About Craig Baehr, Ph.D.: Craig Baehr is Professor of Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University (TTU), where he teaches courses in advanced web design, publications management and content strategy, visual communication, report writing, and instructional design. As the Director of Graduate Studies in Technical Communication, he also supports and advises students in the Master of Arts in Technical Communication Program, helping them to navigate the program and optimize their professional portfolios. He also serves as the Faculty Advisor for the Society of Technical Communication’s (STC) Student Chapter at TTU, and is a Board Member on the STC Board of Directors.
Dr. Baehr is the author of several books and journal articles on the principles of technical communication and effective utilization of communication technologies. Recent publications include the books entitled Web Development: A Visual-Spatial Approach, The Agile Communicator: Principles and Practices of Technical Communication, and Writing for the Internet: A Guide to Real Communication in Virtual Space.
Prior to entering academia, Dr. Baehr worked for ten years as a web developer and trainer, program director, and technical writer and editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has also been an active member of the Society of Technical Communication since 2000, and has served in leadership roles for the organization, including as Chief Examiner of the Certified Professional Technical Communicator Program, and as Chair of the Technical Communication Body of Knowledge Project.
Dr. Baehr earned his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1992, his Master of Arts in English (with a focus in Professional and Creative Writing) in 1995, and his Ph.D. in English, Professional Writing and Rhetoric in 2002, all from The University of New Mexico.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program, and how it is structured? What are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Baehr] The Master of Arts in Technical Communication is a fantastic degree program for students who are interested in delving into different areas of advanced technical communication. The degree program is comprised of 36 credits, and we structured it to ensure students cover certain essential topics in the field, while also focusing on the areas of technical communication that really interest them.
All students are required to take the three-credit course Foundations of Technical Communication, which provides them with an overview of the broad range of specializations that are available in the field of technical communication. They can take this course at any point in their program, with some students taking the class as their introductory course in the program, and others taking it near the end of their program as a kind of capstone that reviews at a high level many of the key concepts they learned in their other classes.
Besides this one core course, students must choose a set number of classes from two categories: Theory and Research, and Applications. For the Theory and Research requirement, students take nine credit hours (three classes) and can choose from courses such as the History and Theory of Composition, Research Methods in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, Global Technical Communication, Field Methods of Research, Written Discourse and Social Issues, and the Rhetoric of Scientific Communication. In these classes, students focus on research methods in technical communication, and can also examine the impact that technical communication has in national and international social and economic contexts.
For the Application courses, students must take 12 credit hours (four classes) and can choose from courses in Online Publishing, Technical Editing, Technical Manuals, Grants and Proposals for Academy and Industry, Publications Management, Document Design, Instructional Development, Information Visualization, and Teaching Technical and Professional Communication, among other classes. These classes are students’ opportunity to really delve into advanced methods of technical communication practice—this is where students can take stock of the skills they wish to learn to advance their career, and select the courses that help them get there.
After taking the required number of courses in the two categories, students further hone the focus of their degree by taking 12 credit hours in any area they choose—they can mix and match additional courses from the Application and Theory and Research selections, or they can seek approval to take classes outside of the Technical Communication and Rhetoric (TCR) department. Students can also take a Graduate Internship for credit through their electives. Up to 9 credit hours of their elective courses can also be used to declare a minor outside of the TCR department in an area that is complementary to students’ studies, such as media studies or education.
The final major requirement of the program is a portfolio that students must complete that represents what they have learned in the program. Students present their portfolio to a faculty member in the program in their final semester. However, we strongly encourage students to start on their portfolio starting in their first term. The required class Foundations of Technical Communication gives students support and ample opportunity to work on their portfolio specifically, and one of the important benefits of starting your portfolio early is that we as faculty can use your progress on it to advise you in other course selections as you navigate your academic path.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program gives students the option of completing all or part of their program online. Could you please describe the online program, how students take classes and interact with faculty and peers, and how the online and campus programs differ?
