UIUC for 21 years, Tewksbury is a native of Southern California, where he “grew up going to Rose Bowl Games.” Here, he annually watched different Big Ten football teams square off against West Coast teams, “so it was natural that I was going to end up in the Big Ten,” he said.
While living in California, Tewksbury went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology at Occidental College. From there, he attended the University of Southern California (USC), earning his master’s in communication management and eventually went on to receive his Ph.D in mass communications from the University of Michigan.
Tewksbury was first introduced to his career options after his time at USC, where he found himself surrounded by many Ph.D students performing extensive research. Since then, he has developed a deep passion for communication field work. “I love doing research because you have to think,” he said. “For me, it was the right thing to do because I love doing different things everyday.”
For Tewksbury, the road to becoming a professor wasn’t always easy. While pursuing his Ph.D at the University of Michigan, Tewksbury ran into some difficulty with his lack of creativity. After receiving a series of poor grades, he resorted to “just make stuff up.” Ironically, his grades began to drastically improve.
In retrospect, he admires this quixotic tactic and attributes much of his success to his academic adviser because “his encouragement made it so where doing my job was fun instead of a chore,” he said. “He encouraged us to be creative.” As a professor, Tewksbury maintains this unorthodox approach, highlighting the importance of creativity in the workforce. But he also noted his unique relationship with his academic adviser, which made him realize “your adviser is the number one person in your life,” he said, “you basically acquire another parent.”
Since his preliminary research at the collegiate level, Tewksbury has completed many communication-based studies throughout his career. But his favorite studies was his first at UIUC, where he examined online and print news habits among different volunteers for 40 minutes over an extended period of time. Some of his findings included an observation that the participants did not spend as much time reading online content as they did print content. And to his surprise, “people read twice as many stories online, which meant they were reading half as much of each story,” he said.
Although his research findings revealed “shallow-surfing” reading habits, Tewksbury adds that he enjoyed this project in particular because he was able to “understand the people, not just the surface level phenomena.”
Considering Tewksbury’s love for media and communication, he also believes in the value of a broad education. Moreover, he understands “there are lots of jobs, but the best ones are those that keep you challenged,” he said.
In his 21st year at UIUC, Tewksbury still loves his position, and although he is not able to conduct as much research as he once did, “being a professor is the best job in the world,” he said. “I hope, someday, that you will find a job that you think is the best job in the world.”
Photograph courtesy of David Tewksbury