About Morgan April: Morgan April is a Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Communication Studies, with a primary research interest in identity complexities that affect and are affected by family differences and illness. In addition to her research, Ms. April also teaches four sections of Business and Professional Communication each semester.
Ms. April holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of Kansas. She earned her master’s in 2017, graduating from the Master of Science in Communication Studies program at Texas Christian University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Morgan April] I earned my undergraduate degree in Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, then completed my Master of Science in Communication Studies at Texas Christian University, and I am currently pursuing my Doctoral degree in Communication Studies at the University of Nebraska. In addition to being a full-time doctoral student, I also teach numerous sections of Business and Professional Communication each semester at UNL, as well as conducting research. Teaching the business and professional course entails planning lectures, developing and implementing active learning strategies, providing mentorship to students, grading assignments, applying course material to real-world situations, and ultimately ensuring that students learn how to be effective communicators in their personal and professional lives. In combination with my teaching duties, I currently conduct quantitative research on how individuals’ identity affects and is effected by family differences (i.e., political differences, religious differences), chronic illness diagnoses, and adversity.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Science in Communication Studies program at Texas Christian University?
[Morgan April] My decision to pursue a master’s degree in communication stemmed from my role of being a research assistant at the University of Kansas. While I knew during my undergraduate course work that I had a passion for communication, it wasn’t until I was able to work alongside a distinguished professor, Dr. Woszidlo, on a research study that I learned of my desire to conduct meaningful research of my own that could make an impact on the community. With her guidance, I developed a list of schools that could provide me with the skills and support to become a scholar and teacher. On the top of that list was Texas Christian University.
TCU was listed at the top for a variety of reasons, including the beautiful location in Fort Worth, but ultimately the potential to work with and learn from well-known scholars, particularly Dr. Paul Schrodt, is what peaked my interest the most. Having read many of Dr. Schrodt’s scholarly articles, I knew that he and the faculty at TCU could teach me quantitative research methods, theory, and introduce me to a wide range of communication topics. At the time of entering the graduate program at TCU, I wasn’t convinced that a) I could make it through such a stringent program or b) that this path would lead me to a doctoral program and ultimately to one day be a professor, but with the support of the TCU faculty and my peers I quickly discovered that not only could I make it through but I could thrive in the program, thus leading to a career in academia.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is TCU’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?
[Morgan April] TCU’s program has a very clear linear structure, such that all students in their first year take the same three courses. These courses are cycled through every year, so that every year students are taking new courses with new professors. Additionally, the courses have both first and second year master’s students in them, which assists in first-year student growth. As a second-year student, you are given the option to either write a thesis or to take comprehensive exams. Most commonly students who are planning to attend doctoral programs decide to write a thesis and students who plan to go into the corporate world decide to do comprehensive exams (although not always the case). Both options are challenging and provide an opportunity for students to use the knowledge they have gained and apply it to either a research study or to new contexts.
One of the primary skills I learned at TCU was how to read. Despite our initial perception that we learn how to read in elementary school, the truth is academic reading is significantly different, often leading to new graduate students being overwhelmed with the amount of reading and terminology used. Professors at TCU explain the importance of each section of research articles so that students know where to look for specific information. Going hand-in-hand with learning how to read, the program takes a great interest in teaching their students how to academically write. Much like reading scholarly articles, new students struggle with how to write in a way that both is informative and persuasive. These skills were applied to all my course assignments but specifically to final research papers. To complete these, students must collect and read numerous scholarly articles, then produce a research proposal on a topic that interests them. Ultimately, these skills proved extremely helpful in the development and production of my thesis.
[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.)?
