About Lillian Feder: Lillian Feder is a recent graduate of Purdue University, currently pursuing a career in Public Relations and Sports Communication. While completing her master’s degree, she served as an Intern in the Communications Office for Purdue Athletics, and worked on the Stat Crew for the Indiana Pacers. Ms. Feder was also a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the Brian Lamb School of Communication, where she taught standalone sections of Presentational Speaking, as well as assisted with an introductory course in Advertising.
Ms. Feder holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from UC San Diego, with a double minor in Psychology and Political Science. She completed her master’s in 2019 through Purdue’s Masters of Communication program, specializing in Mediated Communication and Public Relations in Sports.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Lillian Feder] I received my undergraduate degree in communication with a double minor in psychology and political science from UC San Diego, where I was also a member of the women’s basketball team. After graduating from UCSD in 2014, I split time working as the undergraduate intake advisor in the university’s communication department and as a marketing intern for its athletic department for about a year. After a couple years exploring different job opportunities in Southern California, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in communication at Purdue University.
As a graduate student at Purdue, I studied mediated communication and public relations situated in sport and minored in research methods. While studying at Purdue, I was fortunate to receive opportunities to teach standalone sections of presentational speaking, serve as a teaching assistant for an introductory course in advertising, intern in the communications office for Purdue Athletics, serve the media relations staff of the Indiana Pacers in a game night role, and teach cycling classes at Purdue’s CoRec.
I graduated from Purdue about a month ago, in May of 2019, and am currently pursuing job opportunities in public relations. I am extremely passionate about sports communication, and hope to obtain a media relations role in the NBA.
[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?
[Lillian Feder] I chose to pursue a master’s degree in communication to sharpen my critical thinking and inquiry skills. I wanted to learn how to conduct rigorous academic research, both qualitative and quantitative, and was interested in deepening my understanding of communicative mechanisms through building a stronger theoretical base in the discipline. I believe I was able to do all of that while at Purdue and feel more prepared to now reenter industry and practice public relations with a stronger skillset.
Having said that, it took me a few months after receiving acceptances from different programs to decide that Purdue’s program was the one for me. What ultimately swayed me was my gut feeling that I would be able to make whatever I wanted out of my graduate experience at Purdue. Purdue’s program is unique in that it allows students to create their own curriculum plan, which was a huge opportunity for me to not only study sports communication generally, but to also dive into the specific subsets within sports communication that truly interest me. In addition to studying research methods, I was able to examine the intersections of social media, sports fandom, athlete identity, politics, and public relations through my coursework at Purdue. As a graduate student in Purdue’s communication program, you also get to teach standalone sections of a variety of undergraduate courses, which is a rare and valuable opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of.
[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?
[Lillian Feder] The structure of Purdue’s master’s program is extremely flexible. It accommodates the research interests of each individual student by allowing students to determine their own curriculum plan. There are a few core course areas required for graduation. For example, students must take at least one research methods class. However, even within this requirement, students have the choice of which research methods class, or classes, they would like to take (i.e. quantitative vs. qualitative, introductory vs. advanced, etc.).
As an R1 institution, Purdue places a heavy emphasis on building up the research skills of its students. Every content course I took operated within a research-based framework. Many of the papers I wrote for these content courses took the form of research proposals. I found this to be a challenging and beneficial way of engaging with theoretical concepts, as it pushed me to find a form of practical application or implication for each of my theoretical inquiries. The combination of methods and content courses offered within Purdue’s graduate program complement each other nicely and allow students to build off of interests from previous courses from semester to semester.
[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.)?
[Lillian Feder] Working on my thesis was simultaneously the most exciting and challenging part of the program for me. I chose a topic of study that I am genuinely extremely interested in, which made this rigorous experience really fun. My thesis examined the fan experience of athlete activism online. I conducted in depth interviews with study participants and performed a qualitative thematic analysis on the data collected to ultimately name practical implications for athletes, organizations representing athletes, and social movement strategists.
