About Ann Hill Duin, Ph.D.:Ann Hill Duin is a Professor of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota where her research and teaching focus on emerging / embodied technologies and international professional communication. Her commitment to collaboration and administrative leadership has resulted in collective vision and action: a virtual university, a new college, business intelligence/academic analytics initiatives, and numerous inter-institutional partnerships. Her most recent scholarship has appeared in Computers and Composition Online, Connexions: International Professional Communication, Planning in Higher Education, and Rhetoric and Professional Communication and Globalization.

Dr. Duin is co-founder of the Emerging Technologies Research Collaboratory, an environment where participants investigate the impact of emerging technologies on personal lives, professional futures, and pedagogical innovation. One such investigation, “Understanding virtual reality: Presence, embodiment, and professional practice,” is published in the September 2018 issue of IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. She can be reached at ahduin @ umn.edu.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication, and how it is structured? What are the core learning outcomes that students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Duin] The Department of Writing Studies offers the following graduate programs: Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication, MS in Scientific and Technical Communication, MA in Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication, and PhD in Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication (the MA and PhD programs are directed by Professor John Logie).

The Graduate Certificate program is comprised of 15 credits earned via 5 online courses. These courses are also considered as the first year of the MS program and can be transferred into that program.

Certificate Courses/1st year of MS

  • WRIT 5001 Intro to Graduate Studies in Scientific and Technical Communication: This course prepares our graduate students for the rest of the program.
  • WRIT 5662 Writing with Digital Technologies: This is one of our highest-rated classes as students find it very helpful to understand how to develop static and dynamic websites, and how to use the DITA standard for structured authoring.
  • WRIT 5112 Information Design: This course covers the various methods for verbal, visual, and multimedia content development.
  • WRIT 4562 International Professional Communication: This course prepares students to lead multicultural and international teams and audiences.
  • WRIT 5561 Editing and Style for Technical Communicators: This course covers the foundational methods and strategies for copyediting and proofreading.

The second year of the MS program (also online) allows students to leverage their own skills and interests by enrolling in one 3-credit course of the student’s choice within the Department (for example, classes in usability, science and medical writing, proposal and grant writing, among others), three 3-credit online courses outside of the department, and an online capstone applied research course. The courses outside of the department comprise the student’s competency area, and they work with the Graduate Program Director to select courses that align with their professional interests and goals. Example competency areas include human factors and usability, public health, information/medical technology, and business analytics. By requiring students to take nine credits outside of the Department of Writing Studies, we ensure that they receive interdisciplinary training that prepares them optimally for their desired roles post-graduation.

We have 100% job placement for our graduate certificate, which is something we are very proud of. Many of our students go into health-related and medical writing, as we are located in a veritable hotbed of medical device companies, and a large sector of our graduates work at places like Medtronic, Boston Scientific, Meditech, Mayo, and other similar organizations. Other students elect to go into higher education and we’ve also had students take classes from our Carlson School of Management in order to combine business strategy and technical communication. As with the first year, the second year of the MS program can be completed online with online course selections, though students can also substitute in-person courses for online courses with permission from their advisor.

The online courses in the Graduate Certificate and MS programs are offered on a Canvas learning management system. The online courses are asynchronous, with a clear weekly schedule, which enables students across the world and from different time zones to fit their classes and assignments around their work and personal obligations. The courses were built with the help of Liberal Arts Technologies & Innovations Services (LATIS) to ensure we are utilizing the best practices of online education. With that said, we provide multiple opportunities for global virtual team work. For example, in the International Professional Communication course this term, our students lead teams of translators at the University of Trieste in Italy; students also are developing collections on emerging technologies as part of the internationally-known archive, the Fabric of Digital Life.

In all our curricular efforts, we are so grateful to our Technical Communications Advisory Board (TCAB), which is a group of professional leaders who provide students with networking and mentorship opportunities, and also provide input to faculty and program administrators in terms of how to shape our program to stay up-to-date and meet the needs of our students as the industry expands and evolves. We host monthly webinars where people from our Board as well as other business leaders discuss topics that are relevant to students’ current and future professional experiences. We also have a mentorship group that matches students directly to professionals who can provide insight and support.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in the Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication must complete a capstone project. Could you elaborate on this requirement, and what it entails?

[Dr. Duin] Students complete their Capstone project within the course WRIT 8505: Professional Practice. This course is designed to provide a class structure to assist students in completing writing requirements and oral presentations associated with professional projects — research, scientific writing, and associated reports — as part of this graduate program. Learning outcomes include the following:

  • To foster advanced skills in writing and editing scientific and/or technical documents for various audiences;
  • To design and develop research reports and related documents for graduate programs in scientific and technical communication and other technical disciplines;
  • To understand and apply theoretical and research perspectives in scientific and technical communication to professional practice projects;
  • To enhance skills in oral presentation of scientific and/or technical research information; and
  • To identify and reflect on the culture and value of professional practice from a disciplinary perspective.