[Morgan April] Due to my interest in research, I completed a quantitative thesis with my advisor, Dr. Paul Schrodt. Entering graduate school, I knew I enjoyed family communication due to the tremendous affect that our families have on our adult lives. Through taking Dr. Schrodt’s Family Communication course my first semester at TCU, I discovered Dr. Thorson’s work on parental infidelity. This topic area made me think about my experience with parental infidelity, but instead of thinking about this largely dark situation as having only dark outcomes, I wanted to look at how children forgive after experiencing parental infidelity. Upon discovering this, I quickly went to Dr. Schrodt’s office to propose the idea. He provided me with additional readings to start understanding the topic in-depth. From there I spent my summer between my first-year and second-year reading as much as I could on parental infidelity and forgiveness, concluding my summer with a finalized survey, IRB approval, and my prospectus.
After defending my prospectus, I worked closely with my committee members, Dr. Kristen Carr and Dr. Adam Richards, to revise and improve my work. My committee members, in addition to my advisor, had an open-door policy where they would consistently provide me with information, advice, and most importantly with support. My last semester at TCU was spent analyzing my quantitative data, and finally orally defending my thesis. The defense was stressful; I was asked difficult questions about my research and my conclusions, but I felt like everyone in the room was on my team and routing for me to succeed. The passing of my thesis defense and eventually the publication of my thesis continue to be some of my proudest moments.
For students wanting to complete a thesis, I would suggest considering how you are going to manage your time and be self-motivated. Most of thesis completion relies on students making their deadlines and goals, so if you aren’t particularly good at being self-motivated then I would suggest making a plan before and sitting down with your advisor to set hard deadlines. Another suggestion is to not be offended by criticism. No matter how long or how hard you work on any one piece of your thesis, someone will disagree with some aspect of it. Instead of being upset by this, learn to respectfully defend your reasons for it your way, this is a skill you will need not only for your thesis but for life.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from TCU’s MS in Communication Studies program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Morgan April] Some of my biggest takeaways from TCU’s program have been my depth of knowledge in communication theory, my strong base in quantitative methods, and my connections with both faculty and peers. Through courses at TCU, I became extremely well-versed in interpersonal and family communication theories. This knowledge has greatly assisted in my research, such that I can have a general idea and expand on it by thinking through which theory may inform it. Also, my theory knowledge has assisted me in my course work in my doctoral program. TCU also provided me with a firm understanding of quantitative research methodology which has helped me jump straight into research at UNL, and allow me to build on this with more advanced quantitative methods. Most importantly, the connections I made with the faculty have provided me with opportunities, continuous support, and friendships. Every year at the National Communication Association conference I look forward to catching up with the faculty, they truly care about their students and their progress. When looking for a Ph.D. program, I focused a fair amount on finding faculty as supportive as the faculty at TCU.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies 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 TCU or another university?
[Morgan April] The advice that I would give students starting TCU’s communication studies graduate program and other graduate programs would be to connect, engage, and grow. Although learning is typically seen as the main purpose of graduate school, I believe that connecting, engaging, and growing are just as important. Connecting with faculty on academic topics is essential to the process, but this should be combined with personal connections. Some of my most uplifting conversations came when I opened up to faculty about my life, and in response they too would open up. Having these connections make you feel more comfortable in your environment as well as give you the confidence to succeed. Beyond faculty connections, it is important to open up to your fellow students. These peer-to-peer connections make you feel like you are not alone in the difficulties that you encounter in graduate school. Additionally, peer connections teach you a lot. There may be something that your peer understands more than you do, and often they will be willing to help you!
Next, I suggest engaging in every aspect of graduate school. Engaging in classes is a clear path to success, but engaging in outside activities with your peers helps to balance out the intensity that comes along with graduate work. Additionally, engage in university opportunities outside of your department. At TCU, I was able to go to award dinners where I met chancellors as well as other students, which gave me a fresh outlook on what graduate school is and the differences and similarities between departments. Lastly, grow. My two years at TCU were two years of pure growth. I grew as an academic, I grew as a friend, I grew as a colleague, and I grew as a mentor. Lean into this growth, you may not have another opportunity to be surrounded by people that care about you, support you, and challenge you.
Thank you, Ms. April, for your excellent insights on Texas Christian University’s Master of Science in Communication Studies program!