Ph.D. Profile: Anne Perera

Headshot of Anne Perera
Anne Perera's current focus is on researching the impact of generative AI on communication strategies, and she's excited to see where this research takes her. (Photo: Submitted by Anne Perera)

Ph.D. Profile: Anne Perera

October 02, 2023

Anne Perera is a first-year Ph.D. student focusing on Generative AI and its impact on communication strategies. While she works on defining her dissertation topic, Perera is interested in learning how AI technology will adapt and evolve with human nuances.

Perera worked in the advertising industry before coming back to academia to pursue her doctoral degree. She believes her foundation in the communications industry will aid in effectively conducting research and pursuing her degree.

The following is an interview with Perera.

What made you decide to pursue your Ph.D.?

It’s safe to say that I’ve been on a lifelong pursuit trying to understand every aspect of branding and find answers to the question “Why do people buy things?”. After getting my bachelor’s degree in business and economics, I started my career in retail many years ago and later moved on to market research, branding and advertising. I also completed my master’s degree in strategic marketing, which was really helpful in moving up the industry ladder. My interest in learning the triggers behind why people buy things and how communication shapes all those purchase decisions and consumer behaviors influenced my decision to enroll in Grady’s Ph.D. program in Mass Communication. I think having a strong academic research background will make me more well-rounded, which is why I chose to be in academia after years in the industry.

What made you decide to come to Grady College?

Grady College is one of the best journalism and mass communication colleges in the United States with amazing faculty. I was particularly interested in Dr. Nowak’s work with the CDC and his work on risk communication, especially with reference to pandemics. I then learned more about Dr. Meng’s PR-related research, which includes leading several significant research initiatives such as The North American Communication Monitor and Women and Leadership in PR. I’m excited I get to work with her and be part of this project.

I was also curious about Georgia because I had not visited or lived in the southern United States before. I’m originally from Sri Lanka, and I think Georgia, as a state, has a culture that is similar to Sri Lanka’s. All of these factors made it a fairly easy decision to come to Grady!

What do you hope to do once you get your degree?

Currently, I am just in the second semester of my doctoral program. My research focus at the moment is on generative AI. I want to investigate how this technology will affect public relations and advertising spaces, and whether it will have an impact on how these industries develop in the future. This creates a lot of opportunities for those who want to work in research, academia or industry. My current focus is on research, and I’m excited to see where it takes me next!

Please provide a brief explanation of your dissertation topic and why it’s important to you.

To be honest, I don’t have a specific thesis topic lined up yet, but I do have a research interest in understanding the transformational challenges associated with adopting Generative AI technology within communication organizations and looking into how it impacts industry professionals. In the future, I’d like to understand how it will influence customers and how the technology will take on human nuances in the communications space.

What other projects (research, teaching or otherwise) have you been involved with as a doctoral student?
Person teaching in front of a classroom
Perera teaches the course Advertising and Society to advertising and public relations students (Photo: Sakil Faizullah)

This semester, I’m teaching Advertising and Society, a professional-level course offered at Grady for AdPR majors. I’m working on the 2023 North American Communication Monitor project for The Plank Center, which is led by Dr. Meng. I’m also involved in Dr. Reads’ BBAM Lab Research body-worn camera project, where we’re collecting peripheral psychophysiological measures of EDA and ECG, as well as eye-tracking data.

These days, I’m working with DeShele Taylor, Director of the Myra Blacomon AdPR Academy for Diversity and Inclusion, for this year’s program. To keep things interesting, I am also a member of the Grady College Critical Media Studies Interest Group, which is guided and steered by Dr. Hamilton.

What has been the highlight of your doctoral education to date?

By far, the people I’ve met have been incredible. They have opened so many doors for me. Both in terms of the faculty and the fellow students/colleagues in the program I get to work with. The research work they are conducting is wonderful, and I’m honored I get to be a part of the work. Everyone enters with diverse backgrounds and brings something new to the table—Grady has been amazing in that aspect!

Another big highlight has been being selected to receive the Institute for Public Relations/Ketchum’s Don Bartholomew Award this year.

What is a fun fact about yourself, your research or other related area?
Four people sitting down and posing for a picture
PhD students pitched research projects to faculty. Students included: Anne Perera, Brown James, Grace Adams, Sohyun Park and Sakil Faizullah.
Photos: Sarah E. Freeman

If I had to pick one thing that makes me happy, it would be traveling! My husband and I love exploring new places together. We do a lot of road trips and try to experience the destinations rather than just being tourists. It’s been a particularly terrible period for those who want to travel since the COVID-19 pandemic, but with countries finally opening, I’m looking forward to adding new places to my bucket list whenever I get the time!

What advice would you offer to someone considering a Ph.D. program?

Only do it if you love it! Ph.D. programs do require a significant amount of work, compromise and commitment. You won’t appreciate the challenges if it is something you do not enjoy. Be absolutely sure that it is what you want to accomplish.

What has been your most memorable experience at Grady College?

I came into the program unsure about how I would fit in. I don’t have much academic background. I have a lot of work experience, and I come from the industry. I was unsure how I would fit into the academic environment, but the way Grady welcomed me into the family— although I considered myself an ‘outsider’—has been the best part!