About Mark T. Morman, Ph.D.: Mark T. Morman is the Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Communication Studies at Baylor University. As Director, Dr. Morman advises students of the Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, and supports them throughout their enrollment. He also collaborates with faculty to develop and facilitate graduate course curricula in the program. As a Professor, Dr. Morman teaches courses in in family communication, interpersonal communication, and modern communication theory.
In addition to his work as Director and Professor, Dr. Morman serves on a number of Baylor committees. He was the Chair of the Interpersonal Communication Division of The National Communication Association in 2013, and is currently a Faculty Advisor to the Lambda Pi Eta Communication Studies Honor Society. He is also the Director of the Baylor in London Summer Study Abroad Program, the Chair of the CLAS Summer Sabbatical Committee, and is a former Editorial Board Member for the scholarly journal Communication Monographs.
Dr. Morman earned his Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Southern Utah University in 1986, and his Master of Arts in Communication Studies from the University of Kansas in 1988. In 1998, he received his Ph.D. in Communication Studies from the University of Kansas.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Baylor 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. Morman] Our Master of Arts in Communication program gives students an excellent foundation in the methods of effective relational, organizational, mass, and public communication, as well as advanced skills in rhetorical analysis, media theory, and scholarly research. Our students graduate from the program equipped to pursue further education at the doctorate level or enter advanced industry careers in media and/or business contexts.
Our MA program is housed in two different departments: the Film and Digital Media Department and the Department of Communication. Therefore, we offer two distinct areas of study: one in Communication Studies and one in Film and Digital Media. Our program’s unique position of being the product of two departments also means that we can offer resources to students whose interests run across the wide spectrum of communication forms, from creative and arts-focused communication to corporate communication, mass media, and relational communication. The program in Communication Studies offers two concentration options—Rhetorical Studies and Interpersonal/Organizational Studies, so students actually have three concentration options within the program.
The Rhetorical Studies concentration focuses on how human communication at the public level shapes and influences meaning, individual and group identity, and decision-making within cultural systems. Students examine written, oral, and visual texts to analyze their sociocultural meanings and can use a variety of lenses, from argumentation theory to feminist criticism.
The Interpersonal/Organizational Studies concentration explores how communication develops, maintains, and influences interpersonal relationships, including friendships, familial connections, and romantic and spousal relationships. It also examines how organizational structures and systems influence communication and relationship formation, as well as how communication within organizations can affect group decision-making, crisis management, organizational cohesion and effectiveness, and leadership.
The Film and Digital Media concentration focuses on the production, distribution, and influence of mass media on human civilization, including the history of media institutions, mass media law and regulations, and the objectives and impact of mass communication on how people behave both individually and in groups. Courses in this concentration focus on the design and development of audio, visual, and interactive texts, and how new technologies have influenced the space of multimedia communication.
For each of the concentrations described above, we also offer three different tracks (a thesis track, a project/professional paper track, and a professional internship track) to give students options for how they wish to complete the MA program. The degree is comprised of 30-36 course credits (30 for the thesis option and 36 for both the project/paper and internship options).
Students are required to complete one theory course (either Communication Theory or Film Theory) and one research methods course (either Methods of Graduate Study or Methods of Rhetorical Criticism). The theory courses give students a foundational understanding of different approaches to theory and criticism, as well as current developments in these fields. The Methods of Graduate Study course teaches students how to employ methods of quantitative and qualitative inquiry in studying communication theories and applying them to different contexts, including interpersonal communication and organizational communication. Methods of Rhetorical Criticism investigates critical methodologies that are employed to analyze public discourse. Graduate students in the film and digital media area are not required to take a methodology course.
After students complete their two core classes, they collaborate with their advisor to craft their own individualized course of study. Students are required to take at least three advanced (5000-level) seminars. They are also allowed to take classes outside of our departments, engage in study abroad programs at Baylor, or complete a professional internship.
The Master of Arts in Communication Studies program emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach in that students really cannot get through our program without taking at least one or two courses outside of their established area of interest. For example, our students who choose the rhetoric concentration may take a class in film theory or media effects, while another student who is interested in film criticism and television may want to conduct research on the representation of the family in sitcoms across the history of television, and may therefore take classes in interpersonal and family communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] As you mentioned earlier, students have three options for their final graduation requirement: a thesis, a professional project or paper, or an internship. Could you elaborate on these three options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Morman] We created the internship option for students who are sure they do not want to go on for doctoral work. The internship program is similar to that of MBA programs where students complete an internship at the end and there is no large academic paper or oral defense. Students identify an internship at a site that aligns with their interests, find a supervisor, complete their internship over the course of a semester, and deliver a project that represents the culmination of their internship work. Students are also required to write an evaluation paper that summarizes the learning outcomes from their experience. Their internship supervisor must also write the Director of Graduate Studies (me) a letter explaining what the student did during his or her internship and providing some type of evaluation of the student’s performance.
We are pretty flexible in terms of the types of internships students can do to fulfill this requirement, as long as it is related to their course of study in communication. Many of our students work as graduate assistants and they often complete their internships during the summer. We have several partnerships with companies in the Waco area to help students find positions close to campus, though some students fulfill their internship out-of-state, for example, many of our film and digital media students complete internships in New York City
The thesis option is the traditional option, where students conduct an original study with data collection and analysis that contributes to the existing literature on a given issue or topic in the communication field. Students choose a committee that consists of their major advisor as well as two other faculty members, and consult with their advisor as they develop a proposal that contains an original research question as well as a review of the literature on their selected topic. While the thesis is the most structured of the three options, students still have a great deal of flexibility and ownership over what they choose to study and how they elect to study it. For example, students can choose to study interpersonal and family communication dynamics within certain cultures, the communication methods and efficacy of feminist movements across the eras, or an analysis of marketing campaigns for corporations or non-profits. Students can also employ a variety of quantitative and qualitative methodologies including surveys and questionnaires, individual interviews, and in-depth analyses and meta-analyses of different types of media.
