About Dr. Teresa Bergman, PhD: Dr. Bergman is a Professor and the Graduate Program Director for the Communication Department at the University of the Pacific. As the Graduate Program Director, Dr. Bergman advises students on their program of study and also handles administrative and supervisorial responsibilities within the department. As a Professor, she teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in research methodologies, visual communication, and documentary film. Dr. Bergman earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley in 1978 and her Master of Arts in Cinema Studies from San Francisco State University in 1992. She earned her PhD in American Cultural and Film Studies from the University of California, Davis in 2001.

Interview Questions

[MastersinCommunications.com] Can we please have an overview of your responsibilities in the Communication Department at the University of the Pacific?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] As the Director, I run the graduate program at the University of the Pacific’s Communication Department and also serve as the graduate advisor for all of the graduate students in the Department. We have at any time about 30 students with an all-incoming class of between 8 and 12 people, so it is a small program and I’m in charge of administrating that program. One of my key responsibilities is meeting with all the students and laying out the program options for them and the directions they can go so that they can follow their interests.

I teach three Graduate Seminars in the program: Critical and Qualitative Research Methodologies, Visual Communication, and Critical Theory and Ideology. The undergraduate courses that I teach are the Communication Capstone, Documentary as Persuasive Communication, Documentary Film Production, and The Ethics of Family, Work and Citizenship. The Documentary as Persuasive Communication actually crosses as a graduate course and an undergraduate course. So any grad students who are interested in documentary film can study that with me.

My area of interest has evolved a little since I’ve been a professor. I’ve gotten into memory studies, specifically public memory and how it is used in documentary films and at historical sites. I have also studied how the documentary form is used in all kinds of ways, such as in exhibits and museums. I’ve been particularly interested in national sites and how they represent patriotism.

I have written two books on this subject. One is called Exhibiting Patriotism: Creating and Contesting Interpretations of American Historic Sites and the second one I’m just finishing up now is titled Commemoration of Women in the United States: Remembering Women in Public Space.

[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have an overview of the University of the Pacific’s Master of Arts in Communication program, and how it is structured? What core concepts are covered in the curriculum, and what key learning outcomes can students expect from this program?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] I would say the mission of our program is to provide students with a broad suite of advanced communication research skills that are applicable to a variety of fields. The graduate program has only two core course requirements, and they’re both methodology courses. One is Critical & Qualitative Research Methods, and the second required course is Quantitative Research Methods. The goal with having these two requirements is that grad students are exposed to a wide variety of methodologies needed or available for communication research.

And the goal is after grad students have taken both of these courses, they’re getting a feel of their different research interests, and can articulate the direction of their research and see which types of methodologies would best fit their interests and goals. That really is the overarching organizational approach that our program is offering–the opportunity and guidance for students to pursue their particular interests in communications. For example, if they are really interested in media effects, they could follow that with quantitative research, such as surveys or experiments to measure actual responses to various kinds of media.

If they’re interested in critical or qualitative kinds of research, such as ethnography or rhetorical criticism or critical cultural studies–for instance, if they wanted to analyze media not in terms of in effects but in terms of the messages being conveyed–then we offer that as well.

We get quite a few people interested in public relations, media relations and management, and communication education or applying communication theories and communication concepts to the classroom. This is really the direction it’s going these days–the application of communication research to projects and campaigns in industry and in pedagogy. Students can make this graduate program work for their interests in either academia or in professional roles at companies, non-profits and other organizations.

[MastersinCommunications.com] So aside from the two required courses students of the University of the Pacific’s Master of Arts in Communication program can really craft their own course of study in collaboration with their advisor. Is that correct?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] Yes that is exactly correct. The program is a 32-unit program–8 of those units are the 2 required courses, another 4 units are for an internship and we do our best to place students in an internship in their area of interest. The other courses are devoted to electives that students choose, and then the credits for their traditional or non-traditional thesis. Examples of courses that students can take include The Theory of Mass Communication, Graduate Seminar in Political Communication, Rhetorical Theory and Criticism, Graduate Seminar in Public Relations, and Graduate Seminar in Communication in Learning Settings, among others.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Is the internship required?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] Yes, the internship is required, and we work with students to place them at internship sites that match their interests. That is one of my responsibilities as the Graduate Program Director. One of the internships that has been working out very well, has been working with professors at community colleges. We have a whole group of professors in the area who take on our students as interns and give them a chance to work in the classroom, give guest lectures, help develop the syllabi, and work with them throughout the semester.

