About Bobi Ivanov, MBA, Ph.D.: Bobi Ivanov is the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in Communication for the College of Communications and Information Studies at the University of Kentucky. In this role, he is responsible for recruiting, selecting, and guiding graduate students through the administrative and academic process of completing a graduate degree in communication. As a Professor of Integrated Strategic Communication (ISC), Dr. Ivanov has also taught courses on a number of topics, including Introduction to ISC, Account Management, Consumer Behavior and Strategic Audience Analysis, ISC Regulation (and Social Issues), and ISC Research Methods. At the graduate level, Dr. Ivanov has taught courses on different topics such as Communication Theory, Inoculation Theory and Resistance, Communication and Persuasion, and Persuasion and Psychophysiological Measurement, among others.

Dr. Ivanov’s interests in strategic communication are tied to the importance of this area of study and research. He notes that much of human communication has a strategic intent whether a parent is trying to convince a child to eat the vegetables on the plate, a doctor is trying to influence a patient to alter his or her eating habits, a government official is attempting to persuade residents to leave the town in advance of a hurricane, a company is trying to entice its customers to increase their purchases, a politician is trying to sway voters to support his or her initiative, or a teacher is trying to inspire students to do a better job of preparing for an exam. Strategic communication can play an important role in all of these different communication events. As such, Dr. Ivanov’s study and research interests focus on effective message design. Stated differently, his work centers on increasing our understanding of what makes some messages more effective than others and how to maximize the persuasive (or resistance) effect of strategic messages.

Dr. Ivanov earned a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Marketing from the University of Central Oklahoma, where he also earned a Master of Business Administration degree. Upon graduation, he worked as a Market Research Coordinator at Consumer Data Service before joining Insight Market Research and Consulting as a Senior Research Analyst. Dr. Ivanov earned a Doctorate of Philosophy degree in Communication with emphasis on persuasion and social influence from the University of Oklahoma. After working as an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Central Oklahoma, he took a position in Integrated Strategic Communication at the University of Kentucky.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?

[Dr. Ivanov] The Master of Arts in Communication degree focuses on three primary areas of study: theory, methods, and area of specialization. Students learn to analyze relevant communication and/or information theories and associated metatheoretical assumptions. Graduate students also learn to use, critique, compare, and contrast different research methods and statistical tools. In addition, students learn to apply communication and/or information theories and research methods to their specific contextual areas of interest.

The program consists of 30 credits, which is equivalent to 10 courses. The Master of Arts in Communication students are required to complete one course in statistics, one course in communication theory, and one course in quantitative research methods. In addition, students are required to complete one course in interpersonal or mass communication, depending on the student’s interest. The other 18 credits are at the discretion of the student with a few important restrictions in mind. For example, 21 credits must be taken in the college, while the rest can be taken outside of it.

To fulfill the elective credit requirement, students may choose to specialize in their areas of interest by taking four to six courses in health communication, risk and crisis communication, information studies, strategic and organizational communication, media and mass communication, or instructional communication.

However, students are not limited to the above-suggested areas only. They may specialize in other areas of interest such as interpersonal communication, political communication, or communication and information communication technology, for example. Students can also mix and match coursework by enriching their studies with courses from multiple areas of specialization. As an example, some students choose to specialize in health, and risk and crisis communication as they focus on health risk curricula. Others specialize in strategic communication in health settings by drawing from coursework in these two areas. In general, the students are free to choose their elective curricula. It does not need to follow a specific pattern.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between completing a master’s thesis and passing a comprehensive examination. Could you elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Ivanov] Graduate students can choose from two programmatic options (Plan A or Plan B). Plan A is the thesis option, tailored to satisfy the needs of students planning to continue their education beyond the master’s level in pursuit of terminal degrees. Students who choose the thesis option can use up to six of their 30 credits to work on their theses. Plan B is the comprehensive exam option. Instead of completing a thesis, students who choose this option complete the 30 hours of coursework and take a comprehensive exam. Plan B is designed to suit the needs of students interested in pursuing professional careers. Students are not required to make a determination on which route to take in their first year in the program during which time they are advised by the Associate Dean of the Graduate Programs.

