About Diane Jackson: Diane Jackson works as Operations Coordinator for Scale Computing in Indianapolis, Indiana. In this role, she helps handle a variety of processes relating to technical support and product launches, as well as product and replacement part monitoring and analytics. Ms. Jackson’s background in communication includes serving as a Graduate Teaching Assistant while pursuing her master’s degree at Purdue University, where she taught courses in areas such as Public Speaking, Small Group Communication, and Interpersonal Communication. She has also held internships at Indy Photo Coach and the Indiana State Fairgrounds and Event Center.
Ms. Jackson holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Hanover College, with minors in Business and Psychology. In 2019, she completed her master’s through Purdue’s Masters of Communication program, specializing in Interpersonal and Mediated Communication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Diane Jackson] I graduated from Hanover College in 2017 with my B.A. in Communication and minors in Business and Psychology. The following fall, I began my M.S. program in Interpersonal and Mediated Communication at Purdue University, and also worked as a graduate teaching assistant of several different communication-related undergraduate courses. After graduating in May, I started a job at a tech startup in Indianapolis as an Operations Coordinator.
Although all of my previous professional positions have involved working with social media, digital marketing, advertising, and event planning, I think my current position is the most communication oriented. As an Operations Coordinator, I am generally involved in processes relating to technical support and product launches, and product and replacement part monitoring and analytics. As such, this position pairs the research methods that I have studied and used over the course of my undergraduate and graduate school career with the conceptual organizational communication practices that I have been taught throughout that time, which is the kind of educational intersection that I was hoping to arrive at upon graduating with my Master’s in 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?
[Diane Jackson] I changed my major to communication halfway through my junior year of college after I realized how much I enjoyed taking courses related to this discipline. The following summer, I began brainstorming about what potential question I would pose and study in my senior thesis. I quickly noticed that I had so many questions to ask and that it was difficult to narrow down my interests to only one topic, so I felt like moving on to graduate school would be a great opportunity to pursue some of those other interests and to learn more. Since the discipline of communication is so expansive in scope and application, I only saw the benefits that would be afforded to me by pursuing a graduate degree in communication. At the time, I was strongly considering a career in academia as a tenure-track professor at a research institution, so this master’s seemed like the natural first step in that progression.
When it came time to decide which schools to apply to and, ultimately, which program to choose, I had a set of criteria that narrowed my decision. My greatest concern was around the opportunities that I could have while at the school, its location in relation to my family, and its ranking among other graduate communication programs. I was interested in the idea of teaching undergraduate courses and the freedom that Purdue’s program offered in that regard was very appealing to me. Purdue’s program allows its graduate students to choose what courses they want to teach and to be independent instructors of record, where they can design their own materials, choose the textbook that they will employ, and have total agency in the classroom. That kind of autonomy was not something that I saw at any of the other programs I looked into, particularly for master’s students.
I also appreciated that Purdue had generous funding to attend professional and academic conferences and to conduct research. I thought it was interesting that Purdue’s graduate classes were structured so that master’s and Ph.D. students took almost all of their courses together. I knew that choosing a program where I would be in the same cohort as Ph.D. students, taking the same classes and doing the same coursework as them, would give me insight and confidence to continue on the graduate school path if I wanted to. These characteristics that I found to be unique to Purdue set it apart from the other programs and make it the clear choice for me.
[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?
[Diane Jackson] I think that the beauty and potential downfall of Purdue’s Masters of Communication program is that it isn’t structured in the traditional sense of the word. There is a requirement for how many courses you have to take depending on if you are a thesis or non-thesis track student, and a list of the types of courses that we were required to take, but I had a lot of freedom to structure the program how I wanted. I could choose how many courses I would take and when, at what point I would finish my coursework, what courses I wanted to qualify as core to my concentration, what my minor was, etc., and I came to really appreciate that flexibility. We even had the opportunity to choose if we wanted to pursue an M.S. or an M.A. and what the official name of our degree concentration was.
My program definitely emphasized research-related and theoretical principles of human communication. As an R1 institution, most people in the program naturally have their sights set on research-related objectives, and many students in the program are striving for the end goal of a tenure-track job at a similar large, research-intensive university.
The classes I chose to take were much more conceptual and theoretically based, so I did not take many practical classes outside of research methods courses. For that reason, I did not learn much about practical strategies outside of the ones that I taught in more organizational communication-related contexts. I did learn a lot of skills relating to data analysis, variable operationalization, research synthetization, and the like, which were the skills that I was primarily hoping to hone coming into the program. One of my most useful courses, social media analytics, allowed us the opportunity to have weekly assignments where we harvested data from various social media sites and analyzed it using different tools for analysis.
A couple of more traditional theoretical courses that I took, like organizational communication and interpersonal communication, stressed the importance of understanding and tying together theoretical concepts from various research articles. Those courses did this by assigning homework where I was required to read and tie together overarching themes from different articles and propose research studies that would extend current research. The variation in these kinds of courses provided me with a well-rounded theoretical grounding.
[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.)?
