About Seth McCullock: Seth McCullock is a Ph.D. student and Graduate Teaching Assistant at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication. While pursuing his doctorate in Health Communication, Mr. McCullock is also teaching a course in Public Speaking and working as a University Fellow. His background in education and communication includes teaching two undergraduate courses as an MA student, one covering introductory communication topics and the other on Media Literacy and Criticism.
Mr. McCullock earned two bachelor’s degrees from Eastern Connecticut State University: a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Science in Communications. He completed his master’s in 2018, graduating from the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication program with a specialization in Communication Theory.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Seth McCullock] I attended Eastern Connecticut State University for my undergraduate (2012-2016) and the University of Connecticut for my Master’s (2016-2018). My undergraduate degrees are in English and Communication, while my graduate degree is in Communication, with a concentration in Communication Theory. While I was an MA student, I taught two undergraduate courses that included a large, introductory communication course, and a writing-intensive course on media literacy and criticism.
Currently, I am a Ph.D. student at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication, with a concentration in Health Communication. At Purdue, I will be teaching public speaking and will serve as a university fellow. In addition to my educational background, I have previously worked and interned as a blog writer and as a social media coordinator.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Communication program at the University of Connecticut?
[Seth McCullock] I always wanted to become a college professor; going to graduate school was a natural extension of that desire. When I was in the senior year of my undergrad, I had to decide where I wanted to apply for my Master’s. At the time, I had wanted to stay in the Northeast because most of my friends and family were located there, so I had limited my searches to the New England area. From there, UConn’s program stuck out to me because, growing up in Connecticut, UConn had a prominent reputation as Connecticut’s flagship school. However, once I looked more critically at the communication department, I quickly saw that there were a large number of faculty members with research interests that were similar to my own.
Before starting at UConn, I didn’t have a clear understanding of what it meant to be a researcher or what it meant to conduct research. However, the program’s structure highly encourages students to conduct research projects through their coursework (however, students did also have the option to just write project proposals, too). I thought that this model was extremely beneficial as it afforded new students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the process of writing research reports, and to potentially gain manuscripts that could be submitted to conferences or for publication.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UConn’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?
[Seth McCullock] UConn’s MA students are required to take at least two research methods classes (introductory and intermediate graduate research methods) as well as two courses that are dedicated to some form of communication theory. The program’s coursework offers a very strong theoretical base for understanding and analyzing human communication. Depending on whether students decide to pursue the thesis or comprehensive exam track, they may be required to also complete additional advanced classes in research methods and communication theory.
The program heavily emphasizes quantitative research. Prior to beginning as a Master’s student, I had very little experience with quantitative methodologies or statistics, so entering into the program was intimidating. However, the graduate faculty offered comprehensive training and feedback during our coursework that gave me confidence to continue pursuing graduate education.
[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.)?
[Seth McCullock] Completing my thesis was a difficult process, but one that was extremely worthwhile. As per UConn’s requirements, Communication MA students that are on the thesis plan must complete two advanced courses in quantitative methods and research design, respectfully, in the fall semester of their second year, and then conduct the project and defend it in the following spring semester. In the research design class, I crafted a proposal for my thesis topic and with the help of both my advisor (who was teaching the course) and the other students in the class, refined the concepts and ideas in the proposal to be a more refined and polished concept that what I would have been able to do through my own effort. The peer review process was extremely helpful. However, due to this structure, completing the thesis in the spring semester was stressful.
Over the course of the semester, I defended the thesis proposal, submitted to and received IRB approval, collected data, cleaned the data, ran analyses, wrote the thesis itself (aside from the literature review, which was finished the previous semester), and then defended it before my committee. It was a stressful process, to say the least. However, I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to have done my thesis. From this process, I was able to get hands-on experience with conducting quantitative research and I feel that it allowed for me to learn tremendously. For other students, I would say that conducting a thesis is perfectly feasible. The key is to have strong time management skills. While completing a thesis is a long process, it is manageable if you set goals and deadlines for various milestones for your project and then abide by those. In addition, do not be afraid to use your committee if you need help or advice. The committee is there to help you and they want you to succeed.
Concerning my thesis topic, the primary variable of interest was message fatigue, or general feelings of apathy or despondency towards a specific message or group of messages. The general theory behind the variable is that if one is repeatedly exposed to the same or similar messages over and over again, whatever persuasive effect the variable may have had will be lost and viewers will treat the message with hostility because they are tired of seeing it. For health messages, this poses a significant issue because in order to reach wide numbers of audience members, health PSAs must be broadcast repeatedly. Since the variable was relatively recently developed, the objective of my thesis was to determine the correlates and predictors of message fatigue.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from UConn’s Master of Arts in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Seth McCullock] My experience at UConn helped me to define my research identity. As I’ve already mentioned, at the beginning of graduate school, I was unsure of what it meant to conduct research. However, I also had no idea what I wanted to research or how I would explore and investigate those questions. Thanks to UConn’s program, I was able to find the subject that I was passionate about researching and then was provided with the tools to actually inquire about those communicative issues in order to help develop new understanding. Now that I am working on my Ph.D., I am finding that the foundational skills that I acquired through UConn’s program have been tremendously helpful in transitioning to my new program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the University of Connecticut’s MA 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 UConn or another university?
[Seth McCullock] For more general advice, I would advise to immerse yourself into the department’s community. Try to be adventurous, make connections with the faculty, with your fellow graduate students. Graduate school may be scary, and you may feel like you’re an imposter. Remember that you were accepted for a reason and that you deserve to be in your program. Don’t be afraid to take risks or to fail. Failure is, I think, extremely important for personal growth. Sometimes things won’t work out exactly as you wanted them to. Perhaps you don’t find significant results on a project, or your students receive an activity you had planned poorly. Whatever it may be, do not let it get the better of you. Rather, learn from these experiences and grow from them.
For someone beginning at UConn, specifically, enjoy it. The program will challenge you, but it is an amazingly rewarding experience. The people that you will build connections with are incredible and will help you progress in ways that you never considered. In short, at UConn you will be able to obtain all of your educational objectives, but you will also become a part of a wonderful and ever-growing community.
Thank you, Mr. McCullock, for your excellent insights on the University of Connecticut’s Master of Arts in Communication program!