At the conclusion of the first year, if not before, the master level students are expected to select an Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee consists of three members, two of whom have to be members of the Graduate Programs in Communication and one of whom (or both) has to assume the role of a Major Advisor (i.e. committee chairperson). In concert with the Major Advisor and the Advisory Committee members, the student decides which option (Plan A or B) is a better fit for the student’s career goals and/or interests. At times students with professional goals choose to complete a thesis, while students with academic career goals decide to take the comprehensive exams. The decision is at the discretion of the student and his or her committee. Regardless of the option selected, the Advisory Committee guides the student through the process of the thesis or comprehensive exam.

When students select the thesis option, generally, they enroll in three thesis hours in each of their final two semesters, during which time they work on their thesis. However, this process is at the discretion of the student and his or her committee members. In some cases, all of the thesis hours are completed in a single semester. The thesis process unfolds with a meeting between the student and his or her committee members where the expectations, topic, components, and process of the thesis are agreed upon. The Advisory Committee and the Major Advisor guide the student through the preparation of the thesis. When the thesis is ready, a two-hour defense of the thesis is scheduled. Only the committee members are allowed to participate and ask questions during the defense. A simple majority vote in favor of the student constitutes a successful thesis defense.

Should the student select Plan B instead, the process of committee and advisor selection is the same. The Advisory Committee and Major Advisor, once selected by the student, guide the student through the program’s coursework. In his or her last semester (or after, if so chosen), the student partakes in a comprehensive examination. The process consists of two components, written and oral. First, on separate days within the same workweek, the student answers questions related to three topical areas: theory, research methods/statistics, and area of specialization/interest. Each of the three committee members writes a question on one of the topic areas. The questions are tailored to the interests and graduate education of the student. Approximately two weeks after concluding the written portion of the examination, the student defends the written answers in a two-hour defense session with the committee members. Once again, a successful defense is one that receives a simple majority of the votes.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students, and how can they make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?

[Dr. Ivanov] The mentorship the faculty provide to graduate students via advising, committee membership, research projects, coursework, and impromptu advice is pivotal to the success of the graduate students. The Major Advisor and Advisory Committee members help graduate students navigate their education and line up their career goals with their coursework. The relationship between students and advisors, in most cases, represents a life-long mentorship bond. Students receive support not only from their advisors and committees, but also the program in general. Master level graduate students receive encouragement, assistance, and financial support for conference travel (local, national, and international) and research.

In addition, to better accommodate the needs of our graduate students, weekly graduate student meetings that cover a number of different topics of student interest are scheduled. Some of these topics focus on the students’ safety and well-being by covering matters such as dealing with stress, grief, a threatening student, or an active shooter. Other topics cover important classroom information of interest to students funded through teaching assistantship (e.g., class cancellation due to inclement weather, curbing poor classroom attendance, etc.). Yet other topics address information pertinent to the success of graduate students both as scholars (e.g., the publication process) and students (e.g., timing and process of selecting an advisor, filing correct graduate paperwork on time, etc.). Finally, some of the sessions are dedicated to the students’ career pursuits with individual sessions discussing academic and professional careers available to the students upon graduation. Thus, the weekly sessions are designed to enhance the overall graduate experience of the students in the Graduate Program.

In addition to the above-coordinated activities, the students have access to the resources in the Career Center on campus that offer assistance and resources in pursuit of a career. The Communication Graduate Student Association hosts annual lectures for invited guests, all of whom have made a considerable mark in the discipline. The graduate students select and host these individuals, thus receiving full access, a networking opportunity, to some of the brightest minds in the field.

