About Blair Davis, Ph.D.: Blair Davis is an Associate Professor and the Graduate Program Director for the College of Communication at DePaul University, where he advises students, oversees recruitment and admissions, schedules courses, supports faculty, and manages changes to the program’s curriculum. In addition, he teaches courses in film and media theory, media ecology, comics studies, B-movies and film-genre studies. Dr. Davis earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communication from Simon Fraser University, and received his Ph.D. in Communication Studies at McGill University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the Master of Arts in Communication and Media program at DePaul University, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Davis] The Master of Arts in Communication Studies is comprised of 48 credit hours. We have four optional concentrations: Media and Cinema Studies, Multicultural Communication, Organizational Communication, and Interpersonal Communication. Students do not have to choose a particular concentration, and can actually take electives across these four focus areas if they wish.
All students take the core course Foundations in Graduate Communication Studies, which really sets the groundwork for how to conduct advanced studies at the graduate level. This class is also meant to help students build personal connections in their cohort, find research partners and ultimately give them a broader scope of the field of communication as a whole. In this course we also give students a sense of the larger history of communication, including various sub-disciplines that have emerged. Some students have a particular study plan set out when they enroll. Others just want to study how people communicate and how culture is formed and transformed through communication, and they just don’t necessarily know what areas of the communication discipline they connect with the most yet. To give students a sense of the diversity within the field of communication, we bring in a number of guest speakers for this course. These guest speakers are usually professors within the College who will give a short lecture on their own particular field of study.
From there, students must choose one core course from four options; each of these four classes aligns with one of our optional concentrations. We have the course “Organizational Communication and Culture,” where students learn the basics of how communication functions within business settings and larger organizational structures, be it a corporation, a government agency, a non-profit, or an institution like a university. This course really looks at how people communicate ideas. How are these processes created, maintained, and transformed within those types of spaces? And how do they navigate that type of communication on a wider institutional level versus the level of the individual? Many of the ideas discussed in this course connect to issues of human resources management.
We also have a “Seminar in Interpersonal Communication,” which is focused on the idea of interpersonal relationships, be it within the workplace, in the family, or romantic relationships. Interpersonal communication also relates to how non-verbal communication affects the ways in which culture is created and transformed, and how meaning is created at the level of the individual communicator, allowing students to get a strong foundation in both verbal and non-verbal communication forms to strengthen interpersonal connections.
Another core course is called “Communication in Cultural Contexts,” which is really about what culture was, is, and could be in the future, and the role that communication plays in this—the idea of what happens when you have two different cultures being connected and transformed together through communication. This class focuses on issues of identity, race, sexuality, and ability through the lens of the individual and the community, as well as in terms of national and global consequences.
In the course called “Media and Cultural Studies,” students examine communication and culture from myriad perspectives, and gain skills in observing, analyzing, and drawing conclusions from communication research in multicultural and multinational contexts, specifically through the lens of media like film and television. This course looks at questions about how the media landscape affects the way in which culture is formed, and vice versa. How do audiences engage with various types of media texts, and how does this engagement connect with the formation, reinforcement, and evolution of culture?
In addition to their core course selection, students are required to take one of the following four methods courses: Qualitative Research Methods, Quantitative Research Methods, Methodological Topics, and Critical Analysis. The Qualitative Research Methods course delves into key qualitative research methods, including ethnography, interviewing, historical research, and document analysis. “Quantitative Research Methods” provides a foundational overview of quantitative research approaches such as surveys, statistics, and variance analysis. “Methodological Topics” explores special topics in human communication research, including specialized methods of collecting and interpreting data. The “Critical Analysis” course focuses on rhetorical analysis and media criticism using methods such as discourse analysis, historiography, and sociological analysis.
After their selection of core and methods courses, students take classes according to their interests and chosen concentration (if applicable). They can take classes in film and media theory, documentary studies, global film and media, digital media ethics, fandom and active audiences, health communication in global and multicultural contexts, workplace and organizational communication, diversity in teams and leadership, and popular media forms, among others.
Students’ final graduation requirement is the completion of a culminating experience. They can choose between a comprehensive examination, a master’s project, or a thesis. Whatever their choice, this final step is intended to allow students to integrate all the insights and skills from their program and to demonstrate competence in several key areas. I find that we have a fairly even split between students who are interested in advancing in academia versus those who are professionally motivated. Some of our students are already employed and are looking to move forward within their organization; for these students, the comprehensive exam tends to be the most popular option. For our students who are interested in academia, the scholarly thesis is often their preferred choice.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students can choose between a comprehensive examination, a scholarly thesis or a final project for their final graduation requirement. Could you please elaborate on what each of these options entails? What are the required deliverables for each, and what steps must students take to complete them?
