About Heather Suzanne Woods, Ph.D.: Heather Woods is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Technology and the Graduate Director for Admissions and Outreach for Kansas State University’s Department of Communication Studies. As the Graduate Director, her primary job is to highlight Kansas States’ graduate program, the department, and (in her opinion) its exceptional students and faculty. Her goal is to share the work the Program is doing with the hope that prospective students will see Kansas State as a place to meet their personal and professional goals.
Dr. Woods was introduced to Communication through the intercollegiate policy debate team. She debated at Kansas State University and coached through her master’s at Baylor. There, she learned the significance of communication as a way to make sense of and create reality. Dr. Woods also witnessed debate’s capacities for bringing people together for collective action. As a rhetoric and technology scholar, Dr. Woods’ research focuses on the way we use language to make meaning about our changing world. She teaches Kansas State’s undergraduate course in Rhetoric, Rhetoric in Western Thought, as well as the Graduate Contemporary Rhetorical Theory course.
Dr. Woods received her undergraduate degree from Kansas State University before getting her master’s degree at Baylor University and doctorate at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is delighted to be back home.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Kansas State 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. Woods] Our students can expect to emerge from the Master’s program with a solid, well-rounded foundation in both communication theory and methods. Our program equips students to continue on in academia, to join the private sector, or work in public service. The program of study includes requirements in both methods and theory courses, and our faculty have expertise in qualitative, quantitative, and critical/interpretive methods. Our strengths are in critical rhetoric, deliberation/democracy, political communication, restorative justice and conflict management, and intercultural communication. As a land grant institution, we care a great deal about making our work relevant and useful to the public. To that end, many of our faculty participate in community-based research and/or complete public-facing projects that communicate our work beyond Nichols Hall (or even Kansas State!).
We require four core courses in Communication theory, methods, and perspectives. Students have flexibility to choose both electives and their final projects. Our faculty often offer special topics courses in their research specialties, such that students work alongside their professors in the pursuit of new knowledge. We routinely offer electives such as Persuasion, Rhetoric of Social Movements, Leadership Communication, Intercultural Communication, Practicum in Communication and Conflict, and Dialogue & Deliberation courses, among others. Students may also arrange an independent study with a professor mentor.
Students may also choose between comprehensive exams, a report, or a thesis as their final project. Their advisors work with them to craft a plan of study by the second semester of their first year.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Kansas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies combines face-to-face instruction on campus with online and hybrid options to give students flexibility in their class scheduling. Could you elaborate on the technologies the program employs to facilitate student engagement with course peers and faculty? Also, which courses must students take on-campus, and which have online/hybrid options?
[Dr. Woods] While a majority of our courses are in-person, we are always developing our online/hybrid options. Dr. Shaffer’s classes, for instance, uses innovative OWL technology to incorporate distance learners in-real-time. We also offer asynchronous courses that meet only once or twice, in intensive, often project-based, interactive sessions.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between a master’s thesis, an academic essay/literature review, and a comprehensive exam. Could you elaborate on each of these options, their required deliverables, and how students should determine which option is best for them?
[Dr. Woods] Students work with their advisors to determine the best final project. Often, advisors help students decide amongst these choices according to their career interests and individual goals. For instance, several of our students who go on to doctoral programs complete theses—individual research projects that contribute new knowledge to the field. Students who choose the thesis option work with their advisors to craft a research project, including one or more research questions, and a timetable for completion. They generally form a thesis committee by the end of their second semester, defend their prospectus (or proposal) by the end of the third semester, and spend their final semester researching. They’ll defend in late spring for a May graduation date.
Our report option differs from a thesis. Whereas the thesis demonstrates original research, the report is a succinct synthesis of already-extant knowledge. This option is a good one for those looking to translate their field of interest to public or private work, as they become experts in the literature and gain competencies in synthetic, comparative writing.