The Graduate Programs offers 3 hours of internship credit the students can sign up for under the leadership of a faculty member. Those who choose to complete an internship receive a direct access to and mentorship from the organizations in which they intern. Finally, the College of Communication and Information boasts an impressive National Advisory Board. The graduate students have exposure to the members of the board.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Ivanov] Admission to the Graduate Programs in Communication at the University of Kentucky is competitive. However, there are considerations that, if followed, will improve the competitiveness of an application. The required standardized score (GRE or GMAT) is not irrelevant and applicants should do all possible to score as high as they are capable. Good undergraduate GPA is important as it gives a window into the dedication and capabilities of the students in academic settings. The letter of recommendations are quite important as well. Ideally, they should be prepared by faculty members who have had direct classroom (and/or advising) experience with the students as they are best equipped to judge the ability of the students to be successful in graduate education. Letters from employers are not as diagnostic: in theory, a person can be a fantastic worker, but lacking motivation or intellect to be successful in an academic setting. When letters of reference are provided from employers, it may be wise to include those in addition to three academic letters. The Admissions Committee attempts to make a determination regarding the likelihood that the applicant would be successful in a graduate classroom in the Graduate Programs of Communication. Academics teaching graduate courses across the nation and beyond are best suited to make that determination.

While the required resumes/CVs should not be short-changed, the personal statement is an especially important piece in the application process as it provides much needed information to the evaluators about the applicants. Consisting of five open ended questions, the personal statement provides an opportunity for in-depth answers to questions about the student’s readiness for the program, research and study interests, program fit, etc. The answers to the open ended questions should, ideally, be treated as essay opportunities, rather than short answers. These statements allow the Admissions Committee members to ascertain grammar, editing proficiency, logical flow of arguments, quality of writing, and programmatic fit; all of which are of crucial importance in the decision-making process of evaluators. Applicants should not rush their answers, but take their time with them. Following these guidelines will inevitably result in more successful applications to the program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Ivanov] The Graduate Programs in Communication at the University of Kentucky are ranked as some of the top programs in the nation. As such, students are provided with strong training evidenced in the impressive academic output they produce. However, what makes the program attractive is its collaborative, family-type culture. No student is evaluated in comparison to anyone else other than him- or herself. The Program understands that each student deals with different circumstances and as such, success for each student is defined as maximizing the opportunities afforded to the student within the constraints that he or she operates. Collaboration is strongly encouraged, which allows the students to be each other’s supporters and cheerleaders. This approach creates a positive culture of support, mutual respect, and liking. As a result, the Graduate Programs in Communication represent one big family. Not surprisingly, these programs have the highest graduation rate of all graduate programs at the University of Kentucky. At first glance, that may suggest that the programs lack rigor and quality. On the contrary. The Graduate Programs in Communication at the University of Kentucky are generally considered as some of the most challenging programs on campus. At the same time the student academic output has been impressive and continuously increasing each year. Stated simply, in these programs, students like each other, have fun, work hard, and experience success in a family-type atmosphere.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, and rigorous research projects. What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully navigating their graduate school experience, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them?

[Dr. Ivanov] To be successful, students should subscribe to two general principles, consistency and persistency. More specifically, they should aim to provide good work and effort all of the time. The most intellectually gifted students do not always finish their degrees. It takes strong work ethic and commitment to produce consistently good work.

But students are not robots. Yet, often they are expected to act as if they were. Besides being graduate students, these students are also employees, teachers, husbands, wives, parents, caretakers, patients, or just people with all of the problems and issues ordinary people face. The demands of the coursework, research, and work can be overwhelming and can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. It is important that students find balance and time for recreation and family. It is important not to lose perspective of what is important. Sacrificing family time for studies and allowing relationships to deteriorate to the point of no return may mar the purpose of obtaining a degree in the first place. This is not to say that the education should be taken lightly, but only to suggest that time for life needs to be balanced with time for education. Potential students should target graduate programs for their applications that seem to offer good understanding of the complexities that graduate education brings and provide opportunities for life-education balance. The members of the Graduate Programs in Communication and the University of Kentucky passionately believe in carving out time for both.

Thank you, Dr. Ivanov, for your excellent insight into the University of Kentucky’s Master of Arts in Communication program!