[Dr. Davis] There are three options total, and the majority of students end up taking the comprehensive exam option. The exam itself evolves every few years as we revisit the structure of it but currently it is an essay in which students are asked to reflect on their degree and on the patterns they have found across multiple classes. The goal of the comprehensive exam is for students to synthesize and evaluate trends within larger processes of communication, as well as in the sub field that they are most interested in. The exam is evaluated on a pass/fail basis, so it is typically meant for them to try and draw these larger patterns out across the whole history of their courses that they have taken with us at DePaul.
The scholarly paper, which we also refer to as a thesis, is more involved and it is geared towards students who are most interested in going on to do a Ph.D. Students begin this thesis at the start of their last year within the MA program. They start thinking about the project by the time they are getting towards the end of their first year. The process involves them finding a faculty chair who will supervise their project. The faculty chair is a professor whose research expertise matches the interests of the student and can help supervise and mentor what it is that they want to study. Students also have to find a second person who will serve as a reader for their thesis. Students put together a proposal in the first quarter of their final year, which is typically around 15 pages with an extensive bibliography of sources to be used and clear objectives for the argument and anticipated findings for the thesis. Their chair reviews the proposal and if any changes are needed then he/she/they gives the student detailed feedback.
Once the chair approves the proposal, it goes to myself as the graduate chair to review and sign off on. And then the student takes a course that is dedicated to providing them with support and structure in finishing their master’s thesis. The student works on their thesis for the remainder of the term and once the student’s chair has reviewed and approved it, the student holds an oral defense before their committee. So it is a very traditional thesis process. Most students write a thesis that is around 75 to 100 pages.
The master’s project is the most flexible in structure, but our students rarely choose this option. The last master’s project that I recall was from a few years back, and it was a student who built a website about global media that they wanted to include in their portfolio. The master’s project, due to its flexibility, can be a good option for students who want to create something that is directly applicable to their desired career post-graduation.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Media 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. Davis] In addition to the mentorship that naturally occurs as a result of classes and students’ culminating exam/project/thesis, we have many faculty members who seek students out for extracurricular research opportunities. There is a great culture of mentorship within this College and our faculty are highly invested in the success of our graduate students. As a case in point, I am currently writing a book with two of my graduate students. Our faculty members are also well equipped to advise both our students who are interested in advancing in industry and the students who want to follow a research-based path in academia.
In addition to faculty mentorship, we have a dedicated advisor for all students who regularly meets with students to help them plan their degree progress and map out the best path of study based on their research interests. As Graduate Chair, I also meet frequently with students who are looking for support in planning out their degree and how to best meet their own goals.
We offer graduate assistantships, which are some of the best opportunities we provide as a program for our students, who can apply competitively for these opportunities once a year. Students can take on a traditional teaching assistant role, or a research assistant role, or on some occasions they can teach a class entirely on their own. We offer students the opportunity to be an instructor in the classroom.
The teaching graduate assistantship entails helping a professor with his/her/their course, which often gives students the opportunity to shadow their professor and teach lessons on their own with faculty guidance and feedback. For research positions, students can help faculty members complete quantitative or qualitative research. Oftentimes professors who are organizing academic conferences and need help with the planning and facilitation of that conference will ask students to be research assistants.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Media?
[Dr. Davis] The best applications are the ones in which students have done the research about our program and about our faculty members’ research interests. I look for students who are a strong fit for our program in terms of the subject matter we have expertise in. Some students will put forth a general application for use across multiple schools and that is certainly not as compelling as those who can clearly explain the benefit of our particular courses and faculty members to their future goals and career trajectory.
The strongest applications are those that make it impossible for me to say no given just how well they fit in with what we do here, and what our mission is as an institution. DePaul University is a Vincentian institution that is founded upon the life of Saint Vincent DePaul, whose mission in life was to give back to his community and serve the poor—to help people and do right by questions of power and justice. So for applicants, anything that shows that you are interested in these issues of social justice, power, and ultimately helping both your and other communities through your research will demonstrate a strong fit with DePaul’s mission statement and history.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Media program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Davis] The way in which our program is structured and the flexibility that it offers are unique. We have a combination of film and media studies, multicultural communication, interpersonal communication, and organizational communication, but we also boast faculty who have expertise in more niche areas. In addition to courses in traditional film and television history and theory, we also have classes that are on the cutting edge of some really new fields of study, such as new media and transmedia studies. We have some of the country’s leading experts in new media technology, the evolution of the media industry, and how consumers engage with texts in very different ways than they did a generation ago.
Our scholars focus on how new technologies and the advancement of the media industry have changed over the past decade. We’ve seen how content moves in different ways now between media producer and consumer. Previously, content production was much more of a one directional process, whereas now media is consumed by the same people who produce it, and vice versa.
Our location in downtown Chicago is also highly advantageous for our students who are current working professionals. A lot of our students take advantage of the fact that we offer night classes so that they can work during the day. In addition, the opportunities for networking and work-study are endless.
Thank you, Dr. Davis, for your excellent insight into DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Communication and Media program!