About Daniel Mikkelsen: Daniel Mikkelsen is a recent graduate of Purdue University’s Masters of Communication program. He is currently applying to doctoral programs with the goal of becoming a professor, as well as considering positions in academic advising or another area of student affairs administration. Prior to entering his master’s program, Mr. Mikkelsen worked as a researcher for an economic and environmental research group.
Mr. Mikkelsen holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies from Utah State University, where he was heavily involved in family communication research. He graduated from Purdue’s master’s program in 2019, focusing his studies on interpersonal and health communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Masters of Communication program at Purdue University?
[Daniel Mikkelsen] I honestly love the study of communication! Ever since my first interpersonal communication class, I knew I wanted to continue studying communication for as long as possible. While at my undergraduate institution, I was introduced to communication research and thoroughly enjoyed it. This prompted my interest in a master’s degree as a stepping stone to a Ph.D. and eventually a job as a professor.
I ultimately chose Purdue because it offered the two areas of communication I was interested in: health and interpersonal communication. Additionally, several of the faculty had research focus areas similar to my own. My final reason for choosing Purdue was the financial support the program provides through tuition waivers and a generous stipend when you have a teaching assistantship (which all admitted students are offered).
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is Purdue’s Masters of Communication 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?
[Daniel Mikkelsen] Purdue’s Masters of Communication program has a very open structure, meaning that you are allowed to more or less sculpt your classroom learning to whatever you are most interested in. Basic requirements of theory and method classes exist, but these are easily met. However, this open structure is a double-edged sword. It is very nice that you are able to take almost any class that interests you from your first semester, but the lack of a theory course built specifically for master’s students is a handicap that is difficult to overcome.
Master’s and doctoral students share every class, which often places the master’s students at a significant disadvantage. Doctoral students in the program are placed in a meta-theory/theory course that takes place over two semesters and dives deep into research philosophies. Professors in the program, for the most part, expect their students to understand the concepts taught in the meta-theory course even when masters students have not had that exposure.
Overall the program has a heavy emphasis on academic research. Very little talk about work in industry exists. That being said, the program does provide very in-depth training on quantitative methodology and experimental design for those who want to pursue that avenue.
[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.)?
[Daniel Mikkelsen] When I entered the Purdue program, I had a vague notion that I wanted to study communication involving suicide attempt survivors. During my first two semesters, I used suicide attempt survival as my assignment topic in several of my classes. This helped me learn about the existing literature, and helped me gain a deeper understanding about the communication difficulties faced by suicide attempt survivors. From there, I began to have discussions with my advisor and ended up choosing to study disclosure practices of suicide attempt survivors, disclosure being one of her areas of expertise.
Originally, I planned to do a qualitative content analysis of stories published online by suicide attempt survivors, due to the sensitive nature of the topic. However, during my prospectus defense, my committee came to the decision that I needed to collect interview data. My advisor was very helpful in walking me through the IRB review process and in helping me recruit participants. Once the data was collected, I was able to use a transcription service instead of transcribing by hand using the professional development funds the department provides for all graduate students; this was an amazing perk!
Writing the full thesis was arduous, as you would expect, but it was not nearly as bad as I had thought. You have to finish the introduction, review of literature, and methods sections almost six months before the rest of the thesis. This allows you to break the writing up into more manageable sections. Writing the results and discussion sections takes time, but it is not difficult writing because you are intimately familiar with your data.
For some of my cohort members, the final defense was very difficult. However, my experience was fairly relaxed. My advisor did not want me to present the whole thesis because she and the committee had just read the entire document several times. Instead, she had me present on my takeaways from the research experience and the results of the study. Overall, the entire thesis experience was very beneficial, and I learned a lot about the rigor expected in research design and academic writing.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from Purdue’s graduate communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Daniel Mikkelsen] I have not entered a specific career path as of yet. I am currently applying to doctoral programs. Additionally, I am considering positions in academic advising and other areas of student affairs administration. The program at Purdue prepared me well for both paths. For the student affairs route, a master’s in interpersonal communication is very competitive. Purdue has a large alumni base working in student affairs that is useful when applying for jobs anywhere in the US.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the Masters of Communication program at Purdue University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at Purdue or another university?
[Daniel Mikkelsen] First, for students considering Purdue for their master’s program, I would say that Purdue is currently strong in PR/Media Communication and in Organizational Communication. If those are areas you are interested in, Purdue would be a good fit. Second, advocate for yourself constantly and don’t be afraid to knock on doors and get the assistance you need. The Purdue Communication Department is very large and it is easy to get lost.
For any program in general, I would say to keep your options open. I began my program sure that I was going to continue with a Ph.D. program and now I am seriously considering going into the workforce. I did not have that realization till I was a year and a half into the program, so I did not focus enough on things that would make me competitive in industry.
Overall, realize that this is your education. Your advisor and others will have ideas for what you should do, but in the end, you are the one putting in the work. You do your best work when you love what you are doing.
Thank you, Mr. Mikkelsen, for your excellent insights on Purdue University’s Masters of Communication program!