About Dr. Brian L. Ott, Ph.D.: Brian Ott is the Chair of Texas Tech University’s Department of Communication Studies, where he also teaches classes such as Media, Technology, and Society, Communication and Popular Culture, and Critical Media Studies as a Professor. As Chair, Dr. Ott supports faculty in the Department, helps to oversee curricular developments, and handles other administrative responsibilities within the program.
Dr. Ott first became interested in the field of communication through his involvement in speech and debate in both high school and college. He earned his BA degree in Communication from George Mason University and his MA and PhD degrees from The Pennsylvania State University. His primary research area focuses on emerging communication technologies and their role in social change. He is especially interested in how people negotiate the changes wrought by new technologies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Ott] The MA in Communication Studies is a flexible, broad-based degree program that allows students to tailor their degree to their specialized interests and goals. We recognize that students choose to pursue an advanced degree for a wide variety of reasons, and we want to them to feel welcome and comfortable in our program regardless of what brings them to us. At the end of the day, we hope to heighten graduate students’ understanding of the role of communication in their personal, professional, and public lives. As such, students can take classes in a wide variety of areas such as interpersonal and intercultural communication, organizational and corporate communication, and rhetorical and media studies.
All students are required to take three courses: (1) Graduate Studies in COMS; (2) a theory course (either Communication Theory or Theories of Rhetoric); and (3) a methods course (either Quantitative Research Methods, Qualitative Research Methods, or Historical Critical Research Methods). Again, we give students these choices so they can craft a program of study tailored to their own interests and needs.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between a thesis, two publishable papers, a praxis report, or qualifying examinations. Could you elaborate on these four options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Ott] We offer students a wide array of degree-completion options precisely because we want them to pick the option that best aligns with their unique career goals. If a student wants to continue their studies and earn a PhD degree, for instance, then she is more likely to select the thesis or two publishable papers option. If, by contrast, a student is looking to advance the career opportunities available to her following graduation, then she might pursue a praxis portfolio project that specifically addresses a communication problem or challenge in the field she hopes to enter. The praxis portfolio project is a highly applied degree-completion option designed to take up a real-world issue. Examples include, but are not limited to, a professional consultation with a group or agency, a communication resource (such as a website or mobile application) for actual people to use, or a training workshop that culminates in pedagogical materials that might be employed again.
Other students opt for the comprehensive exam option, which is administered by the student’s graduate committee. Each of the three faculty members on the committee will submit questions covering theory/method in the student’s areas of interest. Basically, we hope students will choose the option that actually assists them in realizing their post-graduate goals.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies 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 while in the program?
[Dr. Ott] We pride ourselves on creating a warm and welcoming environment for our graduate students. Many of our students choose to do independent studies with faculty in order to pursue even more specialized interests. Graduate students in our program regularly publish with faculty, and the program has a strong record of placing students who want to continue their education in the finest PhD programs in the country. Faculty at Texas Tech specialize in a broad range of areas that include interpersonal and intercultural, organizational and health, and rhetoric and media. Students are invited to learn about the interests of various faculty before forming a committee, which typically happens early in the fall of their second year.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Ott] I would give students applying to our program three pieces of advice. First, tell us something about yourself and your goals. We want to hear about your interests and passions. Second, select a short but strong writing sample. The admissions committee can get a clear sense of your writing skills pretty quickly. We can assess your writing skills as easily with a 6-page paper as a 25-page paper. So, focus on quality, not length. Third, communicate at least one reason why you think our program is a good fit for you.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Ott] One of the greatest strengths of our program is its flexibility; we are committed to a model that allows students to craft a degree program suited to their personal interests and needs. Another strength of our program is that most of our students have graduate teaching assistantships (GTA). We provide GTAs with extensive training in pedagogy to help them become effective educators. This training will benefit them greatly regardless of what they decide to do following graduation. Finally, I think our students develop a strong sense of community. We are a program rich with traditions and those traditions help students to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves… because, well, they are.
[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. Ott] Graduate school is, at once, exciting and challenging. My advice to incoming graduate students is to try to strike a balance between hard work and personal care. It’s important, I think, that students carve out time just for themselves–time when they pursue activities and interests unrelated to their academic work in graduate school. I would also urge students to enjoy the process itself, to take intellectual risks, and to explore areas of the field they may not think they’re interested in.
Thank you, Dr. Ott, for your excellent insight into Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!