About Alan Abitbol, Ph.D.: Alan Abitbol is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Communication at the University of Dayton. As Director, he manages the graduate program, recruits new students, and advises current students who are in the Department’s Master of Arts in Communication program. In addition to being the Director of Graduate Studies, he serves as the faculty advisor for UD’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) chapter. In this role, he provides guidance for budding public relations practitioners and supports chapter needs including helping secure guest speakers. He also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in public relations, social media, and research methods. His research interests center on the communication of corporate social responsibility and how it influences corporate outcomes including reputation, attitude, and performance. He has authored several articles in outlets such as the Journal of Business Ethics, Public Relations Journal, and Public Relations Review.
Dr. Abitbol earned his B.S. degree from the University of Florida in 2004. He received his M.A. degree from the University of South Florida in 2012, and his Ph.D. from Texas Tech University in 2016. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Alan has over a decade of experience in public relations, working in a variety of contexts including corporate communications, entertainment public relations, and government relations.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Abitbol] The full MA program is 36 hours. This includes 12 hours of required courses (Communication Research & Methods, Theories & Models of Communication, Communication Research Seminar and either Organizational Communication or Mass Communication Processes & Effects). In their theory classes, students will learn theories from the entire spectrum of communication sub-disciplines. They also learn a broad range of methods including survey development, interviews/focus groups, content/textual analysis and experiments. The rest of the degree is made up of a variety of electives that allow students to design a curriculum that best fits their interests. These electives include courses that can go toward our two graduate certificates – Strategic Public Relations and Health Communication, as well as courses in media production, organizational communication, interpersonal communication, rhetoric, persuasion, language & meaning, conflict management, and ethics.
The department makes sure every student who comes through the program has an opportunity to take courses that best address their interests and career goals.
[MastersinCommunincations.com] For their culminating experience, students the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between a thesis track and a non-thesis track. May we have more information on these options, and what the requirements are for the thesis?
[Dr. Abitbol] Students in the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between three options – the non-thesis track, the thesis track and the interdisciplinary track. For every track, students must take the same required 4 courses/12 credits. For non-thesis track students, the remaining 24 credits consist of electives. These can include up to six credits from outside of the department. Currently, there is no additional project or comprehensive examination requirement although that may change in the near future.
Students in the interdisciplinary track will take 12 credits outside of the department as part of their remaining 24 credits. Specifically, these students can take courses within one of the following departments: English, public administration, business, and psychology.
Finally, students in the thesis track will dedicate six credits to developing and implementing an original research project. These projects are theory driven and typically include the implementation of quantitative, qualitative, or rhetorical research methods. Students who pursue a thesis first select a faculty adviser and two additional faculty members to serve on their committee. With the help of the faculty adviser, the thesis student will determine an appropriate topic to study. Theses typically take two semesters. During the first thesis semester, students will develop a proposal that consists of a review of literature, hypotheses or research questions and a method outline. The student will then present their proposal to their committee by the end of the first thesis semester. Once approved, the student will then conduct their proposed research, write up the results and present their final thesis to the committee.
Past theses have spanned many topics including the analysis of media coverage of presidential debates to the perceptions of viewers of health messages found in 13 Reasons Why. Many students who pursue a thesis often present their research at the University of Dayton’s acclaimed Stander Symposium – an annual student-led research conference.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems? Additionally, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?
[Dr. Abitbol] Our program provides many pathways for mentorship and advising. All students start the program by receiving guidance from the Director of Graduate Studies. The Director typically acts as the main advisor for all graduate students, but students can select an advisor of their choosing as well and thesis students select an advisor for their thesis. Our program also holds many opportunities throughout the year that aid student mentorship and career development. These include pro-seminars that range in topics including workshops with program graduates discussing what careers can come from their degree, seminars from staff across the university including those from the library and career services, and brown bag meetings with faculty to introduce the eclectic diversity of research conducted in the program.
For those who earn teaching assistantships, it is required that they take an instructional communication course. In this course, they receive hands-on mentorship from the Basic Course Director. Additionally, the Basic Course Director holds weekly meetings with the teaching assistants, where they receive guidance as the TAs navigate being an instructor of record for the first time.
