About Amanda Denes, Ph.D.: Amanda Denes is the Director of Graduate Studies for the University of Connecticut’s Department of Communication. As Director, she oversees the MA and PhD programs in Communication. The duties of this position include ensuring that the program is running smoothly, overseeing major milestones (like dissertation defenses and doctoral exams), revising program requirements as needed, helping to assign graduate teaching assignments, overseeing the yearly graduate student evaluation process, being a resource and mentor for graduate students, and chairing the graduate admissions committee. Dr. Denes specializes in Interpersonal Communication, Gender and Communication, and Sexual Communication, and teaches courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels in each of these domains. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication from Boston College and her master’s and PhD in Communication from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication program, 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. Denes] The Master of Arts in Communication at the University of Connecticut is generally a two-year program that involves a handful of required methods courses, as well as theory and content courses specific to a student’s area of interest. The program is 33 credits (3 credits per course), so students usually take 9 credits/3 courses their first three semesters, and 3 credits/2 courses their final semester.
The first year students take two required quantitative methods courses (one fall semester, one spring semester). These courses focus on research methods and design and introduce students to basic statistical analysis. Students who wish to complete a Master’s thesis or intend to continue on to the PhD program take two additional courses their second year: Theory Construction and Research Design and Advanced Communication Research Methods. These two courses teach students how to build a theoretically-grounded research proposal and study design, and provide more advanced statistics training for analyzing their thesis data.
Most funded full-time students take 3 courses per semester, so they fill in the remaining coursework with Communication graduate courses that align with their areas of interest. Core Communication courses students can choose from include Persuasion Theory and Research, Interpersonal Communication, Organizational Communication, Mass Communication Theory, Computer Mediated Communication, and Seminar in Marketing Communication. Additional elective options offered in our department include Motivation, Communication Campaigns, Crisis and Risk Communication, Group Communication Research, Seminar in Mass Communication Research, Nonverbal Communication, Nonverbal Communication & Persuasion, Social Media Use and Effects, Communication Technology and Society: Theory and Research, and Professional Communication. Students also have an opportunity to participate in an internship for credit. Additionally, students can take relevant electives from outside the department (such as Strategic Marketing, Product and Innovation Management, Marketing for Non-Profit Institutions, Operations Management, and Industrial Psychology, to name a few).
One of the things I love about our program is the flexibility that students have to design a plan of study that makes sense for them. We help students choose courses that set them up for success in the next stages of their careers or academic endeavors, whether that be working for a research organization, non-profit, or government position, entering the corporate workforce, or continuing on to a PhD program and academia.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in this program can choose between a master’s thesis or a comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Denes] MA students can choose to complete the master’s examination or a thesis. Most students choose the exam because it ensures that the degree will be completed on time (if the student passes the exam) and allows them a chance to demonstrate what they’ve learned over the previous two years. The exam option involves completing three exams during a student’s final semester—one exam on general Communication theory, one exam on specific theory related to the student’s specialty area, and one exam on research methods. The closed-book exams are given over the course of a week (and students write their answers on a computer). The MA exam committee (which consists of the faculty members on the advising committees of the students taking their exam that semester) writes the questions, with the major advisor generally overseeing the specialty question for their advisee. The same committee then reviews the responses and determines if a follow-up oral exam is needed or if the student passes. Oral exams are needed when a written answer is incomplete or the committee has additional questions. If such follow-up is needed, a two-hour oral exam is scheduled, and a determination of pass or fail is made after that meeting.
For students especially interested in research and/or planning to pursue a doctorate, the thesis plan is a great option. The thesis plan requires that students take the two more advanced methods and theory-writing courses noted above. During the theory construction course (which students take fall of their second year), students write their thesis proposal. They then defend their thesis proposal at the end of that semester. Students generally collect data at the beginning of their 4th and final semester, followed by data analysis and a final thesis defense at the end of the semester.
For both the exam and thesis plans, students establish a faculty committee consisting of a major advisor and two associate advisors. For the exam option, the committee helps write the questions, and for the thesis option, the major advisor works closely to mentor the project, with the associate advisors providing feedback as needed.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Connecticut’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. Denes] We are a very collegial and supportive department, so naturally mentorship is an important part of getting an MA in Communication at UConn. Major advisors often meet with their advisees on a regular basis and have them help out on research projects and in their labs. Though there are no formalized research requirements as part of the MA program, we encourage students interested in research to get involved, especially if they are interested in careers that involve such skills or hope to pursue doctoral study.
We also have a program each fall for new students to get to know faculty members through an informal lunchtime roundtable. Almost every week we have a few faculty meet with new students during lunch to chat about their research interests. It’s a great way for students to get to know the faculty in our department, even the ones who they might not work with directly. We also have an active colloquium series, which includes bringing in speakers who are experts in their areas, as well as doctoral student research presentations. These colloquia provide great opportunities for the faculty and graduate students to gather together and learn about the most recent research in the field.
Beyond advising and department-wide events, we also focus on professional development through our teaching assistant training program and through courses such as Professional Communication and internship opportunities. These courses and programs help students develop a range of skills applicable to their future careers, whether those are inside or outside of academia.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Denes] As long as an applicant meets our minimum requirements (i.e., GRE scores above the 25th percentile, GPA of 3.0 or higher, TOEFL score of 100 and speak test score of 27 for international students), then the admissions committee evaluates the entire application packet. Successful applicants generally have strong test scores and GPAs, but also clearly explicate in their personal statements why they want to pursue a Master’s in Communication and how our program can help them meet their future goals. It’s also helpful when students mention potential areas of interest and faculty they would like to work with, though that’s more important for applicants to the doctoral program than MA program (but still nice to see!). Additionally, it’s important that students know that quantitative research methods coursework is part of our program and that they want to pursue such training. Lastly, even if a student was not a Communication major as an undergraduate, we often will look at transcripts to see how they did in Communication or related courses, as well as any research methods or statistics courses they took. Overall, we like to see that students have both the competency and drive to complete our program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Denes] The Communication program at the University of Connecticut is rated as the best in the Northeastern United States and in the top-five nationally, according to National Research Council ratings, and as such offers students exceptional coursework and training. We treat all students equally, so MA and PhD students take the required methods courses together—this provides a unique opportunity for master’s students, as they receive high-caliber research methods training that will prepare them for a range of careers, and will also place them ahead of the curve if they choose to pursue doctoral study.
One of the most exciting things about our program is that we have state-of-the-art research labs and students are welcome to use the labs and their resources for research (or as part of research projects with faculty). We use cutting-edge technologies and methodologies—like virtual reality kits, exercise games, robots, tools for psychophysiological studies, and emotion-reading software, just to name a few. These resources allow students to get hands-on experience with the newest technologies in the field and conduct ground-breaking research, giving them an edge in their future careers or further studies.
On top of all that, we have an awesome school mascot—Jonathan the Husky. He has his own Facebook and Instagram (@jonathanhusky14), and has been a guest at several of our department events!
Another thing I love about our program is the collegiality. We have a really engaged, fun, and supportive group of faculty and graduate students. Even though we are a top program and push ourselves to do the best research and teaching we can, we are not competitive with one another. Graduate students and faculty support each other and we want everyone to succeed and achieve their goals. It’s one of the reason so many of MA students choose to stay for a PhD, and why many of our faculty have spent their entire (or most of) their careers with our department!
Thank you, Dr. Denes, for your excellent insight into the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication program!