About Dr. Paul Schrodt, Ph.D.: Paul Schrodt is the Philip J. and Cheryl C. Burguières Professor of Communication Studies at Texas Christian University’s Bob Schieffer College of Communication, where he also presently serves as the Director of Graduate Studies. As the Director of the Master of Science in Communication Studies program at TCU, Dr. Schrodt is responsible for graduate student recruitment, admissions, and retention, procuring additional funding for teaching assistantships and tuition remissions, serving as a resource and mentor to graduate students, and overseeing the general administration of the program (including course scheduling, revising program requirements, helping students formulate their academic plans, etc.). As a scholar, he specializes in family communication, interpersonal communication, and conflict management, and teaches courses in each of these areas within the Department of Communication Studies.
Dr. Schrodt earned his B.A. at the University of Texas at Arlington, his M.A. at the University of North Texas, and his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, all in Communication Studies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies program, and how it is structured? What learning outcomes can students expect from this program?
[Dr. Schrodt] The Master of Science in Communication Studies at TCU is a two-year program that includes three required courses in communication theory and research methods, as well as content-specific courses in a variety of elective seminars. The program is typically completed in four semesters comprised of 9 hours each for a grand total of 36 hours of course credit over the two years. We offer a close working and mentoring community by focusing intensely on a small number of in-residence graduate students, and by helping them develop fundamental understandings of communication theory and research. We are a social scientific program that introduces students to a variety of theories, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and real-world applications in interpersonal communication, organizational communication, persuasion, health communication, communication technologies and social media, and communication education.
In their second year of study, students may choose to either complete a master’s thesis (for 6 hours of credit) or a set of comprehensive exams in their final semester that include both a written and an oral component. Our graduates are qualified to pursue further study toward advanced academic and professional degrees, or to take advantage of a wide variety of professional opportunities in business and communication industries, including human resources, training and development, digital analytics, public relations, corporate consulting, and managerial positions.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies program can choose between completing a master’s thesis or a comprehensive examination. Could you please elaborate on the differences between these two options?
[Dr. Schrodt] Toward the end of their first year of study, I meet with each graduate student and discuss their personal and professional goals and how their choice of completing a thesis or a set of comprehensive exams will help them best accomplish those goals. For some of our students who wish to take a full complement of 12 courses over their two years in the program, the exam option is preferred, as it involves a total of 8 hours of writing (divided over the course of a week) for a faculty committee in their final semester of the program. Students who choose this option select a primary content area to write about and answer a series of questions from a faculty mentor in that content area for a total of four hours of writing time. They then complete two additional hours of writing for two other members of their faculty committee based on the more general guidance of their faculty mentor. After completing the written sections of their comprehensive exams, students then complete an oral exam where their committee members ask follow-up questions related to their written responses.
For students who wish to pursue doctoral work, or who more generally prefer to develop their critical thinking and writing skills, the thesis option is preferable. The thesis plan requires students to take 6 hours of thesis credit in year two in lieu of classes. Students identify a faculty mentor that they would like to work with on an independent research project that advances communication theory in a particular content area.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Schrodt] Faculty mentorship is the lifeblood of our graduate program. We typically have no more than 12 to 15 students in our program at a time, and as a result, our students receive an extraordinary level of attention and access to our faculty. It is quite common in our department for faculty to invite students to work on research projects, to network with other faculty and communication professionals in the field, and to spend time talking outside of class. We host a welcome back luncheon and a welcome back party each fall to celebrate the start of a new academic year, as well as a Christmas party at the home of one of our faculty members. We also provide funding to help support student travel to professional conferences, including the annual meetings of the National Communication Association and the International Communication Association.