[Dr. Baehr] Our on-site program tends to be fairly traditional students who matriculate from their Bachelor’s degree, or who come from an academic background. Many of our on-campus students are full-time students; they may have an internship or are working part-time, but their primary focus is their degree program. The online program’s student body is quite different, in that it is mostly practitioners who work 40-hour-a-week jobs, and who are coming back to school for professional development. Some of them get technical/professional development compensation for their degree program. The curriculum is the same for both the online and the on-campus programs, but it is flexible enough to accommodate the interests and goals of students who wish to focus on advanced research and further study in higher education, or professional development and leadership in the technical communication industry (as well as for students who want to straddle the line between both areas).
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students undergo a semester review by the Director of Graduate Studies in Technical Communication and Rhetoric, and also present a portfolio of work to a committee of faculty for review and evaluation. Could you elaborate on both the review and the portfolio, and what they entail?
[Dr. Baehr] The Master of Arts in Technical Communication portfolio is comprised of two key components: learning artifacts and a reflective essay. Students must include three to six artifacts in their portfolio, one of which must be an academic or research paper, while another must be a practical project in technical communication. If students elect to include fewer artifacts in their portfolio, we expect those artifacts to be lengthier or more in-depth, while smaller or shorter artifacts must be part of a portfolio of five or six total items. The artifacts students include in their portfolio can be from the work they have completed in their courses or from their own independent work. Most students select the majority of their portfolio content from the work they completed in classes, but we expect them to revise and add appreciably to each item. Students are welcome to solicit feedback from their instructors and faculty mentors when working on revising their portfolio artifacts.
Examples of artifacts students might include in their portfolio include an analytical report or a feasibility study they wrote for a technical reports class, a web-based training module that they developed for the instructional design course, or a visual infographic they developed for the document design or information visualization course.
The artifacts must be accompanied by a 2000 to 3000-word reflective essay in which the student makes the argument that he or she has met each of the program’s learning outcomes, citing the content of the portfolio as evidence. In their essay, students must not only explain how their portfolio’s artifacts connect to the learning outcomes, but also refer to the specific research and theories that they learned in their graduate career and employed in the creation of their portfolio. We also expect students to elaborate on how they will use the skills they have learned in different rhetorical situations in their career, and write/edit/manage content for different objectives and audiences. They are required to demonstrate ethical sensitivity in response to a range of different technical communication issues and scenarios. Students can and are encouraged to tailor their portfolio’s reflective essay to their desired career/academic trajectory, as long as they make sure to cover all of the programmatic outcomes for the degree (which we also list on our website and talk with students about at length).
Once students complete 18 course credits in the program, they must submit a mid-program portfolio, which is a great chance for them to receive structured feedback from faculty. Students present their final portfolio to a faculty member for evaluation during the last term of their enrollment.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of both the online and campus programs? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?
[Dr. Baehr] Our program has both formal and informal mechanisms for student advising and support, both for our campus and our online programs. Through the portfolio requirement, students have built-in advising that is specific to their career goals. Faculty provide students with feedback both through the courses they take, and during their mid-program portfolio submission. Many of our course instructors talk about how to develop a portfolio and strategies for optimizing it, providing students with examples to help them craft a marketable package. Our faculty also have office hours and are readily available for students to consult with regarding professional and research opportunities.
In addition to faculty mentorship, we also host professional development events periodically throughout the year. For our on-campus students, these events are available on campus, and for our online students we offer options for them to interact with speakers virtually through live streaming and live chat. We also have a Society for Technical Communication Student Chapter that plays a big role in professional development for both undergraduate and graduate students.
The STC sponsors a lot of events with professional organizations, and as a chapter of that organization we have a lot of companies come in to present on relevant issues and developments in the technical communication space. Examples of such organizations include National Instruments (our biggest partner), Dell, BioWare, Southwest Airlines, Visa, and UserTesting.com. These organizations come in and host presentations and advice sessions on what they are looking for in a technical writer and/or how they became successful in their own career in technical communication. Some of these companies also provide students with a list of internship and job opportunities, providing them with a direct connection to potential employers after they graduate.
We do our best to connect students with internship opportunities through our connections with companies both locally and nationwide. Companies and organizations such as National Instruments, Southwest Airlines, Visa, and even the U.S. State Department have approached us asking us to forward their openings to our students. We see internships as an excellent way for students to earn course credit in the program while making direct connections that will be productive for them upon graduation. In addition to our program staff, our faculty members are also highly engaged in connecting students with internship and job opportunities.
