About Dr. Kevin Meyer, Ph.D.: Kevin Meyer is an Associate Professor in the School of Communication (SoC) at Illinois State University (ISU), where he serves as the Graduate Coordinator. As the Graduate Coordinator at ISU, Dr. Meyer is responsible for graduate student recruitment, admission, advising of first-year students, and graduate employee hiring and supervision. He chairs the Graduate Teaching Assistant selection committee, is the faculty advisor for the SoC Graduate Student Association, and runs the Graduate Faculty meetings. He currently teaches small group communication, quantitative research methods, and communication theory. Dr. Meyer’s primary research areas include instructional communication, communication education, and the basic communication course.
Dr. Meyer is an alumnus of the ISU program, having completed his Master of Science in Communication there in 2005. He attended Ohio University for his Ph.D. in Communication (2009) and Emporia State University for his B.S.E. in Speech Communication and English (1993).
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Illinois State University’s Master’s in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Meyer] We offer a generalist program, meaning that all students take three required courses followed by electives of their choosing. This approach enables students to dive deeply into an emphasis area by loading up electives in common subjects or, alternatively, to take a smattering of electives in a range of diverse subjects. We offer 25 seminars, including topics such as interpersonal, group, family, health, organizational, and mediated communication as well as rhetoric, public relations, leadership, persuasion, and training and development.
Our three required courses begin with the Proseminar in Communication Theory and Philosophy course, which is arguably our most challenging experience; but, it is also one that students appreciate both during and after. It is the course that most alumni who attend doctoral programs credit with helping them succeed. Our other two required courses are in research methods. All students must take quantitative methods. For the second methods course, students choose either qualitative methods or rhetorical methods. The exposure to multiple research methodologies is an important feature of the program that reflects the values of our graduate faculty.
The number of electives needed depends on the student’s choice of outcome option. Students may choose either the thesis option or the 39-hour option. Those pursuing the thesis route may complete either a traditional thesis or a documentary thesis. In sum, our program provides students plenty of choices along their path to becoming a scholar.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Illinois State University’s Master’s in Communication program offers students both a thesis and a non-thesis option (seminar paper or project) for their final graduation requirement. Could you please elaborate on what each of these two options entails?
[Dr. Meyer] Students pick the outcome option they will finish the program with during their second semester. Those who complete a thesis may write a traditional thesis or take a creative approach with the documentary thesis. Students pick a thesis advisor and two committee members of their choice. During the thesis process, students hold a proposal approval meeting with their committee and, later, a final oral defense.
Those who pick the 39-hour option also pick an advisor and one committee member. The 39-hour option includes four additional elective courses as well as a substantially revised paper or project from a prior seminar. Although 39-hour students do go through proposal and outcome steps, they do not have required public defenses. Many of our previous students have presented both thesis and 39-hour research at academic conferences and published these studies in peer-reviewed journals. While it is more common for those with doctoral ambitions to do a thesis, many thesis students have also gone into non-academic careers. Conversely, while those interested in private sector employment more commonly pick the 39-hour option, many do end up attending a doctoral program.
In our program, the student’s chair/advisor and committee function more like co-authors in terms of conceptualizing the projects and providing constructive feedback. In fact, it is not uncommon for students to ask their committees to later become co-authors and help revise their work in preparation for publication. I did this myself and ended up with two publications from my thesis.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Illinois State University’s Master’s 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. Meyer] Our students develop close professional relationships with their advisors and committee members as well as their seminar instructors. As I was finishing my dissertation and applying for tenure-track positions, the primary reason I applied to and accepted the job at ISU was because of the faculty here and my positive experience with them as a graduate student. The first semester includes opportunities such as a Preseminar Orientation Day and a Proseminar Night with graduate faculty where students get to know the faculty and their research interests and available courses, and become familiar with the available outcome options. In our program, everyone knows everyone else right from the beginning. We collect biographies and pictures from incoming students and circulate these prior to orientation, which helps everyone recognize and get to know each other faster.
