About Samuel Wilson: Samuel Wilson is a Ph.D. Student and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focus is on socially-situated information processing and persuasion, and he currently teaches a course on Intercultural Communication. Along with his work at UIUC, Mr. Wilson also serves as a Graduate Research Assistant at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and has previously worked with the National Science Foundation.
Mr. Wilson holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Linguistics from Illinois State University. He completed his master’s in 2017, through the University of Illinois’ Master of Arts in Communication program.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Samuel Wilson] I graduated with my bachelor’s from Illinois State University in English Studies. Thereafter, I spent the next several years working in the field of marketing, where I got my first introduction to conducting minor consumer research and communication campaigns. In 2015, I decided to attend University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for my Master’s. During the first summer of my Master’s, I travelled to D.C. where I worked for a social marketing firm. Here I applied my expertise in communication, behavior change, and social scientific research to various pro-social campaigns across the U.S. Through my entire M.A., I held various assistantships as a TA and RA.
I am currently a Ph.D. student at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I am studying socially-situated information processing and persuasion. I am a graduate research assistant at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and right now I am teaching a course on Intercultural Communication. I intend on working in the industry as a researcher (at a research firm or public health agency) this summer. Upon graduating with my doctorate, I plan to begin a career directing research that serves the public good.
[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?
[Samuel Wilson] I decided to pursue my M.A. for two reasons. Foremost, I was interested in gaining the research skills and content expertise that would position me for a job working on/for pro-social interventions. Basically, I wanted to do marketing, but instead of selling things, I wanted to improve people’s lives. If I wanted to be well-prepared to work in this field, I would need to be able to conduct social scientific research; collect, manage, and analyze quantitative and qualitative data; and understand the processes and nature of human behavior and communication. Simply, this level of depth would require a graduate degree.
Second, I am a lifelong student; I enjoyed my bachelor’s (and I continued to take classes in Computer Science after my B.A.) and I was eager to enrich my life further through more scholarship. A graduate program was the perfect place for this!
I chose UIUC for several reasons. To begin with, the UIUC Communication program offers a full tuition waiver and stipend in the form of teaching assistantships (with the potential for research assistantships). This would mean that I would not have to pay for my schooling and I would also receive money to live on. Second, and importantly, the UIUC Communication program is one of the top programs in the country. The department has many huge names in the field and its graduates are in university positions around the country. To be in the department would mean the opportunity to work on cutting-edge, truly impactful work in the field. Last, the UIUC Communication department is peerless in its positive culture—although I’m biased. Despite being a top-tier school, graduate students and faculty are collegiate, friendly, and supportive. This was a huge draw.
[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?
[Samuel Wilson] Master’s students at UIUC are given wide latitude in their ability to study the concepts, theories, and methods they are interested in. In this sense, then, the department does not emphasize any one concept, as within the department is represented a breadth of philosophical and methodological perspectives. Master’s students are encouraged to take advantage of this structure by being purposive, yet liberal, in their academic pursuits. This all being said, the department has a strong theoretical bent. To be a student in this department is to become very comfortable with reading, applying, critiquing, and developing theory.
To this end, students typically pick an advisor within their second semester. The student will then consult the advisor as he or she makes future course selections. At the end of each year, the department faculty provides feedback on the student’s progress and conduct during the Fall and Spring semesters.
In their third semester, students will begin to pick a comprehensive exam committee made up of instructors from past courses. After this committee is officially picked, the student schedules and prepares for the comprehensive exams (to be taken sometime either over Winter Break or during the Spring semester).
I was in the social science track, so my experiences are limited to that. Research skills are learned in a (typically) first semester research methods course. This course serves as a basis for social scientific research methods and analyses. This course is useful because it provides the skills needed to read and understand the field’s literature and, if a student has previous experience, then it serves as a way to on-board the student to the department’s research philosophy. After this initial department course, students typically develop their own curriculum through consultation with their own goals and the advice of their advisor.
[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?
[Samuel Wilson] I began preparing for my comprehensive exams by considering whom I would like to ask for exam questions. This is a decision made by the student; it is typically done by considering the courses you would find most useful to review at the completion of your degree. In my case, I considered the courses I found the most useful and interesting.
Typically, the instructors whom you ask will tailor the questions for your specific interests. For me, this meant I was asked questions relating to my research interests: communication interventions and applied communication research. Some questions I was made aware of beforehand while others I was not.
The exam was six questions, with a single question asked by my advisor. I prepared over the latter half of Fall semester and continued to study over the Winter Break. I did this by reviewing the course’s materials and outlining potential responses to questions.
My advice would mainly rest with your preparation semesters before you even take the exam. Good note taking is key, and it was very useful for reviewing material from semesters before. Keep some record of your readings, your notes, and your syllabuses.
[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?
[Samuel Wilson] Because I was most interested in applied communication research and health persuasion, I found the program provided ample opportunities to connect with resources off campus in the form of conferences, internship opportunities, and professional contacts. This, of course, is all based on one’s ability to connect with the faculty at an individual level. It was my own connections within the department that facilitated this.
Because of the department’s strong theoretical focus and emphasis on building methodological skills, I have been well positioned to do well in my pursuit of a Ph.D. Had I not had these experiences and skills, I would not be able to perform to the level that I do now.
[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?
[Samuel Wilson] I would really just recommend to students that they make good, personal connections with their faculty and fellow graduate students in the department. So much of what a department is is the people and, for me, having strong connections within the department made my journey that much easier, fulfilling, and worthwhile.
Thank you, Mr. Wilson, for your excellent insights on the University of Illinois’ Master of Arts in Communication program!