Anna McAlister: A passion for research

By Ben Sheard

A researcher, effective teacher and expert in her field, Anna McAlister is an assistant professor in advertising + public relations at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. She also is a professor of two courses in the MSU Strategic Communication program: CAS 828: Persuasion Techniques for Working Professionals and CAS 829: Evaluation Techniques for Working Professionals.

Originally from Australia, McAlister has an extensive background in children’s research, specifically the influence of advertising on their health and diet choices.

Her passion for this field attracted her to MSU, where she could continue her research while teaching. When MSU StratCom started in 2017, McAlister quickly became an integral part of the program.

“I had been doing some online teaching ... and I was very aware that there was a perception out there among some folks that online teaching are fake programs,” she said. “This program [MSU StratCom] was set up to offer the best-of-the-best to graduate students who are typically a little more demanding that undergraduate students."

For McAlister, this meant creating coursework that could fit into students’ busy lives, all while maintaining the accessibility and ease of discussion that could be found within an in-person class setting.

“I feel like I am in conversation with adults who are thinking deeply with the course content,” she said, of the MSU StratCom students she teaches. “The students are so highly engaged and you can have really interesting discussions with them, whether it’s on the phone, Skype or through discussions boards.”

In her course on persuasion, CAS 828, McAlister and her students examine political messages, advertisements, health and education. Here, students learn the ins and outs of what it means to be a persuasive communicator.

According to McAlister, students gain crucial insights into the reasons behind their established means of persuasion.

"I often get feedback from students saying that even if they come in with experience already, they feel more confident when they leave," she said. "They now know why and how people use persuasion techniques."

The other course McAlister teaches, CAS 829, is one of the five core courses required in the MSU StratCom program. The course focuses on research and statistics.

“It’s an important topic to study because we are exposed to research findings all the time,” she said. “What’s nice and empowering about this course is that students will gain an understanding of where research findings come from.”

Within the course, McAlister teaches students about how to spot poor quality research, as well as how to design and create their own research projects.

“This not only gives students invaluable experience, but also provides them with an understanding about the research they may see their colleagues conduct,” she said.

Like other classes in the MSU StratCom program, McAlister’s coursework ties into broader techniques of communication and persuasion.

“This is important for communication is because one of the most effective ways to argue your point is to back it up with statistics,” she said.

When thinking on her teaching as a whole, McAlister largely finds joy through the positive impact good professors can have in their students’ lives.

“I want to be approachable and help students feel confident,” she said. “Giving people an education provides people with a confidence they can carry with them the rest of their lives.”

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