Our graduate faculty mentor students through advising concerning curriculum, research, conference involvement, publishing, and career pursuits. Each Spring, we hold a graduate alumni networking event in Chicago where current students meet and receive coaching advice from alumni. Approximately 40% of our graduates attend doctoral programs after completing our master’s program. Our students typically receive offers from multiple doctoral programs and end up attending a variety of top-notch universities. Another 40% pursue careers in the private or public sector, or employment with non-profits. I have been actively tracking our alumni and have found the range of job titles and employers of our alumni to be quite impressive. The remaining 20% seek academic posts in areas such as advising, admissions, or non-tenure track teaching positions. Often, the student’s advisor, committee, or an alumni contact is instrumental in guiding students toward their next career step.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Illinois State University’s Master’s in Communication program?
[Dr. Meyer] We are a competitive program in terms of admission, but are extremely competitive with regard to GTA spots. We do not require a GRE score, but do ask for a minimum GPA of 3.00 or higher over the last-60 hours of coursework. Nevertheless, we are not looking for spotless GPAs. The selection committee I chair evaluates applicants holistically and looks at the person behind the paper file we read. We are trying to predict potential and find students who appreciate the incredible opportunities provided by our graduate program. Although higher GPAs are helpful, we pay careful attention to letters of recommendation, the fit between the applicant’s interests and what our program offers (as indicated in the letter of application), and the teaching philosophy statement for GTA applicants.
I generally advise applicants to seek letters of recommendation from those who have attended a graduate program themselves. These letters from faculty tend to be longer and more detailed than those from other recommenders, often speak to the academic and scholarly potential of the applicant (something the selection committee wants to know), and carry the credibility of coming from someone who knows what it takes to succeed in graduate studies. Knowing about our program, which comes through in the application materials, is important to us. Campus visits or conversations with us at conferences, over the phone, or via Skype or email are typically helpful in navigating the admissions process and getting to know the program. I always encourage applicants to have their files complete and submitted weeks before the deadline.
The more time the selection committee can spend with a file before being inundated with a stack of materials at the deadline, the more opportunity there is for committee members to fall in love with a file. While it is true that we usually have our pick of applicants, the reality is that applicants are also picking us – both when they decide to apply and when they accept our offer. Typically, it is the people here that make us their top-choice. Once recruits meet our graduate students, faculty, and staff, they feel the sense of family that makes ISU special. I often compare picking a school to buying a house. Once you step foot on campus, enter Fell Hall, and meet the people, it just feels like home.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Illinois State University’s Master’s in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Meyer] I chose to attend ISU because the graduate faculty were published experts in their areas and developed close relationships with the graduate students. The social events, such as our annual chili cook-off, were an indication that the faculty mentored students inside and outside the classroom, cared about our career development, and viewed us as future professionals. The thrill for me was an intellectually challenging atmosphere, a family environment, the ability to teach my own class, and the exposure to academic conferences. There are opportunities here that you simply don’t find in all programs.
We fund travel to CSCA and NCA, provide GTAs the opportunity to be instructors-of-record in the basic communication course, and emphasize collaborative research. Our alumni attend the best doctoral programs–and rise to the top of their cohorts, establish exciting careers in the private sector, and remain engaged after they leave because they cherished their time here. I would describe our school as laid-back, collaborative, and innovative. Our graduate students and faculty emphasize cooperation and do not create a competitive climate in which students might feel isolated. While we are a fairly sizable graduate program, you don’t feel like you are just a number. Everybody knows everybody else, and supports them. It is not the sort of culture in which students are left to sink or swim.
We average just over 80 master’s students in the program, but balance that with 25 graduate faculty members, so students receive personalized attention and enjoy a student-to-faculty ratio of just over 3 to 1. We stay on the cutting edge of changes within the discipline and industry. Our GTA training program is simply the best and helps our instructors feel prepared before they ever enter the classroom. Our social media lab (SMACC) and innovation center (CIC) provide cutting-edge technological tools for students that only exist at a handful of institutions. Civic engagement opportunities abound within the school, and are one of the core missions of the university.
Thank you, Dr. Meyer, for your excellent insight into Illinois State University’s Master’s in Communication program!