About Jeff Shires, Ph.D.: Jeff Shires is an Associate Professor of Communication and Director of the Graduate Program in the Department of Communication & Creative Arts. Dr. Shires received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Missouri at Columbia, his Master of Arts in Communication Studies from Indiana State University, and his PhD. in Communication from the University of Missouri at Columbia. Dr. Shires primarily teaches courses dealing with the media including Mass Communication & Society, Introduction to Digital Television Production, Mass Communication Theory, Mass Communication Ethics, Introduction to Communication Research Methods, and Communication & Emerging Technologies.
His research focuses on how media, especially social media, affects the development of the idea of the self. As Director of the Graduate Program, Dr. Shires oversees the day-to-day operation of the program, serves as advisor for incoming graduate students, coordinates recruitment and marketing, and works on developing programming for graduate students.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Purdue University Northwest’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what key learning outcomes can students expect from this program?
[Dr. Shires] Students must take courses from three areas: 1) Methods, 2) Theory, and 3) Research/Application. Students must choose from one of two methods courses—either descriptive/experimental or historical/critical methods. Students must choose nine hours (three courses) of theory courses which include a broad range of theoretical approaches such as interpersonal, group, rhetoric, organizational, and mass media. Students must take nine hours (three courses) where the emphasis is placed on theory application, such as Persuasion & Social Movements, Comparative Telecommunications, and Trends in Mass Communication Research.
Additionally, Special Topics courses and Seminar courses are offered that fit within these headings. Students should check with either the Graduate Director or their Committee Chair to confirm the correct heading for each class. Students have fifteen hours of electives, which may include two independent study courses, to fill out their degree. Students may take up to six hours of COM 400 level courses and up to nine hours in non-departmental courses. The program is adapted to the needs of the student and allows each student greater flexibility.
The program is set up to help students better understand the process of communication. Our students use the knowledge and skills they gain in the program to go back into their communities and make a difference, be it through teaching, civic engagement, or improving their workplace. We offer several hands-on projects in performance, media, and persuasion that allow students to move beyond the classroom. By studying theory AND application, students learn how the “why” works and how it applies to their life experiences.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students in this program can choose between a master’s thesis, a comprehensive exam, a conference-quality paper, or a creative project or performance. Could you please elaborate on each of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Shires] There are two requirements for degree completion. The first is a scholarly conference presentation. Faculty work with students to hone and complete an abstract and a paper to be delivered at a conference. Students have presented at the Central States Communication Association conference, The Popular Studies Association conference, the Midwest Popular Studies conference, and the Union for Democratic Communication conference. Second, students must complete either 1) comprehensive exams, 2) a thesis, or 3) a creative performance/project.
Students who wish to do a thesis option must declare by their first semester. The thesis is expected to be an extended work that develops some concept within the communication field. Students will work with their committee on developing the idea, prospectus, and final work. Students will then defend their work in a public forum where they will be asked to present an overview of their findings and take questions from their committee.
The comprehensive exams are administered by the student’s committee. Students negotiate with their committee as to the format of the exam. Students who wish to do a creative performance/production work with their committee to develop the parameters and timetable for completion. Students who take the performance/production path are expected to deliver a work of significant length and gravity. Students should work with the Director and their committee chair to determine the best option based upon their career trajectory and goals. Written comprehensive exams total 8 hours (4 hours for the chair of the committee and 2 hours for each additional committee member).
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Purdue University Northwest’s Master of Arts in Communication 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. Shires] Students should remain in close contact with their committee chair and additional committee members throughout their matriculation at Purdue University Northwest. Faculty can help guide students to ideas and resources to help them network for continued graduate study or for career paths. Students, upon acceptance, should contact the Graduate Director to work on scheduling courses and to discuss goals for their plans of study. Students should identify a graduate committee chair by the completion of their 12th credit hour; this committee chair will serve as their primary advisor. Working with the chair, the students should, by the time they have reached twenty-four hours completed, have identified two other faculty members to serve as committee members. Talking to the graduate faculty early on will help students come to learn who shares their interests and who can help best steer them through the program.
In addition to an on-campus Career Service Office, Purdue University Northwest, as part of the Purdue system, offers students access to Purdue University’s Career Placement Center, which offers placement information and other services to help students find a career. Students wishing to move into the workplace should consult with the on-campus Career Services Office early on to help build a strong portfolio of materials and references.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Purdue University Northwest’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Shires] I recommend that applicants to our program do the following:
- Put thought into your statement purpose. Think about what it is you wish to learn about and what you wish to get out of the program. Tell us why you are interested in Purdue Northwest—particular courses, particular instructors, advice from alumni.
- Make sure your letters of reference address you as a potential candidate. Have your references speak to your ability to thrive in intellectually stimulating settings, your ability to research, your ability to write and, if you are applying for a teaching assistantship, your ability to teach and inspire others.
- Make sure you have uploaded all of your materials. We cannot get started considering your application until everything is uploaded into our system.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Purdue University Northwest’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for careers in industry, academia, and the non-profit sector?
[Dr. Shires] We offer a variety of courses that look at theory and praxis. Our small class sizes ensure that you will get the attention you need from both your instructors and peers. The graduate students have a tight-knit and welcoming community that works to bring everyone up together. The faculty is knowledgeable and student centered, focusing on the intellectual and emotional well-being of our students. The faculty is also nationally and internationally recognized as experts in their fields and maintain active relationships with people in academia and industry. You get the best of both worlds—a Purdue education in a nourishing environment.
[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. Shires] Finding a good balance between work, school, and personal time is hard. School deadlines, work deadlines, and research deadlines can put a lot of stress on you as a student. It can be easy to lose yourself in the noise of your schedule. First, schedule time for you. Your classes will be scheduled well in advance, so you should have a sense of when you will be in the classroom. Mark off time on your calendar where you do what you need to do to relax—hang out with friends, read a (non-text) book, play games, be with your family. Having that regularly scheduled time will allow you to not be overwhelmed. Schedule set times to do your research and homework. And, probably most importantly, do not forget sleep (just preferably not in class). You will perform at a much higher level when you are well rested and ready to go.
Thank you, Dr. Shires, for your excellent insight into Purdue University Northwest’s Master of Arts in Communication program!