Note: The above learning outcomes for the Professional Practice course were established by the Department of Writing Studies, and can also be found on the University of Minnesota’s website.

The professor of the course works with the students to agree on a topic and works with them throughout the semester on their project. The students are free to also work with other faculty and our TCAB members if they choose. At the end of semester, the students present their work at the Research Showcase, attended by faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and members of the TCAB.

Students have the flexibility to tailor their project’s topic and scope to their interests and areas of study. For example, one of our students was very interested in privacy policies and privacy statements that large organizations release to their consumers, and to which users must agree to in order to use a particular service, such as email, social media, and stores that gather your financial data. Very few people fully read through these privacy statements before agreeing to them, and my student was concerned about this. She wanted to find a way to encourage people to read through these statements to understand privacy, surveillance, and other issues that are relevant to them. So she designed a very detailed usability study, which was published at the University of Minnesota’s Digital Conservancy. All students have the option to publish their final project on the Digital Conservancy, which is an online publication featuring over 70,000 open access articles for students and the public to peruse. This student’s final project was integral to her getting a position as a Usability Specialist at Meditech.

Another one of my students was interested in working with youth struggling with diabetes, and so he designed his project around assessing and improving educational materials for youth with this condition. He worked with diabetes counselors and professionals, and designed accessible and impactful diabetes care information. Another student was interested in the Ebola outbreak a few years back, and wanted to investigate the national and international effort to address this public health crisis. He analyzed various articles and other materials written about the outbreak, and discovered several key communication issues that helped lead to many of the problems with the outbreak at the time. We’ve also had students who are very interested in the World Health Organization, or who want to examine health-related websites and how they should tailor their content to their audience, or who are particularly interested in multicultural communication and translation in medical and health services, and what concepts are often lost in translation, so to speak. As these examples illustrate, there is quite a range of what students can explore and create through their final project.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Duin] The department is fortunate to work with our TCAB. This group of local business leaders provides our students with advice and experiential opportunities. Besides a formal event in the fall, the students are free to ask the TCAB members questions, hold informational interviews, or job shadow. These activities are facilitated by the TCAB program co-directors. In the spring the director of the Certificate and MS programs and other faculty members hold virtual roundtable meetings with TCAB members, asking for their input on a programmatic question and on the curriculum of one of the MS courses. This helps keep the faculty informed on skills the industry is looking for in graduate-level technical communicators.

As an example of this mentoring work, please see the recent 2018 publication, “Cultivating code literacy: Course redesign through advisory board engagement,” Communication Design Quarterly, pp. 44-58.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students for advanced careers in technical and scientific communication?

[Dr. Duin] We have designed the program around learning outcomes derived from ongoing work with industry leaders of the TCAB, who also serve as instrumental mentors to students throughout their tenure in the program. We review these outcomes annually, while analyzing technical communication trends and job position descriptions, and with TCAB input, we determine a course each year for ongoing major redesign effort. As a result, we have 100% job placement, which shows us that our method of curriculum design and individualized student support works. Throughout all of our classes, we work to connect students with workplace professionals, client projects, and global virtual teams.

In addition, we are always seeking to engage students with emerging technologies. For example, augmented and virtual reality are at the cutting edge of technical and scientific communications, and we as a faculty team are finding ways to integrate these technologies into the projects students can complete for their classes and for their Capstone. The interdisciplinary and tailored nature of the program, where students choose a competency area in a discipline intersecting with technical and scientific communication, ensures that students develop unique strengths that empower them to advance in their careers. I’d say our curriculum is particularly strong in usability, digital communication, and science, health, and medical communication.

Finally, I am immensely impressed with the caliber of our people, both our students and faculty. We see our students undergo powerful professional transformations during their time in our program, by jumping in and engaging with their peers, instructors, and projects. They come to understand the advanced discourse of the field, visualize the most effective design, manage content, conduct research in a highly collaborative environment, and with real practice in leading global teams.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Duin] The UMN application system is online. Students should demonstrate some familiarity with technical communication, and have a compelling reason for pursuing a graduate degree in the field. We require two applicant statements, three letters of recommendation, a resume, transcripts of all undergraduate work, and two writing samples. One of the writing samples should have enough text for the reviewers to understand their writing ability. Multi-modal samples are also of interest, along with descriptions of technological literacy.

Thank you, Dr. Duin, for your excellent insight into the University of Minnesota’s Master of Science in Scientific & Technical Communication program!