Fall 2007 — Spring 2009: Graduate School
I've decided to lump all four semesters of grad school into one post, considering I learned the least in grad school and racked up a lot of research and thesis hours that I obviously won't cover here. Check out the previous six parts if you are out of the loop on the story so far!
COMM 5014 — Communication Theory
I had a heck of a guy for the professor teaching this class, but it was mostly an overview of the areas in which one can study at the graduate level in communication, with guest speakers each week from various disciplines. I learned that much of what scholars call theory, I just call horse sense.
COMM 5024 — Communication Research Methods
I have one course that I didn't mention when talking about Marshall because it was technically a grad class — Statistical Methods. It went on to my VT transcripts for credit, and it was a big help in preparing me for this research methods class in communication. We did a content analysis and an experiment, ran the stats and wrote two papers all in one semester for this class. I learned a lot about experimental design, writing good survey questions, etc. This is probably in the top three most valuable grad classes I had, and the nicest, most-helpful professor in the world taught it.
COMM 5614 — Rhetorical Theory & Criticism
Why this is a required course for a public relations major, I don't even know. It should be in an English department first of all, and it is in many places I'm told. I learned nothing from this class except that some Ph.D.s have no idea how to teach whatsoever, regardless of how much they might be able to publish. The professor for this course was rude, creeptastic and gave unrealistic and vague assignments. Luckily, my adviser would later be able to steer me in the right direction regarding the application of the topics within the realm of rhetoric.
COMM 5814 — Theories of Mass Media: Agenda-Setting, Framing and Priming
Let me just say — one semester focused on only three theories? What were they thinking?!?! Now, I know agenda-setting has attributes and building levels, as does framing in some sense, but still, we ended up beating the dead horse a lot in this class. After the first few weeks, we discussed the same thing every time. If nothing else, I will say I learned how to explain these three theories very, very well.
COMM 5814 — The Political Columnist
This class had its high and low points. On one hand, I wrote a good political column each week that ended up going online with Planet Blacksburg for the whole semester. On the other, we went around each week, read our columns aloud, then listened to the same story from the professor he told us the previous week but had already forgotten he had told us. Nice guy, fun to work with and chat with, but I sort of got the vibe he wasn't too keen on having us do much work or trying to teach us much. He did require a research paper at the end, for which the guidelines were — well, there were no guidelines, so I wrote about metaphor in political columns and pulled off a great paper.
PAPA 5315 — Government Administration
I don't know who named this class, but it had nothing to do with working in the government or administrating anything. It should've been called, "Personalities and Poor Professoring 101." We talked about the MBTI personality test and how managing lots of different people takes certain types of leadership decisions, etc., but it was never anything more than common sense kind of stuff. The professor had a few guest speakers come in, none of which were very good speakers. Some classes, he just showed us some random slideshow or talked for hours on end about how great he was and how much he liked red wine. The best part was when he was going to tell us how to put together a résumé (because we obviously didn't know that by the time we were in graduate school), and the slides he showed us had stuff misspelled all over the place. Rather than actually teaching anything himself, he assigned each student a chapter from the book to teach each week, though he did rudely interrupt each presenter several times to ask odd, irrelevant questions. And thus the reasons I took no more CPAP classes at VT.
COMM 5814 — Campaigns
Don't let the title of this class fool you. Had it not been for my own go-gettering, I would've done nothing related to campaigns in this class. The subject matter was supposed to be public relations, political and public health campaigns, though we spent the majority of our time on the latter. Most of this class was just one student wasting our time by enjoying conversation time with the professor like the rest of us weren't in the room. We talked about some campaigns, but we were never taught anything about campaign development, strategy, employment, etc. We just read about them in journal articles, and we delved into communication theory a lot more than should have been done for a campaigns class. This should have been a hands-on class, which is what I made it. I got permission to do my final project as a campaign development for the local government's museum project, a capital campaign, in lieu of a final research paper. My mentor and friend who was my internship boss helped me with this opportunity where I really did a lot of my own research and got into the meat of campaign development, no thanks to the actual campaigns course. Oh, and I still haven't received a grade or comments about that final project, even though I've been graduated for almost two months and out of the class for more than six.
