About Margaret Pitts, Ph.D.: Margaret Pitts is the Director of Graduate Studies for the University of Arizona’s Department of Communication. As Director, Dr. Pitts’ primary duties include recruiting and mentoring graduate students. She is also an Associate Professor who teaches graduate courses in Interpersonal Communication, Relational Communication, Intercultural Communication, Qualitative Research Methods, and occasionally Health Communication.
Dr. Pitts earned two Bachelor’s degrees from Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) – one in Communication and one in French. She earned her Master’s and Ph.D. in Communication Arts and Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University. From there, she spent a year as a visiting faculty member in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2006, she joined the faculty of the Communication and Theatre Arts Department at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. In 2011, she joined the Department of Communication at the University of Arizona. In 2016 she became Director of Graduate Studies and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2017.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of the University of Arizona’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What topics are covered in the core curriculum and electives, and what are the key learning outcomes students can expect from this program?
[Dr. Pitts] We view our MA program as a stepping stone to the PhD program in Communication – either our own PhD program or another university’s. We offer extensive research training that prepares students to conduct independent and collaborative social scientific research. MA students are placed on a faculty-led research team often with other MA and PhD students. They learn to collaborate and work on dynamic and diverse research teams across levels of experience. First year MA students attend the same core courses as our new PhD students and are held to the same expectations. After the first year, our MA and our PhD students take elective and required theory courses together that best fit their program of study. Most MA students complete their degree program in 4 semesters (or 4 semesters plus a summer) and complete a MA thesis. However, MA students can opt for the non-thesis, comprehensive exam track, in the event that they do not wish to pursue a PhD.
Our program specializes in Interpersonal, Health, and (New) Media Communication. But we also have several sub-specialties, including Organizational, Intergroup, Small Group, Family, and Political Communication. MA students generally identify a graduate faculty member with whom they would like to work prior to applying to our program to align areas of interest. Then, each student has the flexibility to craft an individualized program of study in their area of interest. Regardless of students’ particular area of research interest, all MAs are required to take our Intro to Graduate Studies in Communication course and our Research Methodologies I and II courses, as well as at least two of the required theory courses (Mass Communication, Interpersonal, Social Influence, or Health Communication). They must also participate on a research team each semester. All other coursework is made up of elective units.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between completing a master’s thesis or a comprehensive examination with written and oral components. Could you please elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Pitts] Most MA students will complete the thesis track. The thesis is a rigorous, empirical research project that addresses an important question in communication. Although the student is the lead on the project, she or he will receive guidance from her or his advisor and advisory committee. MA students typically defend their thesis proposal at the end of their second semester or beginning of their third semester in the program. They collect data, analyze data, and write up results during their third and fourth semesters and orally defend the thesis in the fourth semester. In some cases, students might defend in the summer.
Students who chose the non-thesis track (comprehensive exams) take their comprehensive exams during a 2-week window. All comprehensive exams are taken in a designated room on campus with a departmental computer that does not have internet/wireless capabilities. Students will be given a question 24 hours in advance of their exam to prepare. However, students may not bring any materials into the exam room. They are given 2 hours to answer each exam question. If the student passes the written exams, then she or he will participate in an oral examination approximately 3 weeks later. During the oral exam, the comps committee will question the student about the written exams. The comps committee will also direct general questions to that student in the areas of research methods and statistics, theory, and an elective topic.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in the University of Arizona’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. Pitts] We have a very low student to faculty ratio, so students get individualized mentorship throughout their program from their graduate advisor, from their teaching supervisor, and also informally within their research team. Our Department has an active Graduate Student Association that designs several activities for scholarly, personal, and professional development and that hosts opportunities for faculty and students to socialize. At the University of Arizona, we are also very fortunate to have an excellent Graduate Center. The Graduate Center is a fantastic resource for graduate students. They host workshops for academic and professional development and offer a range of support services from stress management to strategies for effective writing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for the University of Arizona’s Master of Arts in Communication program?
[Dr. Pitts] Contact faculty members with whom you might wish to work in advance of applying. Talk to them and get a sense for whether they are accepting new students. Is this a person whom you feel you could work with? We want students to indicate specific areas of communication (contexts, theories, methods) and faculty members with whom they would like to work. In your personal statement, be as focused and direct as you can about what and how you want to study. We make sure that each student is matched up with a faculty advisor, so the more specific the better. What we are looking for is a person who fits within our program, has a history of academic success, has a focused interest, and shows interest in working with a specific faculty member.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of Arizona’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Pitts] Our program is excellent for MA students who wish to pursue a PhD and an academic career. We train researchers. That said, the majority of our students are given Teaching Assistantships and learn to become excellent teachers through hands-on training. Our MAs are ready to leave our program to pursue the PhD, to teach at the community college-level, or to obtain an applied research industry position.
Our department is distinctive for its collaborative and collegial atmosphere, where students often apprentice with faculty in conducting advanced research. It is a win-win relationship for faculty and students. Our MA students frequently present research at regional, national, and international conferences. We also offer travel support for those attending conferences, and it is not unusual for an MA student to graduate with 1 or 2 collaborative publications in leading journals in communication.
Tucson is also a great place to live – sunshine year-round with clear skies. For individuals who enjoy the outdoors, this is the place to be. Our downtown is lively and unique. UNESCO recently recognized Tucson as a “World City of Gastronomy” – the first city in the United States to earn this distinction! In Tucson, our students not only benefit from our outstanding academics, but also enjoy a high quality of life at a low cost of living.
Thank you, Dr. Pitts, for your excellent insight into the University of Arizona’s Master of Arts in Communication program!