Note: In June 2020, we interviewed Dr. Berkos, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Communication about Bryant University's Master of Arts in Communication. As Bryant University is currently not accepting applications for this program, this interview has been archived for historical purposes.
About Kristen M. Berkos, Ph.D.: Kristen M. Berkos is the Director of Graduate Studies in Communication at Bryant University, where she is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication. As Director, Dr. Berkos oversees curriculum development, admissions, and student advising for the Master of Arts in Communication program. She teaches graduate classes in organizational communication and nonverbal communication, and undergraduate courses in interpersonal communication, research methods, and communication theory. Her research interests include imagined interactions, instructional communication, and virtual reality. Dr. Berkos earned her Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Louisiana State University in 2003, and her BA and MA from California State University, Long Beach.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum, and how can students tailor their program of study to their academic interests and career goals?
[Dr. Berkos] Our program offers students the opportunity to tailor an educational experience that fits within their goals. We offer a general program in communication as well as tracks in organizational communication and health communication. In the tracks, there are specific courses to take that offer specializations in organizational communication and health. In the general degree, students can pick which classes they want to take, including classes listed as required for organizational and health communication. All students take classes in communication theory and research methods.
Most students take an additional eight classes to graduate. These classes may be on topics such as persuasion, health communication, organizational communication, small group communication, community based campaigns and public health, conflict management and negotiation in organizations, intercultural communication, risk and crisis communication, nonverbal communication and others. In each of the courses, students work towards understanding the current research on the topic, as well as advancing new ideas that can be applied to the research or professional setting.
The diversity in our coursework enables students to craft a course of study that meets their personal interests and professional development objectives. For example, a student who takes Organizational Communication, Conflict Management and Negotiations in Organizations, Risk and Crisis Communication, and Media Effects Theory and Research will be better equipped to advance as a public relations specialist, public affairs professional, or human resources leader in his or her place of work. Students who take Health Communication, Community-Based Campaigns and Public Health, Computer-Mediated Communication, and Global Communication will gain the knowledge and skills to strengthen lines of communication in health care settings and to also develop public health campaigns that have local, national, and even global reach.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program can choose between a thesis, a culminating project, and a comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on these three options, and what each entails?
[Dr. Berkos] Students wishing to develop their academic research skills may write a thesis that contributes original research to the discipline. They design a study from start to finish. In consultation with their advisor, they create the research questions and hypotheses, collect and analyze the data, and write up the results to share. Thesis topics are highly individualized to the student’s personal and professional interests. For example, one student may investigate how a particular communication theory or framework operates in a patient-provider context, while another student might be interested in how intergenerational communication dynamics impact small group or organizational workflows in corporate settings.
The project is similar to the thesis, but instead of being designed for a scholarly audience, the project has a professional application to a specific organization. Students identify a problem, study it, and create a solution to help the organization. While the thesis focuses on producing a work of scholarship that contributes to the literature on a given communication theory, method, or phenomenon, the project seeks to solve a concrete, practical, and of-the-moment problem, such as a hospital’s need for a crisis communication plan or an organization’s struggles to promote diversity, multiculturalism, and gender equity in the workplace, and how intra-organizational communication campaigns can help address this issue.
The comprehensive exam is a written exam followed by an oral defense. Students spend months studying material from their classes and studies and answer questions on four topics. These topics are selected by the students and their advisors, and generally allow deeper study and mastery of a particular area. In each of these options, students work one on one with their faculty advisor to formulate ideas, identify their own strengths and areas for improvement, and work through issues to further their knowledge on a topic. Students have presented theses at academic conferences, used projects to help for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and have used their comprehensive exam preparation to focus their studies in an area to move their career forward.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Berkos] All students have a faculty advisor. Initially, the graduate director will serve as the advisor. After taking two classes, students will select an advisor who best fits their program of study. The advisor will meet one on one with the students to help with course selection and final graduation requirements.
The Amica Career Center at Bryant University is available to graduate and undergraduate students and alumni. Students can schedule meetings with organizations, get resume help, participate in mock interviews, and search job databases. There are also opportunities for things like professional photos, networking events, and other workshops. These are available to students taking classes face-to-face or online.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Berkos] Students should use their application letter as an opportunity to demonstrate writing proficiency and a love of learning. We look for students who have an interest in the communication discipline, but more specifically the aspects of communication our department emphasizes. Students who demonstrate an interest in health communication, organizational communication, media, persuasion, interpersonal communication, and intercultural communication will benefit from discussing past work dealing with these issues. Applicants should seek out letters that specify their specific strengths and accomplishments rather than broad endorsements. Letters from faculty are preferred.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does the program prepare students particularly well for a variety of advanced careers in communication leadership?
[Dr. Berkos] The flexibility of our program’s curriculum is a highlight, as well as the customizable nature of students’ culminating experience. The faculty mentorship that students receive is also a standout of the program, as it ensures that students choose their curricular path with intention from the beginning of their enrollment in the program. Students have access to excellent university resources and leave our program empowered with a strong understanding of the theoretical foundations of effective communication, current advancements and recurring issues in the field, and the role that research can play in improving communication campaigns and initiatives across a wide variety of contexts.
[MastersinCommunications.com] In addition to its Master of Arts in Communication, Bryant University’s Department of Communication also offers Certificates of Graduate Study in Managerial Communication, Professional Communication, and Public Communication. May we have more information on these Certificates of Graduate Study, how they are distinct from the Master of Arts program, and what prospective students should take into consideration when deliberating between a Certificate and the master’s program?
[Dr. Berkos] The certificates offer students the opportunity to take four classes in one area, without working towards a master’s degree. If students are interested in getting a master’s degree, they are best served by applying to the graduate program as a full time student. In some instances, students may only intend to take four classes and do not plan to complete a final thesis, project, or take comprehensive exams.
Thank you, Dr. Berkos, for your insight into Bryant University’s Master of Arts in Communication program!