Student Spotlight: Ryan Engley

Ryan Engley headshotRyan Engley is a fifth-year PhD candidate looking at the intersection of psychoanalysis and contemporary narrative media in his dissertation To Be Continued: Serial Storytelling in New Narrative Media. In this study, he proposes that seriality is not a particular media form but a theory of traumatic confrontation with our own ability to control or direct a narrative. Ryan will be graduating soon and has accepted a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, CA.

Ryan completed his undergraduate degree at Bridgewater State University and received his MA in English at the University of Vermont, where he wrote his thesis Bordwell avec Lacan, or Why Television Narrative Studies Needs Psychoanalysis. He has continued this work marrying current media productions to psychoanalytic theory, such as his recent chapter “The Impossible Ethics of Serial: Sarah Koenig, Foucault, Lacan” in The Serial Podcast and Storytelling in The Digital Age (edited by Ellen McCracken, 2017). In this study, Ryan considers how criticism of the popular podcast Serial, in which journalist Sarah Koenig narrates her investigation of the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in the first season, ignores the uniqueness of the serial form, rather than the episodic or consecutive journalism that is more common, and the desire this form creates through the work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan. Furthermore, Koenig opens up distinct relationships, both between her and the investigation and the listener and creator, with this radical project that can change our understanding of the responsibility of journalists. This work represents the research that Ryan is deeply engaged in and plans to continue as he moves on in his career.

Ryan also participates as a creator in the world of podcasting, hosting and producing several different podcasts. These include the English department’s own Careers in the Public Humanities, which interviews people who have put their advanced degrees in the Humanities to use in innovative ways, and three podcasts housed within his podcast channel, Synecdoche Media. In Why Theory, Ryan does much of the same work that he does in his writing but with a colleague from the University of Vermont, Todd McGowan. Translating what can be seen as highly specialist knowledge for wider audiences, Ryan sees this podcast, in particular, as an opportunity to engage people outside of academia. As he recently shared on an episode of Careers in the Public Humanities, one of his favorite things is receiving emails from listeners who engage with the ideas in his podcasts. Ultimately, Ryan sees this work as extending conversations and inviting new ways of participating in the Humanities beyond the traditional forms of publishing and teaching.

Now, Ryan is getting ready to transition into his new position in Media Studies at Pomona College. Much has been said about the difficulty of securing a tenure-track job on the market lately, though in general, prospects have been improving some in the last few years, but Ryan suggests that knowing your work and why it matters, can be a key: “It sounds simple but know what you do well, and work to show that to people both in and outside academia. Find your audience. Not just within your field but without. Ask the question, who does your work speak to? More crucially, who does it need to speak to?” Thinking about his scholarly identity and work, though easy to ignore in its simplicity, was an essential step for Ryan in his search.

We will miss Ryan and we wish him luck in California!


Catherine Winters is a 4th year PhD candidate focusing on contemporary American narrative under the advisement of Dr. Mary Cappello.

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