In addition, several classes have an experiential learning component that introduces students to real-life clients working in the communication field across Dayton and the surrounding area. The university also offers resources from its Career Center including internships and career fairs.
Above all, the faculty and staff within the program typically practice an open-door policy and often recruit students to help with research and other projects. For example, through the direction of one of our media production faculty, several graduate students created, developed and put on the Dayton Independent Film Festival, which celebrates regional filmmaking and stories from Midwestern filmmakers.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Abitbol] Applicants should look at our website and get a good understanding of our program. Above all, we are here to make sure our program is the best option for you. It is recommended that those interested in applying to our program should contact the Director of Graduate Studies and set up a meeting to discuss the program.
When you write your personal statement, it is important to articulate why the University of Dayton is the right home for you. You have many choices in where to pursue a graduate education, but what about the University of Dayton attracts you the most? The personal statement is a great place to explain what your career and academic goals are. And, it is definitely a plus if you can call out specific faculty that you want to work with.
Another important element of your graduate application are the letters of recommendation. It is important to choose people who can really talk about your ability to succeed as a graduate student. Having former professors is a great place to start, but we also love to hear from former employers and mentors – people who really know you and can articulate what makes you the best applicant for our program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Abitbol] Several things make our program unique. For one, we are a terminal MA program, which means our MA students are the focus of the graduate program. Second, we strive to keep all class sizes small. Our students have real opportunities to get to know their classmates and their professors. Students who become teaching assistants have the exceptional opportunity to be the instructor of record for two sections per semester of our intro to communication course. Teaching opportunities for MA students are rare, so our students who are interested in pursuing a career in academia definitely earn a leg up. These assistantship opportunities (including graduate assistantships) come with a stipend for living expenses and which also covers tuition costs.
Our program’s offering of two professional graduate certificates also provides our students an advantage in their career pursuits. More about the certificate programs can be found in the answer to next question, but our students, through the work they completed in these programs, have gone on to work for Fortune 500 companies and leading healthcare and health insurance companies in the Dayton and surrounding communities. Several of our graduates have also pursued a Ph.D. at reputable schools around the country.
Above all, UD is a special place. The university is founded on Marianist values, which focuses on community and developing the whole person. Once someone becomes part of the UD community, they are treated like family. The Department of Communication, and the university as a whole, does everything we can to make sure every student is having the experience that they desired when pursuing a graduate degree.
[MastersinCommunications.com] The University of Dayton’s Department of Communication also offers two online certificates: a Health Communication Certificate and a Strategic Public Relations certificate. May we have more information on these two certificate programs, and how they benefit students’ professional skills and career trajectories?
[Dr. Abitbol] As part of the Communication graduate program, we offer two graduate certificates – one in Strategic Public Relations and one in Health Communication. These certificates can be taken separately or as part of the full MA. Furthermore, both are offered entirely online! This means you can take your courses from anywhere and at your pace!
The certificates are designed for professionals who want a focused approach that can help their careers or for MA students who want to have a specialization or concentration. Both certificates are 12 credits and are designed to be completed within a year’s time.
For the Strategic Public Relations certificate, students must take two required courses: Public Relations Theory and Corporate Public Relations. In addition, students can choose two other courses from a list that includes International Public Relations, Digital and Online Public Relations, Persuasion, Organizational Communication, and Health Campaigns.
For the Health Communication certificate, students must take two of the following courses: Health Campaigns, Seminar in Health Communications, and Communication for Health Professionals. Then, for the remaining two courses, they can pick from a variety of offerings including Persuasion, Organizational Communication, Interpersonal Health Communication, and Communication Training & Development.
Credits earned as part of the certificate can count toward a student’s pursuit of the full MA. Many students who start in the certificate program realize they are already 1/3 of the way done with the requirements for the MA, so they then continue with the full MA. Often times, full MA students choose to pursue one or both certificates to provide them with more focus and concentration in their degree pursuit.
Graduates of both the certificate and MA programs have gone on to careers in health communication, marketing, public relations and strategic communications. Many employers have cited that the certificate pushed the applicant to the top of candidate lists.
Thank you, Dr. Abitbol, for your excellent insight into the University of Dayton’s Master of Arts in Communication program!