COMM 5814 — Crisis Communication
Other than my internship, this class is the most valuable thing I did in grad school. My adviser taught the class, and she and I really are on the same wavelength as far as learning styles, I think. She uses lots of great, real-life examples and diagrams to support and explain communication theory. I learned to really thing strategically and found my love for what I really hope to do someday — be in charge of a corporation or client's long-term strategic communication plans, especially in terms of environmental scanning and employing actional legitimation. Unfortunately, most entry-level PR practitioners (and many senior ones) never get to do this sort of thing, but I can always dream.
COMM 5814 — Communication Studies Seminar in Pedagogy
The three-hour credit was actually spread in one-hour credits across the course of the first three semesters of grad school. It was usually right around lunch time, which made it sort of an annoyance, especially for those who had no other reason to be on campus that day. Most of what we did could have been done via discussion board and e-mail, and the graduate teaching assistants were the ones enrolled, and they all already had a separate required meeting each week where we rehashed the same stuff. That's not to say I didn't learn some good things about what to do and not do as a teacher, but I really didn't need three semesters to grasp that. Plus, experience is the best thing in learning about that sort of thing. I had a good professor here who was friendly and made it go smoothly, but I'm glad to hear that they've changed this to just a one-semester, optional course in the department.
COMM 5904 — Project and Report
The single most-valuable part of graduate school for me wasn't a class at all. It was this, my internship. I got to be involved at least minimistically with a very wide array of projects to get an idea of how to actually work in a public relations setting. My previous PR experience was media relations and events only, and other than that, I was all journalism. This internship helped me see advertising and PR working together, as well as more-strategic realms of PR such as helping corporate clients get themselves out of messes or project-based tasks such as creating annual reports for other clients.
COMM 5514 — Public Relations Theory & Practice
This class was pretty much Campaigns, Comm Theory and Crisis Communication all rolled into one. There was a lot of rehashing theories and very little practice. Wait, I think there was no practice.
COMM 5894 — Final Examination
I chose to do a combination of internship (with an 80-plus-page paper incorporating my experiences into theory) and final examination (comprehensive exams) in lieu of a thesis. I'm glad I did because all of those thesis-track people have a thick slab of paper that might, if they are lucky, see partial publication in a journal someday. On the other hand, I got valuable work experience and a chance to demonstrate my mastery of all of the subjects covered during my two years in grad school.
COMM 5974 — Independent Study (Research Task Force)
So I actually persuaded my adviser to let me do an independent study where I wrote nothing wholly new, but instead I did multiple revisions on papers for conference/journal submissions. I figured the submissions would be a big help if I ever want to go on for a Ph.D. I got three journal submissions out, and I have a few papers nearing completion of another revision. Perhaps once I get a job, then I'll start worrying about all of that stuff again and try some publishing in my spare time. What I learned? The peer-reviewed world of publication is harsh, and Ph.D.s who teach at research institutions must be nuts trying to get published all the time when they could just go teach somewhere (oh wait, see Rhetorical Theory & Criticism professor notes above).
So what did I learn in grad school?
- Exposure to new things, such as communication theory outside the realm of journalism-school curriculum, helps you think at new levels.
- There is no substitute for hands-on, practical experience, and today's academics just don't seem to understand that.
- Graduate school is a nice distraction from the real world for two more years after college, especially if you have an assistantship for funding purposes, but the M.A. won't guarantee you a job over someone who can show they've been working in the field full-time while you were learning about McCombs and Shaw.
- People waste a lot of time researching and writing about stuff that country boys just call common sense.
- I learned to become a much better researcher, which is handy when developing any sort of strategic plan.
- Going to a football school is a heck of a lot of fun. Going to one with some really down-to-earth, nerdy classmates just adds to the fun.