About Dr. Pat Munday, Ph.D.: Pat Munday is a Professor of Science & Technology Studies with Montana Tech, where he also helped establish the Department of Professional & Technical Communication. As a Professor, Dr. Munday teaches courses in science communication, environmental communication, professional ethics, and linguistics. As former Department Head and as a member of the Professional and Technical Communications (PTC) Department, he has been active in working with other faculty to keep the Department’s curriculum current in terms of practical skills such as digital media, web page design, video production, usability testing, and desktop publishing.

Dr. Munday received a double BS in Engineering and Humanities from Drexel University, an MS in Science & Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and a PhD in Science & Technology Studies from Cornell University. His current research interests include the semiotics of environmental communication, citizen participation in policy decisions, and the relationship between humans and nature.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Montana Tech’s Master of Science in Technical 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. Munday] The Department of Professional and Technical Communication offers both undergraduate and graduate (MS) degrees. As faculty in a broad-based Humanities Department, a small group of us wanted to establish a career-oriented program that offered students the kind of technical skills that could ensure professional employment. We actually developed the MS program before the BS program, largely based on student demand, i.e. undergraduates who wanted additional professional preparation for employment.

The MS-Technical Communication program is designed as a two-year, 31-credit program with three semesters of course work and one semester (6 credits) of thesis or project. Key theoretical areas include rhetoric, semiotics/linguistics, research methods, and ethics, whereas skills include two studio courses–one in media production and one in print production. As a small department we do not offer a lot of electives, but students can focus on business, science, environmental, or more traditional aspects of technical communication. We are especially flexible and highly individualized when it comes to working with MS candidates on their project or thesis.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Montana Tech’s Master of Science in Technical Communication allows students to complete all but two of their courses online, if they wish. Could you elaborate on how the Master of Science in Technical Communication integrates online instruction technologies into its curriculum?

[Dr. Munday] We leave it up to individual instructors to decide how to design and offer their online courses. Some offer only a web-based section, whereas others teach in a hybrid format that integrates face-to-face with asynchronous web-based students. We do this with recorded lectures and discussions, and web-based students record their seminar presentations. Everyone comes together on the course website for additional discussion and Q&A. In the near future, we want to assign a classroom robot to each of our web-based students so that the student has a virtual presence in the classroom.

Web-based students interact with faculty through any or all of the usual channels: telephone, Skype, email, and–most of all–through discussion boards and Q&A on the course website.

Our two studio courses–media production and print production–require a lot of state-of-the art software, cameras, printers, etc. The studio courses will each be offered as a one-credit full-semester face-to-face/web-based series of lectures followed by a two-credit two-week (4 hours of print production in the morning and 4 hours of media production in the afternoon) on-campus course. We just phased in the web-based MS program this year, so we have not actually taught the studio courses this way yet, but that’s our plan.

[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students can choose between completing a master’s thesis or a capstone project. Could you please elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?

[Dr. Munday] We have a two-semester sequence of a one-credit graduate seminar where we work closely with students on developing a thesis or project proposal, putting together a committee, and implementing project management skills. The curriculum is identical for the thesis and project option, as is the four-semester cycle for completion of course and thesis/project work. Though some graduate candidates finish in three semesters and some even in two, four is normal. Some examples of MS thesis titles are:

  • Shihua Chen Brazill, “Improving Translation Quality by Incorporating Cultural Sensitivity” (2016)
  • Marisa Larson, “Iconic Modal Communication: A Case Study of Apple’s iPod Silhouette ad campaign” (2014)
  • Emma MacKenzie, “Hunting the Big Bad Wolf: A Material-Semiotic Analysis of Community” (2011)
  • Justin Ringsak, “Environmentalism, Hegemony, and (re)Articulation: A Study of Selected Mass Media & Environmental Discourse Across Cultures” (2005)

And some examples of MS project titles are:

  • Kelley Christensen, “Beyond Superfund: How Four Communities Market Outdoor Recreation to Overcome Superfund Stigma” (2016)
  • Chelsea Newman, “Branding Butte: Applying Visual Design Science and Culture Code Theory to Billboard Marketing of a Superfund Community” (2014)
  • Paula McGarvey, “Production of an Evidence-based Patient Information Document in the Form of a Cancer Patient Manual Outlining Cancer Etiology, Treatment, and Terminology” (2012)
  • Jon Wick, “Developing the Butte 100 Mountain Bike Race Bible: Using Design Principles and Gestalt Theory to Support Awareness of a Race Bible Genre” (2012)
  • Lori Hutchinson, “Rape Kit Training Program: An Interactive Training Website for Montana Healthcare Professionals” (2008)
  • Chad Okrusch, “Webed-101: A Web-based Course Introducing College Faculty to Web-based Teaching and Learning” (2000)

About two-thirds of our graduate students choose the project option and we encourage them to work with a client (often a non-profit or small company). Some students who choose the thesis option go on to PhD programs or law school, although some choose this option based on intellectual curiosity and with the goal of finding employment upon graduation. Throughout the process–thesis or project–the committee and especially the chair work very closely with the graduate candidate. We are a small group of faculty (seven total, including the three Writing Program faculty who work closely with us) and a small graduate program (we typically admit five to ten each year). Again, the goal is for most graduate students to finish in two years, although students who work full-time or have major personal obligations etc. might take an additional year or two. We expect that as we admit more web-based students we will have more students in that longer-term category.

All graduate candidates have a formal defense with a public presentation of their thesis/project followed by a closed-door discussion with the committee. When I was Department Head, I worked very hard to instill a culture where Committee Chairs ensure that every graduate candidate is essentially finished and ready before the formal defense takes place. This means frequent meetings with the Chair (often weekly) and the Committee (often monthly), reviewing the project piece-by-piece or the thesis chapter-by-chapter, and holding a dry-run practice defense prior to the formal defense.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Montana Tech’s Master of Science in Technical 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. Munday] Our faculty tend to be well-connected in the community and the profession. For students to get the most out of our program, they need to engage with faculty beyond the classroom. This might include attending non-profit or other events that faculty work with as well as dropping by for office chats. We maintain a Facebook page where alumni and extended members of our department community can network, share job leads, or find professional advice. In the past we’ve had good success garnering funds from the Montana Tech administration to send graduate students to professional meetings where they can network and present their work as a talk or a poster.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice do you have for prospective students in terms of submitting a competitive application for Montana Tech’s Master of Science in Technical Communication program?

[Dr. Munday] We admit some students straight out of undergraduate programs, but we really prefer those who have a few years of work experience. We ask for an essay about their professional goals, and the ideal graduate student will have a pretty clear idea of what sort of project or thesis they want to undertake, and what sort of employment they want following graduation. We encourage potential graduate students to talk with us via phone or email or Skype, visit the campus, and envision what they want from the degree prior to the start of their first semester.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Montana Tech’s Master of Science in Technical Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Munday] Agility. The communication profession is incredibly competitive and rapidly changing. We graduate students with state-of-the art skills in the software and hardware that they will use in the workplace, as well as the conceptual skills to know how best to communicate with particular audiences and for particular purposes. By staying in touch with alumni, we try to stay in-step with the skills employers want. Above all, whether it’s learning software for digital media or how to employ concepts such as usability testing, we want students to learn how to learn–that is, develop strong critical thinking skills and an excellent foundation in technical communication that will enable them to continue adapting and advancing in this dynamic field.

We embrace and demonstrate agility in various ways to adjust the program to the evolving field of technical communication. Through research and participation in professional organizations and conferences, faculty stay abreast of new developments in the field that can be incorporated into existing courses, used in developing new courses, and advising graduate projects or theses. Though not on a formal schedule, about every five or so years we examine technical communication programs at other universities so that we have a good sense of where other programs are going. As faculty, we stay in close touch with our alumni and periodically “check in” with them via email or social media to learn what they are doing professionally. Finally, every few years we ask our advisory board to let us know what they think of our curriculum and student projects/theses. Over the years, some of the ways we have demonstrated agility include development of a well-equipped media lab for everything from documentary film to podcasts, maintaining a “Mac Lab” (this is a PC campus) with state-of-the art editing and production software, creation of new courses such as “Usability Testing” and “Environmental Communication”, and–most recently–development of the web-based MS program.

Thank you, Dr. Munday, for your excellent insight into Montana Tech’s Mater of Science in Technical Communication program!