The professional project or paper option is similar to a thesis, but somewhat less in-depth. This paper can be more like a literature review, or a case study, or a comparison of different theoretical standpoints in trying to understand a single event or some sort of variable in a communication phenomenon. It is not an original research study, but is nevertheless still scholarly and driven by the scholarly academic experience of what students have done in the program. While students do not have to complete a prospectus, they nevertheless have a committee that supports them throughout their work on their paper. The reason we call this option a paper or a project option is that some of our students want to complete a creative project, such as a short film or a website or another multimedia deliverable.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Baylor University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program? 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 opportunities?
[Dr. Morman] I believe the primary strength of our program is the intense mentoring we provide our students. What I say to prospective students when I talk to them is, “If you don’t like mentoring and you don’t want close mentoring relationships throughout your academic experience, then you shouldn’t come to Baylor, because that is the cornerstone of our program.” From the very beginning of our program, students meet with me to learn how they can navigate their graduate experience in a focused and effective manner, while still leaving themselves open to the many opportunities our program provides.
I have actually had students tell me, “I already know what my thesis is going to be,” and normally what I say to them is, “Tap the breaks. Hang on. Slow down. That’s not what graduate school is supposed to be about. You do not come in and us just rubber stamp what you want to do and then plow forward.” While there may be a few students who come into the program knowing exactly what their thesis topic will be, and do not deviate, most of the students I have met benefit substantially from pulling back from their initial inclinations a little and opening themselves up to classes and extracurriculars that they might not have considered before.
It disconcerts me a little when a 23-year old student knows exactly what he or she wants to do in our program, right down to their course schedule and research goals. That kind of rigid goal-setting closes off students’ thinking about the multidisciplinary nature of our field, and it prevents them from making potentially productive connections with professors who could really help them. This is where the importance of mentorship really comes into play. As faculty members, it is our job to help guide students to strike that balance between focused studies and a receptivity to new classes or opportunities.
Baylor also does a great job of supporting graduate students through student associations on campus, such as the Graduate Student Association. We also have a Graduate Resource Center with a lab and other resources that students can use for their research. Our graduate assistants benefit from a lot of guidance and support, including courses where they learn how to teach and the mechanics of putting together a syllabus, which makes graduate assistantships an excellent route for students interested in teaching post-graduation. We also have a career center and dissertation and thesis writing workshops at our tutoring center.
Additionally, students can get money to go to conferences to present their research to peers and professionals in the field. In order to qualify for this funding, students must have their paper accepted by the conference. We really encourage and support students in getting their research out there and possibly published in a journal, as that can lead to great opportunities both professionally and academically.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Baylor University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Morman] Every year, we make some pretty tough decisions about who gets accepted and who does not. And it often comes down to our understanding of our ability to work with a student, to mentor them, and provide for them something that they are not going to receive on their own. On the flip side, we are looking for people who can contribute meaningfully to our scholarly community both within our department, across campus, and through our professional organizations. We want to see students with a drive to use what they learn from our program to make a positive impact on their communities, students who think critically about how they want to build their career, engage in advanced communication concepts and research, and connect with professors and fellow scholars during their time in our program. It is smart when students put a note in about a particular professor they would really like to work with, or even better a professor that they’ve already been in contact with. I think a really nice line is, “In my previous conversations with Dr. Morman, we’ve discussed A, B, and C.” Demonstrating that you have taken the initiative to connect with a professor and really research the program goes a very long way in creating a positive impression with our graduate faculty.
The one fatal error that students often make is they write a generic personal statement that they send to several different schools. It is really apparent, especially if you make references to fields of study or aspects of graduate school that are not relevant to our program. For example, I remember reading an application from a student who wrote in her essay that she wanted to study intercultural communication specifically. However, we do not offer courses in that area, and as a result, the applicant looked uninformed.
When we read these applications, we really look at them in terms of the 2-way interaction: What are we going to be able to provide you? Again, stay open because if you come in all closed off, we are not going to be able to help you very much. And the second part is, how will you seek to contribute to the learning experiences of your peers? I know that is a tough question for grad students to even think about, and some of them struggle with the thought that they don’t have much to contribute. And my response to that is–you would not be interested in the field of communication if you did not have something to contribute. So just by virtue of being invested in exploring and engaging in our field, you have something to contribute, and as long as you access that in personal terms, you can create a compelling application.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Baylor University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Morman] Baylor University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program strikes an ideal balance between the resources of a large university and the individualized attention of a small private institution. Our program is centered on student development, and our rankings have represented this investment accordingly; for example, according to ComAnalytics, we are ranked 18th out of 329 M.A. programs in communication and journalism for total prestige. This puts us in the top 5% of M.A. programs in the country. We are also ranked 21st in terms of total publications, distinguishing us as a research institution that continually seeks to contribute more insight to the field. Moreover, our faculty’s commitment to mentoring students is another significant reason why our program continues to be held in high esteem year after year.
Furthermore, the fact that students have access to two departments’ worth of courses, resources, faculty, and research opportunities is a unique value-add of our program. Through the combined efforts of both the Department of Communication and the Department of Film and Digital Media, Baylor University has created a program that offers students great depth and breadth, allowing them to take a wide variety of classes tailored to their interests in media studies, interpersonal communication, organizational and strategic communication, and rhetoric and argumentation.
Thank you, Dr. Morman, for your excellent insight into Baylor University’s Master of Arts in Communication Studies program!