Other settings where our students have found internships include technology companies in Silicon Valley, radio and television stations, media relations departments at companies, advertising agencies, and non-profit organizations.

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could we get some more details on the master’s thesis requirement for students of the University of the Pacific’s Master of Arts in Communication program? How do the traditional and non-traditional thesis options differ?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] Once students have decided on their area of interest, decided on their preferred methodologies, and finished their coursework, they can either write a traditional thesis or complete a non-traditional thesis. The thesis is fairly straightforward, in terms of structure, but students have the option to choose almost any topic within the field of communication that interests them. A non-traditional thesis is more flexible in terms of form and structure. For example, a non-traditional thesis could be a documentary film, a media relations or a public relations campaign portfolio for a particular group, individual, organization, or non-profit–you could go in that direction with a non-traditional thesis.

So let me give you some examples. I have a student who for his non-traditional thesis is making a documentary and it’s aimed at veterans and providing information on how to take advantage of the GI Bill and the opportunities for higher education. And what the documentary addresses is the communicative problems that exist in the system, and why veterans don’t recognize that all these opportunities are available to them.

For traditional theses, we’ve had students investigate all kinds of topics, some of which are directly applicable to fields such as corporate communication, public relations, marketing, and other areas. For example, we’ve had tons of interest in social media amongst our students and have seen a variety of traditional master’s theses on the use of social media from a corporate point of view, a marketing point of view, as well as more niche areas, such as gaming. One that comes to mind is the research project of a woman who picked several weeks’ worth of Twitter responses to one particular game, and analyzed who responded, how they responded, what the gender differences were, and what kinds of differences existed in the way this Twitter feed was being used in relation to this particular game.

We’ve also had students use Twitter in conducting health communication research, and how various health groups use Twitter to interact with the public and respond to Twitter users. This study analyzed which Twitter posts seemed to get better responses. I’ve had a student conduct research on romantic relationships on Facebook, and how those unfold, evolve, and are represented via Facebook and Instagram.

We have also had students who apply the research methodologies they learn to projects in communication instruction and pedagogy. I have a student right now, who is developing new teaching materials, a syllabus, and exercises for an intercultural communication course. It is based on previous research and what has and hasn’t worked in intercultural communication. So as these examples illustrate, we’re really open to a wide variety of research interests. We do our best to accommodate students, and we feel that this diversity of interests is a strength that allows students to learn from each other, and also teach faculty a few things!

[MastersinCommunications.com] Could we get more details on the comprehensive examination, and what it entails?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] The comprehensive examination is a six-hour exam with oral and written components. The student is tested on the courses that they’ve taken, and they generally take it in their 3rd semester out of the 4-semester program. An individual exam is created for each student. Students will have three professors on their comprehensive exam committee who each write one question. These professors meet with their student and write customized questions for their exam, based on the courses they have taken with them.

Each question requires about two hours of response and so students take each question on a separate day. Then, once the professors have reviewed the answers and determine that they are defensible, the committee schedules an oral defense where they discuss the answers and any questions that they might have had. The oral defense is part of the exam because we know it’s hard to write under pressure, and so things might be left out of their written responses. Generally if the answers are defensible, students use the oral examination to clarify and add detail to their answers, in response to faculty questions. The oral defense is also an opportunity for students to discuss how what they have been tested on will apply to their thesis or non-traditional thesis work. Students take the exam before they start their thesis, because the discussions that arise from the exam help inform their choice of research project and topic. Hopefully the exam helps them see what communication theories would work best for their particular research project.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship have in this program and how can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities? In addition, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] All of the professors work closely with our graduate students, especially as they come into their comprehensive exams and select a chair for this exam. We draft and craft our questions to fit each student’s interests, and meet with them to discuss the exam’s content. We also work with students one-on-one to discuss where they’re going with their research, and advise them on their thesis or their non-traditional thesis so that they can see the connection between what they’ve studied in our classes and where they’re going with their research project.

