About Daniel DeVinney: Daniel DeVinney is currently pursuing his Ph.D. with the goal of attaining a career in academia. His research interests are Rhetoric and Public Discourse, and he previously taught Public Speaking while working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before enrolling in grad school, Mr. DeVinney worked for a chemical distribution company doing marketing and graphic design.
Mr. DeVinney earned his bachelor’s degree from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, with a double major in Communication and Classical Studies and minor in Writing. He completed his master’s through the Master of Arts in Communication program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Daniel DeVinney] For my undergraduate degree I attended Hope College, a small liberal arts school in Michigan, where I double majored in Communication and Classical Studies, with a minor in Writing. I loved school and my interests varied, so I took as many classes as I could in a number of departments. Upon graduation, I had ideas about going to grad school but decided to try to find a communication-focused job to see if that was a better fit for me.
I found a job doing marketing and graphic design for a chemical distribution company. In this position, I managed the company’s website, wrote technical content, and designed marketing materials. I enjoyed the variety of this job and the chance to use the different interests and skillsets I had acquired in college. While I was working there I began to think more about grad school and started applying for grad schools.
[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 Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?
[Daniel DeVinney] When I did decide to go to grad school to get my master’s degree, I saw it as a decision between entering academia and remaining in the professional sphere. I did not go into my program with the intention of completing a master’s and returning to work in marketing. I knew that going to grad school meant I would likely go on to a Ph.D.
For this reason, I asked for a lot of guidance from undergraduate professors I was close with at Hope College. One of the areas I was most excited about in undergrad was Rhetorical Studies, which is usually housed in either Communication or English departments. Since my introduction to rhetoric was through Communication, and because I was told that the job market for English master’s and Ph.D.’s was a bit more difficult, I decided to apply to Communication programs that had strong focuses in rhetoric.
I also understood that if I wanted to have more options in a career in academia that I should try to get into the best program that I could. What I had no idea about was which schools had the top programs. This is where talking to professors from my undergraduate programs was crucial. They helped to point me to good programs and to which programs would work well for my interests. After the excruciating process of applying to a number of schools, I chose the University of Illinois because it was a great program that had faculty I thought I could work well with, and because it had a strong sense of graduate student community.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is UIUC’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?
[Daniel DeVinney] While there are a number of people in UIUC’s master’s program who complete their degree and enter the professional world, the program has a very academic focus, which makes it great for people who wish to continue on for a Ph.D. The Communication department at Illinois prides itself in specializing in a wide variety of interests, and this dictates the structure of the program.
The program has faculty and classes that focus on Rhetorical Studies, Organization Communication, Health Communication, Cultural Studies, Interpersonal, and Mediated Communication. These varied research interests determine the kind of courses you would take to complete the master’s program. Many of these require a Research Methods course, but beyond that, there are not many restrictions.
I’ve learned a great deal that has prepared me to be a better Ph.D. student, and hopefully one day a successful academic. I’ve learned a lot about rhetorical theory, academic culture, and how to better write for an academic audience. All of these have been invaluable as I continued in my studies.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience preparing for and taking your comprehensive capstone examination? What were the components of the exam, and were they tailored to your individual course of study? What advice do you have for students in terms of preparing for their comprehensive exams?
[Daniel DeVinney] Instead of a thesis, University of Illinois requires comprehensive exams to complete the master’s program. The examinations involve seven questions over a period of two days. You go into the office and have one hour to complete written answers for each question. The questions are based off of six of the courses you’ve taken during your master’s, in addition to one general question written by your advisor.
In the months before the exam, you ask professors if they would be willing to write a question for your examinations. They almost always agree to do so. Some will give you the question beforehand to prepare, and others will give you a general idea of what to study. After completing the examination, the faculty review your questions and give you a Pass, a Fail, or Revise.
Studying and taking these examinations is a difficult and exhausting process, but it’s very gratifying when you finish. Faculty are very supportive throughout the process, and though it is a harrowing experience, you come out the other side of it all the better. One major benefit to these kind of examinations is that faculty will craft their question with your interests in mind. So not only is it a good chance to think about your interests, but also to become an expert in those interests. The studying process allows you to review old information and master the literature or theories focused around topics related to your future goals.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from the University of Illinois’ Master of Arts in Communication program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Daniel DeVinney] Illinois is a program that prepares you well for either the professional sphere or the academic world. No matter what your career goals, you will receive a phenomenal education in their master’s program. For me, as someone who wants to remain in academia, Illinois has done a great job of not only giving me the education and theory I would need to do so, but has also taught me the professional norms for scholars as well as provided networking opportunities.
University of Illinois is one of the few master’s programs that puts an emphasis on teaching for its students. While many graduate students don’t get the opportunity to teach until their Ph.D., almost all students at Illinois teach classes. This is a huge benefit and has taught me invaluable skills including public speaking, classroom management, and how to be a leader for undergraduates.
Additionally, our program has a number of professionalization seminars and encourages students to go to academic conferences. These are a great bonus for graduate students as they start to teach them the norms and skills necessary for academic success as well as provide networking opportunities.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the MA in Communication program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at UIUC or another university?
[Daniel DeVinney] The advice I would give to a student entering any master’s program is to develop a good support network. Graduate school is a lot of work, has many emotional ups and downs, and can be exhausting in a number of ways. Having a group of people who are going through these same things is immensely helpful. This support network is also a great place to make lifelong friends! Grad school is hard and incredibly rewarding, and having people to commiserate or celebrate with makes each of these experiences better.
Thank you, Mr. DeVinney, for your excellent insights on the University of Illinois’ Master of Arts in Communication program!