Just last week, I was invited to present my research program to my school’s chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, a national communication honors fraternity. If you’ve never had the opportunity to present your body of research to undergraduate students, let me tell you: it’s a treat! As I sat down to figure out which of my research projects to highlight, which to ignore, and how to make it all sound interesting to a captive audience (which is the most challenging part!), I took a few moments to reflect on my experiences as a Public Communication Major at UW-Eau Claire. My little trip down memory lane was nostalgic, but it also helped me understand the preparation UWEC gave me for my career. Let me share some of these reflections with you:
I graduated from UWEC in 2010 with a BA in Communication. My emphasis was in Public Communication, which I realized after graduation made me a professional in public speaking. After a two-year stint in a Master’s program, I am now currently pursuing a PhD in Communication Studies from Ohio University. For those of you unfamiliar with the type of work that goes into getting a PhD, let me elaborate: I currently take three courses each semester (I took 4 once, and that was a mistake!), teach an undergraduate course in Communication Studies, and serve as the Associate Director of Forensics for our speech and debate team. In addition to all of these things, I do research projects on the side! It’s definitely a lot of work, but I get to do all the things I loved doing as a communication major for my job, and that’s fantastic!
Once I finish my PhD work, my hope is to get a job teaching Communication Studies at a 4-year public university. Also, because I’ve had so many fantastic mentors during my education (including the phenomenal Karen Morris, Kelly Jo Wright, and Dr. Mary Hoffman!), I would like to be able to advise and mentor undergraduate AND graduate students. Some of the most fun and interesting conversations I had in school were one-on-one with my (many) mentors, and now I would like to do my part to help encourage future students to achieve their very best.
Fortunately for me, my experiences at UWEC prepared me well to accomplish all of these things. As an aspiring Communication professional, I’m concerned with messages – what types of messages do we send in different situations? Why do we send them? How do we send them? What do we want those messages to do? And how are those messages being interpreted? These are some of the broad questions that every Communication professional is concerned with, and those are the questions I was taught to answer through my coursework and my involvement with speech and debate.
My training began with the speech team, and the intensive coaching I received to research topics, find information, organize ideas, write coherent and concise arguments, and deliver those arguments in a compelling fashion. The hands-on guidance and practice I received through my participation with the UWEC Forensics team helped me cultivate superb speaking abilities, and those abilities have made me a better teacher and a better citizen. I also received training in speaking through my Public Speaking, Advanced Public Speaking, and Persuasion classes, which taught me about the nuances of different speaking situations and how to tailor my presentations to be successful in different contexts. In addition, I learned how to critically analyze messages by taking courses like Communication Criticism, Communication Theory, and an independent study in Rhetorical Theory. These courses taught me how to look deeper into a message and understand its many complexities—the subtle ideas that many people are unaware of.
I’ll bet you a dollar (graduate school doesn’t pay well!) that if you ask any employer what skill they desire most in a potential job candidate, they will tell you they want excellent communication skills. Many people make the mistake of thinking that “excellent communication skills” mean “I can speak in front of people,” but this is just the tip of the iceberg. What these employers want is someone who can read reports (often confusing ones) and relay the information to others so that it makes sense. They want someone who can critically analyze a message to make sure it appeals to the people they want to appeal to. They want someone who can write clearly and concisely, so that information is conveyed quickly and smoothly. And they want someone who can do all of this without boring people to death! Cultivating “excellent communication skills” is a difficult task, but my experiences studying Communication and participating in forensics helped me do just that. So, gentle reader, if you’re asking yourself “how can I learn to communicate better?” or “what can I study that will be interesting and useful?” or even “what group can I join to have fun and learn useful skills?” then I believe you, like me, will find the answer in Communication.