Once students develop and can articulate their own area of research, they will work more closely with the professor that most aligns with their work, because they have to pick a chair of their thesis committee or their non-thesis committee. That’s where a lot of the one-on-one conversations will happen between the professor and student.

On campus, we have a good job placement program at the Career Resource Center. We also try to bring back our alumni to talk to the current students to provide insight and keep the community going and invested in helping each other out. The University of the Pacific’s campus administration is also very supportive of taking students on for campus positions that would also enhance their graduate education experience. A fair number of our students are working at campus communication-related jobs, which limits their commute because they can work on campus, walk to their classes, and build skills relevant to their program.

We also have excellent placement at community colleges in California. As students only need an MA to get a tenure-track job at the community college, this career path is a popular option. We have had great success with students interning at community colleges, which helps them transition into a role as an instructor or professor post-graduation.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes the University of the Pacific’s Master of Arts in Communication program unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] I believe our program continues to be a popular program for a number of reasons. We have excellent job placement, both in industry and in PhD programs. We have a relatively small program, and we try to structure the program so that all faculty are engaged with and supportive of students’ learning both inside and outside of the classroom. One-on-one mentorship is when students can really begin applying what they have learned in class, i.e. starting their thesis or their non-traditional thesis, and engaging in independent research.

A major strength of our program is that we offer such a wide variety of communication research approaches, theories, and opportunities so that students who aren’t sure yet the direction they want to go can get a broad and actionable understanding of the different critical, qualitative and quantitative methodologies that they can use in this field. We are a great program for students who know they want to pursue a career in communication but want to explore a variety of options. We are also a great program for students who know more specifically what their areas of interest are. I think this is due to the flexibility of the curriculum, coupled with the core courses, internship, exam, and thesis requirements that give students the chance to see what communication research methodologies and skills can help them if they want to go into media relations or PR, sports communication, education, rhetorical criticism, and more. And each of these different methodologies works well in each of these different areas or if you want to go into a PhD program.

[MastersinCommunications.com] What are some examples of communication research methodologies that are applicable to academic research as well as professional roles in public relations, marketing, corporate communication, etc.?

[Dr. Teresa Bergman] I think this connects to an example I referred to previously. Social media has evolved and become such a dominant form of communication, and we have students who study a certain aspect of Twitter or Facebook or Instagram for their thesis. When our students conduct their research, they may complete a content analysis or complete a survey of students and how they are using a particular social media platform. And these students may go out to apply for jobs in the Bay Area, at a start-up company or a larger corporation (as many of our students stay in California, and apply for jobs in the tech scene here). And one interesting piece of feedback I’ve heard is that employers want to see our students’ theses because this is all pretty new–the advent of social media and digital communication in how organizations communicate with the public, and vice versa, and how people communicate with each other.

Employers want to see: What did you find out? How should we be using this or that application differently? There is still much to learn and to know. So much of online communication is quantifiable, and it lends itself to research, data-mining and analysis, and research-driven campaigns and communication plans. We’ve found that the thesis and our emphasis on communication research have really helped our students when they’ve gone out into the job market. And it’s not often that an employer asks to read your thesis, right?

So as you can see, communication research methodologies are applicable to both the academic and the corporate spheres, because students can choose research topics that are relevant to either sphere (or to both). In the business world, leaders want to really analyze what’s happening and how to move forward in a strategic way instead of putting something out there blindly and seeing what happens. In academia, scholars are very curious about what these forms of online communication mean interpersonally, and how it impacts human relationships and civilization. It’s extremely topical in this age–people in all spheres want to know about this research. They want to know what folks are finding out in this field.

Another aspect of our program that is distinctive is our substantial tuition remission and stipend programs for teaching assistant positions. I can’t overstate how important this is because many students don’t even consider a private school because of the price tag. We are very competitive because we offer so much financial support to our graduate students. Almost all of our students–I would say close to 90 percent of them–get financial assistance from our program. When I talk to students, many of them don’t realize how much financial aid is available to them. It is so important for students to inquire about what forms of graduate school funding they qualify for, and how they can apply.

Thank you, Dr. Bergman, for your excellent insight into the University of the Pacific’s Master of Arts in Communication program!