[Diane Jackson] Completing my thesis was a rather iterative, drawn-out process. I had originally posed a very broad question that could have been taken in many different ways, so the end product of my thesis was quite different from its initial conception. My thesis was about the spread of hashtags that are fueled by self-disclosure. It began as a stage-by-stage analysis of the propagation of hashtags through social contagion and the impact of social network influence, but its result was a little narrower in scope and in practice. I chose to conduct a quantitative study that modeled predictors of the spread of social movement hashtags through the employment of a text analysis software. I had a vested interest in social movement organizing as it intersects with social media and social networks, so this project was essentially the culmination of that.
My process of developing my thesis topic began with working on a research team that conducted interviews with social media movement participants, which gave me a basis for understanding the process of publicly posting with a social movement. After conducting those interviews, I knew that I wanted to do something related to that topic for my thesis. I gathered literature related to my thesis during an independent study that I did with my advisor to help fine-tune my thesis topic and expand my knowledge of the literature on social influence and social networking. This independent study was a great opportunity for me to gather research, establish a strong basis of communication and understanding with my advisor about my ideas for the project, and propose a study that became the springboard from which my thesis was developed.
I defended both my thesis proposal and my final thesis in front of my thesis advisor and two other thesis committee members. The experience of defending my thesis proposal was nerve-racking because there was the possibility that my thesis committee members would respond to my proposal with changes. Generally speaking, both defenses followed a similar format of presenting the main points of my thesis, responding to questions from my committee members about the thesis, and then hearing their recommendations and, finally, their response.
I think my biggest weakness over the course of my thesis development was the operationalization of my variables. I ended up choosing a very tedious and time-intensive process of manually coding and operationalizing my variables that, although effective, was complicated. With that being said, I urge anyone developing a research project to consider how they will study a topic as they consider what they are going to study. My advisor would often remind me that I have the rest of my academic career to further my research interests, so a bite-size piece that is attainable and succinct to understand is an effective path for conducting a master’s-level thesis. Since this is not a dissertation, it is the perfect opportunity to get a taste for a research topic without overcommitting to a large, time-consuming project.
In terms of advice that I could offer to someone writing a master’s thesis, I first would suggest to always keep your mind open and be conscious of what interests you. It would be such a bummer to put so much time and energy into a project that you no longer recognize or that you don’t feel passionate about, so being open to where your interests or passions lie is important.
In conjunction, although this is your project and you have ownership over it, having a present and helpful advisor can only help. Choosing someone who will steer you in the right direction and guide you through this project is meaningful. With that, choosing committee members who are interested in your topic and keeping in touch with them over the course of the development process is really helpful. Ensuring that everyone is informed can only ever help on the day of your defense.
[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?
[Diane Jackson] I am still adjusting to life outside of school and I believe that I have taken a small part of each course I took in grad school with me into my life beyond classes, but so far, the courses that have helped me most in my time in the working world are organizational communication, social media analytics, ANOVA and regression, and interpersonal communication. I learned so much in organizational communication about common structures of communication in organizations and about research surrounding the role of communication in traditional and non-traditional organizations of people.
Social media analytics and ANOVA and regression really showed me how to go about answering the questions that I naturally am disposed to ask. This has helped me immensely in my current role by teaching me about how to effectively measure the processes that I want to study and report on. Finally, interpersonal communication is the most meaningful class that I will have ever taken because it gave me a basis for understanding not just my own perspective and positionality in the world, but how other people’s perspectives and positionalities intersect with mine. It also has allowed me to understand how those perspectives are formed and how they inform our interactions with others.
Since Purdue is so theoretically situated, I didn’t walk away with true strategies or practices. However, I did walk away with tools that have equipped me for understanding and creating my own strategies and practices. My social media analytics course prepared me really well for understanding and studying the latest developments in communication technology, so I do feel like Purdue prepared me well for employing and understanding communication technology.
[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?
[Diane Jackson] My first piece of advice would be to think hard and as early as possible about the direction in which you want to take this degree and where you want to go from there. I would also advise anyone going into Purdue for a Masters of Communication degree to be decisive and intentional about the courses they choose, the projects that they work on, the questions that they ask, and the research that they conduct. It is organized so that if we are intentional and conscientious, the degree can really work in our favor. I also suggest taking every opportunity to build connections that could help you professionally and to remember to keep an open mind.
To anyone considering or starting a master’s in communication program, I encourage you to stay open to what you want instead of just what you think and to remember to be accepting of the opportunities that come from this journey. I came into Purdue thinking that this was a short midway point between undergrad and a Ph.D. Long term, my plan was to become a professor in interpersonal communication as soon as I could, but I left with a thesis about online information sharing and with a job in operations. I know that I would not have followed those initial desires that fell outside of the plan that I had for myself without the willingness to let myself expand and follow those interests. I’ve watched myself and a lot of my friends who have gone through this process finish and see major changes in what they came into the program wanting and what they left wanting, which is a testament to the versatility and ubiquity of this degree and which is my favorite aspect of this degree.
Thank you, Ms. Jackson, for your excellent insights on Purdue University’s Masters of Communication program!