I knew early on in my program that I wanted my thesis to be focused on athlete activism, but I had no clue where to start with respect to hypotheses or research questions. I had very little research experience before beginning the program at Purdue and am grateful for the faculty members who introduced me to academic research and helped me build a strong foundational base of knowledge during my coursework to prepare me for my thesis. Each semester I thought more about the specific avenues of athlete activism and its impact, and ultimately decided that I wanted my thesis to be as practical as possible. Because athlete activism has resurged and been a source of major controversy over the course of the last few years, I wanted to conduct a study that developed an understanding for how and why fans react to athlete activism in the ways that they do. Recognizing that social media did not exist during the initial wave of athlete activism and adds complexity to the sports and political worlds, I chose to focus on fans’ perceptions and responses to online displays of athlete activism in particular.
The thesis route at Purdue requires oral defenses of both the thesis prospectus and the final thesis. I was fortunate to have an advisor who allowed me to truly make this project my own while guiding me from a safe distance. Although somewhat anxiety-provoking, the prospectus defense was a wonderful opportunity to gain perspective on my topic and planned approach from experienced and insightful faculty members. I would describe it as a research meeting that took the shape of a brainstorming session after the presentation portion was over. The final thesis defense was more formal, but was also enjoyable because I got to spend the entire duration of the meeting discussing the ins and outs of a study I am proud of.
If you are entering a master’s program and considering the thesis track, I recommend beginning to brainstorm early on in your program. One thing that helped me tremendously was reaching out to faculty members as well as other graduate students to bounce ideas off of them and pick their brains. Don’t be shy or embarrassed to reach out – although academia can be a competitive environment, you will find that people in your program can be extremely supportive if you give them the opportunity to.
[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?
[Lillian Feder] Once I decided that I wanted to reenter industry after completing my master’s degree rather than continue on for a PhD, it became extremely important for me to seek out practical opportunities within and around Purdue’s campus. During my second semester in the program, I found out about a trip undergraduates in the department were taking to Bankers Life Fieldhouse featuring an informational panel put on by Pacers staff members, and convinced the professor who organized the trip to let me tag along. My presence at this panel led to my game night position with the Pacers for the 2018-2019 NBA season. The same professor who organized that trip was also able to connect me with the communications office of Purdue’s athletic department, which led to my internship in that office. These extracurricular opportunities allowed me to gain practical experience in PR and media relations in addition to providing me with further insights which I was able to apply to my thesis.
Having the opportunity to teach undergraduate courses while pursuing my master’s degree was also extremely impactful. Running a classroom full of undergraduate students pushed me to strengthen my presentational speaking, problem-solving, and managerial skills. Having the opportunity to witness students’ growth throughout a semester was also key. This served as an excellent reminder of what could be accomplished in a relatively short time period with a strong work ethic.
[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?
[Lillian Feder] Be intentional about finding balance! Committing to a graduate program is a huge step and can become all-encompassing very quickly. It is important to involve yourself in things outside of studying to give yourself mental breaks. For me, becoming a part of the community in West Lafayette made a huge difference. Teaching group fitness classes and getting to know people in the area who were not necessarily in my program made me feel better adjusted and reminded me that although my graduate program was a big part of my life, it was not my whole life.
I also think it is key to reach out to the people in and around your program who can help you. More often than not, your inquiries will be met with genuine excitement. It is never a mistake to ask for help, and in a graduate program, you will surely be surrounded by individuals who will be capable of offering you perspective on your studies as well as life as a graduate student in general.
If you are about to begin the program at Purdue specifically, the best piece of advice I can offer you is to take full advantage of every opportunity within your reach. Purdue has a massive network in academia as well as in industry, and regardless of which route you choose, it is within the realm of possibility for you to be extremely well connected upon graduation. It is equally as possible for you to gain practical experience while earning a research-intensive degree. The biggest blessing of this program is its flexibility – you can make literally whatever you want to out of your time here.
Congratulations and great luck to everyone beginning programs this fall! This is going to be a wonderful period of growth.
Thank you, Ms. Feder, for your excellent insights on Purdue University’s Masters of Communication program!