In fall 2017, Dr. Allison Archer joined the Jepson School of Leadership Studies as assistant professor of leadership studies. At the Jepson School, she is currently teaching Leadership and the Social Sciences.


1. Prior to attending graduate school at Vanderbilt University, you worked at CNN. What was your role there?

I had a few different roles at CNN. I started as an intern at while I was an undergraduate, and then worked in two different positions after I graduated from college. In those positions, I did everything from working as an editorial assistant to running a teleprompter, floor directing, and helping bring in video and photos for air and online. Given my interests in politics, I shadowed producers for “The Situation Room” and “State of the Union” as often as I could, and even spent a couple of weeks working from the DC Bureau. I also contributed to an iteration of their Fact Check Desk that was created back in 2010 during the height of the debates over healthcare.

2. What made you interested in pursuing research in media and politics?

I loved working at CNN. It was exciting, fast-paced, and so incredible to be surrounded by other people just as passionate about the news as I am. But being plugged into news like that — particularly all the political news — often left me wondering more and more about the why behind so many current events that were being reported. For instance, I found myself wanting to understand why the latest polling results on healthcare were the way they were, or why voters in various demographic groups supported certain candidates over others.

3. How do your experiences at CNN inform your work?

My experiences at CNN inform my work in a lot of different ways. I observed newsgathering processes and editorial decisions up close while I worked there. Sometimes it’s helpful to simply look back on those memories to make sure that what I’m thinking about in my own research isn’t out of touch with the way that things work in the real world. My training in journalism also allows me to think back on the decision-making processes that reporters go through when writing up a story, which ultimately affect the ways in which information is presented to and digested by individuals. Sometimes knowledge of something as small as a particular set of style guidelines can inform research on media effects because those style choices may affect audiences in interesting ways (of which they may not be aware!).

4. How do you approach the study of leadership?

I primarily study leadership through the lens of political science and, more specifically, political psychology. Given this, I think one important component of understanding leadership is thinking about the psychology of leaders and followers. This entails examining the (complicated) ways in which humans interact with one another, perceive one another, learn about the world around them, form attitudes, and select leaders.

5. What’s your teaching style like?

In my teaching, I strive to help students make connections between abstract theories, empirical studies, and real-world examples. For instance, I’m excited to incorporate discussions of the Virginia gubernatorial election into my teaching this fall, particularly when we discuss the psychology behind selecting leaders at the voting booth and as we think about questions of representation and accountability.

I also hope that by engaging in class activities and writing assignments that encourage critical thinking, students will develop those skills and feel comfortable discussing their viewpoints with one another.

6. What do you hope students gain from your class?

I certainly want my students to develop their critical thinking skills and gain an understanding of — and potentially interest in — social science research. Substantively, my hope is that they will gain a better understanding of human behavior and the complexities inherent in the relationships between leaders and followers. By introducing them to topics such as implicit cognition and biases or questioning the degree to which voters actually hold leaders accountable through elections, I hope they will also feel empowered to become leaders who seek to address related issues here at UR and beyond.