Our final option, comprehensive exams, allows students to demonstrate competencies in theory, methods, and a special topic of their choosing. Students who elect this final project compose a committee with the help of their advisor, study for the exams, and then answer three questions in topics they’ve prepared for. Many students who intend to teach after the master’s program use the comprehensive exams to expand and sharpen their knowledge.
All of these require a final, oral defense before graduation. All of these options are carried out with guidance and mentorship from the student’s advisor/major professor.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Kansas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies? 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. Woods] We take mentorship seriously. For the first year, our Graduate Director, Colene Lind, advises all students. Then, in the second semester of their first year, they rank their top 3 choices for major professor, and then are assigned an advisor. Before that happens, graduate students are encouraged to reach out to prospective advisors, to meet with them, and perhaps even work with them on a research project
There are many career development resources in the department and at Kansas State. One thing that sets us apart is that our students teach—not just assist—our basic course in public speaking. Serving as instructor of record often helps equip students for their careers after the Master’s. We also support our students as teachers. Our basic course director offers significant instruction in pedagogy as well as how to succeed in the academy and outside of it. Similarly, we offer professional development programming, including CV workshops and conference presentation practice at special Graduate Colloquia. We also have very vibrant debate and speech teams—many of our students serve as graduate coaches at Kansas State and then go on to be successful team coaches.
Our Graduate Student Council and Graduate School are also very active—along with the wider University, they offer research and professional programming. Our Graduate School/Graduate Council and the College of Arts and Sciences offer funding for conference travel and research. We encourage our students to work with their advisors to identify funding opportunities, including external funding, which can boost students’ applications for post-MA graduate school or employment.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Kansas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Woods] We are looking for a diverse cohort of students who share our vision about communication as a way to positively effect change. The strongest applicants demonstrate fit with our program and our faculty in their narratives. Prospective students should explain why a master’s program at Kansas State helps them meet their goals. We welcome students who bring diverse perspectives to our cohort and our classrooms. International students, first generation students, students of color, and other scholars on the margins are encouraged to use the narrative to share their relevant experiences about communication, community, and change. Also, make sure that your letter writers can speak to your ability to succeed in a rigorous, generalist program that asks students to generate new knowledge early—in the first semester.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Kansas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Woods] First, opportunities—our graduate student colleagues teach as instructors of record. They serve as coaches for our award-winning teams. They have the option of traveling abroad for graduate credit.
Second, our faculty—our faculty are leaders in their field, publishing research in top-tier outlets while also dedicating significant time to teaching and mentoring. They often include students as research assistants in their own research projects. Our faculty also care about engaged scholarship—we share our work with the public through community programming, interviews, op-eds and public-facing opinion pieces, and public debates. Students can get training in this type of communication as well.
Finally, the type of work students do after they leave the program—our students go on to successful careers in industry, public service, and academia. Several of our courses offer a public-facing final product, and several of our faculty are embedded in various communities, which may offer students opportunities to get involved and make connections. As well, our flexible program of study and final project options mean that students are equipped to meet their goals—whatever they may be.
[MastersinCommunications.com] The Department of Communication Studies also offers a Graduate Certificate in Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement, and other departments at Kansas State offer certificate programs like Technical Writing and Professional Communication, Organizational Leadership, and Conflict Resolution, are students in the master’s program able to pursue these certification programs as well?
[Dr. Woods] Yes! We strongly encourage graduate certificates. They allow students to build specialized competencies within or complementary to their field. For example, a student interested in health communication might add the Public Health certificate along with their communication classes. Most certificates require 15 hours of coursework, with up to six out-of-department hours counting toward the communication studies MA. In other words, by taking just three extra classes, our students can earn a Master’s degree and a certificate at the same time. And with more than 30 certificates to choose from in fields from Gender Studies to Social Justice Education, students likely can find one applicable to their career or research goals. Best of all, a certificate distinguishes graduates from other job-seekers or PhD candidates. For a world that paradoxically demands both expertise and interdisciplinarity, a Communication Studies MA with a graduate certificate provides both.
Thank you, Dr. Woods, for your excellent insight into Kansas State University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!