Monday, September 7, 2015

My undergraduate experience with communications



During my high school years, I had no idea what the communications major was. When I heard people talk about it, I thought that meant the study of communications technology; and I had the mental image of a radio and learning Morse code. Those who have taken a communications class are probably laughing right now, because they know it's a far cry from what the communications major is. Communications, in short, is about the art of communicating with other people. It's about the message rather than the medium, and about the humanities more than the sciences.


A classic radio, something like the mental image I had for the communications major



My first communications class was in my first semester of college, where I took a public speaking class to fulfill a school requirement. It was recommended to me by a high school friend's mother, who also happened to be one of the professors at that school. She wasn't the one teaching this class, but it turned out that her advice was most helpful. Public speaking was one of the most useful classes I've ever taken. I've often been glad I had some training in giving speeches, because I had to give presentations in the business classes I later took; and it's also been helpful in my church service as well.

I had given talks in church, and a few speeches in school; but I had never had any formal training in public speaking before. I wasn't expecting it to be that interesting, but found that it was just as interesting as my other classes that semester; which included a fair number of subjects that interested me. I remember particularly coming from a philosophy class where we'd been discussing the Ancient Greeks; and then coming into public speaking where we were also discussing Ancient Greece. Rhetoric was one of the subjects taught in Ancient Greece, and the discipline of rhetoric thus has a long history. Public speaking has roots far back in classical antiquity. When I later switched my major to business, my associate's degree suddenly had a more specific communications requirement than the general degree; but it was already met by that public speaking class. Thus, from a practical graduation point of view, it was a happy accident that I took this class; as I would not have had this requirement already met otherwise.

I looked at other communications classes that were offered, but did not think much about them for some years afterward. My interests and vocational plans were pushing me in other directions, and so I could not make any additional time for communications classes. (Although I did take a logic class from my school's philosophy department, which I found out years later could sometimes be counted as a communications class - at least at some schools.) The classes that interested me the most - at that time, at least - were business communication and argumentation & debate, as well as the intro class in the subject; but my major did not permit me to take these communications classes at this time. I had to be focused on other things.

But then something changed: When I was having problems with the business program at ASU, I decided to transfer to NAU's business program instead - which meant that suddenly, business communication was not only permitted, but required. This gave me the excuse to take this class, because it was suddenly worth the time and money to do so. It turned out to be not as interesting as I thought it would be, but I did learn some useful stuff that would come in handy for me later. I ended up doing quite a few presentations for this class, where my public speaking training came in handy; and the class gave me good experience in business communication.

By the time the semester was over, I had made the decision to major in marketing, as I had taken a class in the subject and enjoyed it greatly. As you might imagine, marketing is a subject highly relevant to communications; and there were two classes for that major that were particularly relevant to this field: One was my consumer behavior class, and the other was my promotional strategy class - which had a lot of advertising in it. Thus, while not taking any more communications classes, I was getting a nice dose of this kind of schooling; and I would later be glad I majored in marketing. (For more on my experiences with marketing, see this post.)



I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, and a Certificate in Business Economics. But despite this accomplishment, I faced painful unemployment for some time after my graduation. It was at this time that I looked into advertising and public relations, and learned that a degree in journalism would be highly relevant to both. I further learned that my bachelor's degree did not need to be in journalism to enter a master's program in that subject, and I learned that ASU and U of A each had such a program. The ASU program even had a concentration in business and economic journalism; which would have gone along well with my undergraduate training, as well as be useful for advertising and public relations. But in the personal statement for my application, I did not express enough interest in the profession of journalism itself; and so was rejected from journalism school. It was a painful rejection, and my weeks of studying for the GRE then seemed to be useless. But it may have been a blessing in disguise that I was not accepted to these programs.

Years went by, and I began looking into getting a master's degree in communications instead. As with journalism, such a degree would be useful for advertising and public relations; and might enable me to get a professor job as well. But I thought that if I were to do this, it would be useful to take the intro class in communication first; to show the program that I had some prior experience with the subject. This would assure them that I was indeed interested in the subject, and would not be likely to drop out. So I took an intro to human communication class, at my old school of Yavapai College. It turned out to be an interesting class, and so I thought it might be a good idea to pursue this option.

I also took another communications class the next semester, which was one I'd had interest in before - argumentation & debate. I have a debater's personality, and so thought it might be a good idea to take this class. (I also read a textbook about journalism at this time; thinking that even if I did not pursue a degree in it, it might be useful stuff to know about.) I was also thinking about doing a bachelor's degree in communications first, and I knew that the classes I'd taken would transfer towards those requirements. Laboring under this assumption, I signed up for an interpersonal communication class the semester after that (which would also transfer); and received some very welcome news on the first day of class.

The teacher said I didn't need to have a bachelor's degree in communication to get a master's degree in communication - my undergraduate major in business and marketing was perfectly fine. Thus, I dropped that class early, and decided I might pursue entry into the master's program sooner, rather than later. Still another year after that, I made an appointment to visit the graduate program at NAU, and speak with the adviser face-to-face. He told me I was a good candidate for entry into that program, and recommended that I take a class online towards its requirements, before applying for admission. This would help me decide whether I wanted to pursue the master's degree and make the commitment of time and money. But I procrastinated signing up for it, not wanting to take this class in addition to my part-time tutoring job of that time; and so I did not pursue graduate school at this time.

I may still pursue graduate school at some point, and see if I can get a job as a professor. But in the meantime, I am perfectly content to stick with my tutoring job, and have some time for my hobbies and my family. I did read a textbook about public relations since that time; but other than that, I haven't done much with communications lately. I think I might well have the right kind of preparation for this kind of graduate school, but whether or not I'll actually commit to doing so remains to be seen.


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