About Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff, Ph.D.: Jeff Kuznekoff is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies at Miami University. He earned his BA in Communication Studies from Marist College in 2003, his MS in Communication from Illinois State University (ISU) in 2005, and his Ph.D. in Communication Studies from Ohio University in 2012.
Dr. Kuznekoff teaches a variety of classes at Miami University, including Introduction to Interpersonal Communication, Conflict Management, Advanced Interpersonal Communication, Empirical Research Methods, and Communication Theory. His research interests include instructional communication and new communication technology. Prior to entering his doctoral program, Dr. Kuznekoff was the Associate Director of Institutional Research at School of Visual Arts.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master’s in Communication program at Illinois State University?
[Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff] During my undergraduate program, I was fortunate enough to have two research papers accepted to the National Communication Association annual conference in 2001 and 2002. At both conferences, I was introduced to faculty and graduate students at ISU, and I remember being really impressed with how passionate they were about the program. The two biggest reasons why I applied to the program, and ultimately attended, were the Graduate Teaching Associate (GTA) training program/being a GTA and being able to further develop my study of communication through more advanced study.
Some of the other programs I looked at didn’t really prepare graduate students that much for teaching and, even if they did, the amount of training they provided was pretty minimal. ISU was the exception to this lack of training, and the two-week GTA training program provided me with the knowledge and tools necessary to succeed as a first-time instructor. Knowing that ISU would invest the time and energy to help me become a great teacher was probably the biggest reason why I decided to attend ISU.
Besides teaching, ISU was also well known for having graduate students who were active researchers. After completing my undergraduate research methods course, I knew that I wanted to continue to do scholarly research and ISU was the perfect place for me to continue to do that. Even if I didn’t go on to attend a doctoral program, I knew that the classes and research experience I would gain at ISU would prepare me for a variety of different jobs. ISU also supported me as I continued to attend and present at NCA, and introduced me to the Central States Communication Association (CSCA). I continue to actively attend both conferences, maintain my membership with each organization, and ISU helped to facilitate those connections.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is ISU’s program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff] The program emphasized both theory and research courses, and I was definitely exposed to more advanced coursework than I had in my undergraduate program. Even though I am a quantitative scholar, I still have the textbook from my qualitative methods class at ISU and that class formed the foundation for the qualitative training I do have. In addition, the program exposed me to areas of scholarly inquiry that I hadn’t encountered before. For example, it was at ISU that I was really exposed to instructional communication and communication education, both of which still inform how I go about teaching and research.
One of the things I liked about the program was that the content you were discussing in class could easily be connected with your own research agenda. I also really liked that faculty involved graduate students in collaborative projects, which can lead to publications. I ended up working with Dr. Steve Hunt, and other graduate students, on a project that focused on revising how we teach critical thinking in the basic course and also assessing those changes. That ended up leading to several presentations, as well as a journal article, and I don’t think I would have been as actively involved in research had I attended elsewhere.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What was your primary research inquiry, and how did you decide upon it? Could you describe the process you undertook to research your topic and form your final conclusions? What advice do you have for students in terms of completing their thesis (i.e. determining a research topic of appropriate scope, conducting thorough research and analysis, and crafting a strong presentation, etc.)?
[Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff] My thesis examined health communication messages concerning the drug Ecstasy and if different types of messages were more effective at potentially preventing use. After looking through existing theory and research, I created four different health messages that varied in the level of fear or efficacy presented in the message. I recruited participants, recorded what they knew about Ecstasy beforehand, randomly assigned them to view one of the four messages, and then recorded their likelihood of using Ecstasy after viewing the message. From that, I was able to determine which message might be more effective at preventing Ecstasy use.
One of the earlier projects I had worked on, and presented at an NCA conference, was in this same topic area, but I ended up expanding on that greatly for my thesis. Dr. Steve Hunt was my advisor at the time and he worked with me on developing the overall method, as well as the statistical analysis. Dr. Lance Lippert helped direct me towards some of the health communication research that really informed how I went about creating the health messages used in the study. All of my committee members were incredibly helpful and supportive. I don’t think any of them weren’t able or willing to meet with me if I had questions. Dr. Hunt was also very helpful when it came time to analyze the data in SPSS [statistics software] and when I started to write my results section. The oral defense for my thesis, while stressful at the time, ended up being more of a discussion or conversation of my thesis and I left that meeting feeling like I had accomplished something great. Overall, the entire thesis process pushed me to develop not only my writing skills but also helped me further develop as a researcher and scholar.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Illinois State’s Master’s in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff] One of the most helpful things I gained from ISU was the connection with faculty and graduate students. Out of the three colleges/universities I have attended (BA, MS, Ph.D.), ISU is probably the one that I keep in touch with the most. I see multiple faculty and alumni at conferences and I’ve been back to campus to visit multiple times since I graduated. In addition, my experience writing my thesis was one of the primary reasons why I was hired at my first job after graduating from ISU. Most importantly, the teaching experience and training I received at ISU still informs my teaching practices now. Writing a thesis definitely helped prepare me for my doctoral-level coursework and I think also helped me to feel more confident going into the dissertation process.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting ISU’s Master’s Degree in Communication program? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Illinois State or another university?
[Dr. Jeff Kuznekoff] I think the biggest piece of advice I have is to be an active part of the department and larger scholarly community. The School of Communication at Illinois State University was incredibly welcoming, and being involved in the department had a huge impact on my development as a scholar. I also think it is very important for graduate students to conduct their own, original research and to present that research at academic conferences. Attending the National Communication Association and Central States Communication Association conferences as a graduate student, and presenting my research there, helped me to become part of a larger scholarly community. Even if you don’t plan on going on for a doctorate, attending conferences and participating in this larger community had a huge impact on me and I think played a key role in my development.
Thank you, Dr. Kuznekoff, for your excellent insights on Illinois State University’s Master’s Degree in Communication program!