A lot of our partners have hired our graduates—for example, National Instruments has consistently hired many of our alumni, and many of these alumni come back to serve as speakers for current students in our program. That sense of giving back to the community that helped them is another reason why our program has remained so strong. We are also building connections with other organizations, and are developing a student chapter for the Rhetoric Society of America.
In terms of attending conferences, we do provide students with money to attend and/or present. Our department sets aside funding annually for graduate students for travel support so that they can attend and present at conferences.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Baehr] We look for past success in an academic program, as demonstrated through students’ undergraduate GPA. We also look at professional experience and success. Both the academic ability and industry experience are important to us, and we look for students who can handle both the research and project-intensive nature of our program’s courses.
In students’ personal statements, I recommend that they do their research on our program and what it offers, and then cite specifically how our program will help them meet their goals. We admit students who can clearly show us how they will benefit from our classes and faculty, and who can explain how they intend to contribute to their student community. Students who have already demonstrated investment in the field of technical communication through their work, independent projects, or even membership to a technical communication organization catch our attention. Applicants should avoid vague or overly generic statements in favor of specific statements and a personal voice that helps us to connect with them.
For letters of recommendation, the same advice applies—relevance and specificity go a long way. Students should choose employers and professors who know their work well and who have seen their mastery of complex communication projects and ability to work in technical communication contexts.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Baehr] One of the main things that I believe makes our program stand out is our focus on making the degree as customizable as possible for students’ needs and interests. Our degree program is designed so that students can tailor their degree to the topics that intrigue them. We offer a range of classes in practical, theoretical, research-focused, and industry-specific classes, and the program itself only has one core course requirement—the foundations course, after which they can design their own program. Professional development is also integrated into our courses, and the portfolio requirement ensures that students build their academic and internship experiences with a lot of intention, as they are thinking of what they can include in their portfolio from the beginning of the program.
Our industry partners and Society of Technical Communication student chapter are also strong points of our program. And students of both our online and on-campus programs get exposed to a wide variety of technologies, communication tools, and software platforms that they will likely use later in their careers.
We also put a lot of time and energy into curriculum development, which ensures that our students get the most relevant skills and insights that will serve them well in their jobs post-graduation. We host regular faculty meetings on curriculum development, and when hiring faculty we choose faculty who can bring different insights and areas of expertise, and who can bring new things to our program that we don’t have.
We also seek student feedback regarding our curriculum selections, and student interest often drives our courses. We offer a lot of special topics classes that often are an opportunity for students to explore a new development in the field. And if these courses are really successful, they become a part of the permanent curriculum.
Bringing in people to teach who have interesting experiences has been very valuable because they are able to bring in that kind of knowledge, not only in terms of teaching already established courses in our program, but also in developing new courses in content strategy, technical editing, user experience design, and information visualization. So the depth and variety of our faculty members’ expertise is also an excellent selling point of our program, and part of what makes our program unique.
[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. Baehr] Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether you ask those questions of the director, the associate director, your professors, or your peers, questions are how you get help when you need it, and it is also how you discover new areas of communication studies and practice that you might not have thought to explore before. The peer to peer mentoring is very strong in our program, both in the online and campus-based versions. Peers and alumni assist each other and provide advice on what classes they particularly enjoyed, what internship and extracurricular opportunities are available, and even how to best sequence their courses according to their interests, timeline, and goals.
I advise students to not wait to get involved in the student community and in the opportunities that abound in our program. Don’t over-commit yourself but don’t be afraid to get involved early and often. Our student community is very willing to help and generous with their advice and with their time. The program goes quickly, so you really need to be engaged in order to get the most out of it.
On a similar note, I would also advise students to go into this program only if they are prepared to put in the time necessary to get what they want out of it. Many of our students balance family life, professional work, extracurriculars and hobbies, and being successful at this requires that students manage their time well. Figuring out how to balance those obligations ahead of time is important.
Thank you, Dr. Baehr, for your excellent insight into Texas Tech University’s Master of Arts in Technical Communication program!