In addition, we also focus on professional development through our teaching assistant training program and through summer internship opportunities. Our College of Communication has a career consultant who works full-time to help both undergraduate and graduate students access other career development services on campus. TCU has an extensive and accomplished Career Services Center, and our alumni network serves as a vital resource in helping graduates find their professional home after graduation. We also encourage our graduate students to participate in the Graduate Student Senate, and to take advantage of the Koehler Teaching and Learning Center on campus to develop their pedagogical skills.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Schrodt] What makes TCU’s program unique are the people and the place. First, all full-time faculty in Communication Studies are active in research, teaching, and service activities. For example, as of July 2018, ComAnalytics (www.cios.org) cited TCU’s Communication Studies faculty as having the 2nd highest mean number of publications per faculty among all master’s level programs. Our program received the 2016 Outstanding Master’s Degree Program Award from the National Communication Association. Our faculty have established a tradition of teaching excellence and a departmental climate conducive to mentoring graduate students. We provide the expertise and quality of training one might expect from a large, public institution, but with the care, compassion, faculty relations, and community that characterizes a small, private university.
Second, Fort Worth, Texas is a wonderfully vibrant place to live. It is the 17th-largest city in the United States, one of “America’s Most Livable Communities,” and rated as one of the Top 10 Cities for Young Professionals (rated 6th by Forbes). From the Historic Stockyards, to remarkable museums, to the famous Sundance Square which includes an array of shops and restaurants and is located less than 15 minutes from campus, Fort Worth is large enough to provide the amenities of a thriving metropolitan area, yet not so large that it loses its Texas charm and neighborly feel. Other entertainment and employment opportunities abound in the remaining cities located within the Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex, including a variety of theatres, museums, professional sports, shopping, and media outlets.
Finally, I would add that one of the greatest strengths of our program is the relationships that form among faculty and students. Some of our recent graduates have described our program as an “Academic Disneyworld.” We truly have an engaging, bright, fun, and supportive group of faculty and graduate students. Although we strive for academic and professional excellence in all that we do, we value balancing work life and family life, and we encourage our graduate students to do the same.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Schrodt] Our admissions committee weighs equally all of the materials that students submit when evaluating their application for admission. That being said, I think applicants often underestimate the importance of their personal statement. Most students can find three faculty members who will vouch for their abilities to complete graduate level coursework. Likewise, it’s difficult for admission committees to compare GPAs across a diverse group of undergraduate institutions, particularly when some institutions are more rigorous than others. Consequently, what separates good applicants from outstanding ones often comes down to their personal statements and GRE scores.
Ideally, applicants should clearly articulate why they want to pursue a Master’s degree in Communication Studies, and more importantly, why our program can help them accomplish that goal. Strong statements demonstrate that applicants have done their homework and know a little something about who we are as a department and what our faculty are researching and teaching. In addition, our most competitive applications come from students who typically possess strong GRE scores. We typically like to see a combined GRE score of 300 or higher on the Verbal and Quantitative sections of the test, as well as an Analytical Writing score of 4.0 or higher.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Students of master’s in communication programs often must balance work, internships, coursework, and rigorous research projects. What advice do you have for students in terms of successfully navigating their graduate school experience, and making the most of the opportunities presented to them?
[Dr. Schrodt] One of the best pieces of advice I can give graduate students is to cultivate their support network and to remain balanced, or grounded, during their program of study. All too often, the stress of graduate school can create the “imposter syndrome” in students, leading to feelings of isolation, fears of inadequacy, and hesitancies in seeking help. Although perseverance is critical to success in any graduate program, successful students are most often those who are unafraid to ask for help when needed. Likewise, cultivating community relationships and other activities outside of a graduate program can be very healthy and helpful when coping with the time demands of graduate education.
I would also encourage graduate students to take advantage of opportunities to work with faculty members on research projects, and to encourage their peers in their academic progress and growth. The best way to capitalize on their graduate program experience is to celebrate the achievements of their peers, not compete with them, as each accomplishment bolsters the overall value of their degree in the minds of those outside of their institution.
Finally, I would encourage students to do what they love and to love what they do. Choose courses and research projects that are personally relevant and pragmatically meaningful, and then cultivate your critical thinking and writing skills by investing the necessary time and energy it takes to get better at both.
Thank you, Dr. Schrodt, for your excellent insight into Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies!