About Travers Scott, Ph.D.: Travers Scott is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies for Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology, and Society program. As Director, Dr. Scott oversees the administration of the program, manages curriculum development, supports faculty, advises students, connects students to mentors both within and outside of the program, and supervises extracurricular programming in the Department of Communication. In addition to his responsibilities as Director, Dr. Scott also directs the Southern Margins International Film Festival on campus, and co-instructs a study abroad experience for students in Germany. He entered the field of academia after over 13 years in the advertising industry, where he worked in content management, copywriting, and marketing strategy.
Dr. Scott received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Writing and Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Master’s in Communication in Digital Media degree from the University of Washington. He then earned his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Southern California.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please provide an overview of Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology and Society program, and how it is structured? What learning outcomes can students expect from this program?
[Dr. Scott] Our program is designed to provide a graduate-level overview of the discipline of communication, which includes the different theories, methods, and types of research that are relevant to the many subfields of communication. Within that, we also emphasize communication technologies, sports communication, health communication, and strategic communication.
Our program is highly student-directed, by which I mean students have a great deal of flexibility in their choice of electives. Students take five core courses in their first year, after which they work with their advisor and committee to determine their own plan of study, which can be comprised of classes within our department, classes outside of our department, independent study, and internships. We work individually with each student to prepare them for their goals after the program, whether that is teaching at a community college, working in industry, or pursuing a Ph.D.
The core courses that students take are two communication theory courses, two communication research methods courses, and a survey of communication technology studies course. Through these five classes, students are introduced to a wide variety of tools and processes in communication which they can then apply to their area(s) of interest in their electives. Classes that students can take for their electives include courses in communication and health, classical and modern rhetoric, organizational communication, communication pedagogy, communication and social movements, campaign planning and assessment, communication and culture, sports media, public relations trends and theories, political communication, and leadership in communication.
The flexibility of the elective portion of the program allows our students to take as broad or as focused a swath of course selections as they want. The support of their individual advisor means that students navigate their program of study with a lot of intention. In general, students tend to cluster their second year classes around their particular interest areas. For example, we had one student who was looking at female fans of professional wrestling on television, and she actually took some film classes from our department of world cinema to buttress her media studies and film studies perspective. We have also had people who took classes in engineering, public health, and a variety of other departments because they wanted to work in an interdisciplinary role after graduating.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For their final graduation requirement, students of Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology and Society can choose between completing a master’s thesis and a comprehensive examination. Could you elaborate on both of these options, and what they entail?
[Dr. Scott] The comprehensive exam is much more involved than one might initially assume, in that it is not just the sit-down exam, but also the work that students complete to prepare for the test. The exam preparation process is highly collaborative, and designed to strengthen students’ grasp of concepts that will be instrumental to their work post-graduation.
The semester prior to the comprehensive exam, students identify three key interest areas in which they would like to build expertise. Oftentimes, these areas are interrelated topics. For example, if a student is interested in health communication, they might focus on a topic in health communication theory, health campaign design, and interpersonal communication in medical contexts. Once they have identified the areas they want to focus on, students work with their committee to determine a reading list for the foundational scholarship in each area, as well as some content on cutting edge research in the field. Students then have an independent study course during a semester where they read these texts in depth and take notes and work with their committee to do a real deep dive into the material.
For the actual exam, students get a choice of either an open or a closed book exam. They sit down with an extensive question on each of their pre-determined areas and write a response to it, totaling three questions. After their written responses, students complete an oral defense of their answers before their committee. We find this option is really good for people who are fairly sure they want to enter industry up on graduating.
With the thesis, students can complete a traditional scholarly work in which they design, implement, analyze, and write up their own independent research project. They generate new knowledge on a topic of their choice, in consultation with their advisor and committee. We also have a creative project thesis option, which is designed for students who want to focus on creating something; the form their project can take is highly flexible. We’ve had people create business strategy plans for local non-profits, campaign materials, films, and even in-person events. For example, one student created an event on-campus about sexual violence and how to prevent it. Alongside their creative project, student are required to write a shorter paper that relates their project to communication theory and scholarship, and reflects upon their creative process. As with the comprehensive exam, both the thesis and creative project options have an oral defense component. We like to think of these defenses as more conversations where students receive feedback that helps them improve their project or thesis, rather than an oral test.
Regardless of the final graduation requirement they choose, all students receive the support of a committee comprised of their main advisor and two advisors who can be within the department or outside of the department if they choose. We as faculty work with them to help identify people who can best support their work on their thesis or project, or their preparation for the exams. It is generally a good idea to choose people who can bring different areas of expertise to your project/thesis/exam, to give you a more well-rounded critique of your work.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What role does faculty mentorship play in Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology and Society program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems?
[Dr. Scott] One of the things that we designed intentionally in the program is keeping the program relatively small, with a lot of individualized faculty support. We typically have around a total of 16 or 17 master’s students in the program at a given time, with about eight or so people in a given cohort. This allows students to get to know everyone in the program, and nobody slips through the cracks. Every person in the program gets an individual advisor and committee, and these mentors help students navigate their course selections and optimize their final project/thesis/exam. In addition, in both industry job placement and in doctoral programs, we are very active in connecting students with useful contacts and helping them prepare for their life after our program. We connect them with organizations, job opportunities, and contacts through our own personal networks. For example, two of our recent graduates are working for my husband right now, who is also a faculty member at Clemson. We have several other students who were hired at Clemson University, as well as numerous who found positions at other universities in town.
We frequently collaborate with our graduate students on independent research projects, and we present and publish with them. We also support students through the processes of publishing their own independent research, and we have had graduate students present at local, national, and international conferences. Our alumni network is also a fantastic resource for current and past students. We keep in touch with our alumni, and survey them for feedback about the program to help us continually improve. We also invite them to social events with current graduate students, and some of them have come back to campus as guest speakers. Many of our alumni are more than willing to help current students with their careers by introducing them to people within their networking or grabbing coffee for an informational interview.
At the university level, we have many opportunities, more than a student can take advantage of in a given year. We have professional development events and career development resources through our university career center. We also offer centers with specific skills training; for example, if students are interested in or need to know about audio or video recording and the production side of things, we have an Adobe Creative Studio at the library where they can take classes, use the laboratories, and receive free training on design software. There are also several different groups and organizations on campus that support graduate students through social, career planning, and academic events.
Our graduate assistantship program provides students with fantastic mentorship opportunities. Everyone who applies to our program is automatically considered for an assistantship, as long as they indicate on their application that they are interested. The majority of our students receive assistantships, as we are a small program and keep it small in order to provide our students with ample resources. Most of our graduate assistants are teaching assistants, who provide support in leading discussion sections or labs for courses such as public speaking or the fundamentals of human communication. These students work closely with the instructor, which is an opportunity for mentorship, and they also get hands-on experience in a teaching role that can help them transition into teaching positions at community colleges and universities. Our graduate assistants receive a full tuition waiver and also a $12,000 stipend for their nine months of work. We do sometimes have research assistantships, but they are more rare and are dependent on faculty research funding.
[MastersinCommunications.com] For students interested in Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology and Society program, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Scott] One of the most important parts of the application is the personal statement. In the statement, we look for several things. We really look for people who have detailed, highly personal reasons for wanting to work at Clemson in our department. We receive a lot of “I love Clemson!” applications, and while that is wonderful to hear, you also need to answer the question, “Why are we the program for you?”
Things you could talk about include the broad variety of topics we explore in our courses, and the four emphasis areas in our department, which are sports communication, strategic communication, health communication, and media technology. We love it when students identify specific areas of interest in graduate communication studies that our program can help them explore, and if they mention specific faculty they’d like to work with, that is even better. We also have a social media listening center on campus that some applicants call out as being a major draw, as they want to collaborate with faculty on projects that involve working with this center.
Another thing I would note is that when it comes to the CV that students submit as part of their application, we really do like seeing a lot of detail in that document. I know that in the business world the emphasis is much more on a concise and generic one-page resume, but we welcome more in-depth descriptions of students’ professional background, as well as their hobbies, activism, volunteering, family and cultural history, and more. We want to see the whole picture of an applicant’s character, interests, and motivations. When we evaluate applicants, we think about them in a future classroom or seminar, and ask ourselves, “What perspectives and experiences and insights will this student bring to the cohort? In what ways is this individual unique and particularly well-suited to the discussions and projects and opportunities that our program provides?” As a result, the more insight into their personality students provide, the better.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What makes Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology and Society unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students?
[Dr. Scott] Even though we area relatively young program (we’re going into our eighth year) have been steadily growing. We have an excellent success rate with our students, with between a 90 to 100 percent placement rate. Our graduates are teaching in higher education, pursuing a Ph.D. program, or in industry in a field related to their interest. This success rate is something that has been really strong and we’re really proud of it. Opportunities for students to conduct research in collaboration with faculty or on their own, and to publish and present early on in their career, are plentiful. Our technology emphasis and resultant access to resources such as the social media listening center also distinguishes us. The size of our program enables a great deal of personal attention to each student, and the close-knit community of our department is truly unique.
The location of Clemson University is also wonderful, in upstate South Carolina. There is gorgeous and wonderful weather most of the year. Clemson is mostly a residential school, which lends itself well to the building of community. Our students seem to really love Clemson: for example, our undergraduates consistently score in the top five to ten happiest students, and I’ve noticed quite a few of our master’s students who come here from other parts of the country stick around. After two years they don’t want to leave, and some of our graduates who left have ended up coming back. That kind of durable sense of community that people keep returning to is fantastic and hard to replicate.
Our students are also highly engaged with the surrounding community. They have done work with our Healthy Campus organization, working on messaging around substance abuse and sexual violence on campus. We’ve had students who worked with local non-profits, such as Feed & Seed, which is a food justice non-profit in Greenville that has connected Clemson students to agronomy and sustainability at Clemson. For people who are interested in agriculture science, health, and nutrition, there are tons of projects and creative inquiry classes and research going on across campus. There is also the Erwin Center for Communications, which conducts research in marketing and online branding and related disciplines.
Also, a lot of people don’t know this, but Clemson is actually becoming, a much more receptive and welcoming place for LGBT students, and the student body both within our department and for the university at large is becoming progressively more diverse. We now have four different student organizations for students who support LGBT rights, and I work with them. We also have a film festival on campus that an alumni runs called Southern Margin, which is devoted to marginal voices from the South. And for students of color on our campus, there has been much more activism, especially in the last few years. There is a traditional image of Clemson as a Southern, highly conservative university, but we have a new administration from outside the state, and our students are also leading changes here as well. I’ve been very impressed by the changes that are taking place on campus and I would say that if people have concerns about the stereotypes of the South and a southern university, they might be pleasantly surprised.
One other thing I should mention is that we are a land grant institution. And we take that very seriously. The land grant mission is constantly referenced at Clemson, and it guides much of our programming and efforts. The will of Thomas Green Clemson who created the university, stated that our mission is to improve the lives of people in this region, and we take that mission to heart in everything we do here. That is something that just personally I really like about Clemson.
Thank you, Dr. Scott, for your fantastic insight into Clemson University’s Master of Arts in Communication, Technology, and Society program!