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Hi All,

I'm admittingly a noob on this forum, so if I ask questions that have been answered elsewhere please feel free to chew me out. (I looked...honest!)

So I'm probably at the minimum a year away from even applying to school, but I want to make sure I do my best to plan out how I'm exactly going to do this. I obviously want to get into the best program that I can, so I'm wondering what kinds of opportunities and experiences should I be seeking out right now, to make my application stronger. Specifically I don't really have any research experience, publications, or presentations, and I'm completely at a loss on figuring out how to seek out those credentials since I am no longer in school.

My background

I have a BS in Advertising from Illinois, and just finished my Masters in New Media from DePaul University. My undergrad GPA was pretty mediocre (for a number of reasons, missing nearly my whole senior semester for medical reasons being one of them), but I finished my Masters (usually a 2-year program) in one year with a near perfect GPA so I'm hoping that will compensate a bit for undergrad, even though Illinois is a considerably more competitive school than DePaul.

My Masters program unfortunately did not offer any opportunities for teaching or research and it was a non-thesis program. Perhaps not the best choice for school given my further career aspirations, but I have the degree and there's no point in looking back now. I'm hoping to get into a Mass-Comm program with an emphasis on new media/technology and society and I'm juggling a number of directions I would want to go with my dissertation topic, which I'm hoping to figure out as part of my preparation year(s) before I apply.

I currently work in communications for a university (unfortunately they are an old-school private university with no Journalism or Comm program, so there aren't many opportunities there).

Anyone have any tips to get me pointed in the right direction? I have no idea where to even begin.

Edited by JonesTheNoob
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Do you know what sort of thing you want to study, and why? I've discovered that communication is a vast field that is entirely overwhelming if you don't have some idea of direction, and it's hard to figure out where to go next without knowing where you want to end up. What questions interest you? Do you want to teach when you get out? Do research?

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Hey Decaf,

Sorry for not responding sooner. I thought I had changed my settings to get an email alert from a response.

Thanks for responding to me though---this is really hard to get pointed in the right direction. That's a great point about what I specifically want to study and unfortunately I have a LOT of interests within the field of mass-comm. If I was choosing a disertation tomorrow, I think I would be looking at one of the following: studying how the lines between media and entertainment get blurred in U.S. political discourse, how the US is becoming increasingly hypercommercialized--particularly from like, more pervasive marketing practices that are enabled through new technology. Or how new media and technology change the way people interact with each other, but I'm afraid I might get pigeonholed into a "Phd in Facebook" or something. As far as where I go with the PhD I think I primarily want to teach,research, and write but I would be open to other non-academic opportunities like working for a policy research or think tank organization. Does that at all help? Thanks again

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I applied to four programs for Fall 2012. I'm waiting to hear from three, but I've been accepted at one (and it was the one I thought I had the least chance of getting into, so I'm expecting acceptances at at least one or two of the others). Here are my thoughts for you:

If you have taken the GRE and have scored under the 75th percentile in any of the areas, consider taking it again. Most programs will tell you something like, "we do not have a specific cut-off for GRE scores, but we expect our applicants' scores to be competitive." This is hard to decipher, but in the end, if you're in the upper 25% of applicants score-wise, you should be in good shape. Also, even if your program does not weigh scores heavily for admission purposes, many do weigh them heavily when it comes to deciding on financial assistance.

If you can find an adjunct teaching position, do so ASAP. Teaching experience looks great on your application, and being in the classroom can give you some great material to write up for a conference presentation (more on that in a moment). You said you're currently working for a university. Perhaps you could teach for them? Even if they don't have a communication major, almost all schools offer electives in things like public speaking, interpersonal communication, writing for the professions, etc., that someone with a communication background would be qualified to teach. Approach local community colleges, which are likely to hire someone who has a master's degree.

Try to get a presentation (or a publication, even better, but presentations are easier to come by!). You have a background in advertising and professional experience in the field. Do a search for calls for papers and see if there are any upcoming conferences in your area that could present an opportunity for you. Often, you don't have to present scholarly reserach. You can present on something innovative you're doing in your job that relates to trends in the field; if you're teaching, you can present on something you're doing in the classroom. You can also write something from a rhetorical perspective that shows you can do research and present a solid critical analysis of others' work. Not only will a presentation help your application, but you can use the paper as your writing sample.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

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thanks MediaMom..... I took the GRE in 2006 (long story---almost went to a different grad program but held off). I was in the 80% percentile for verbal but 59% for Quantitative, and 84% for writing. By the time I apply, I'll have to take the GRE again because the scores reset after 5 years I believe. I know I'll have to improve that quantitative. Unfortunately I don't know where to even begin to find an adjunct teaching position. I don't think it would be possible to teach at the university I work for (it's extremely selective, private, and has a small undergrad population---I think only in rare cases do non PhDs teach there). Community Colleges is something I considered and since I live in Chicago---there are TONS of options. But again, I have zero teaching experience and I'm not sure how to overcome that Catch-22 if I were to start looking for opportunities to teach. How do I get teaching experience when I need experience before I get a job teaching?

The conferences and presentations route seems like it might be promising. Will conferences let me send in papers or work if no one is publishing them? I've participated in one before during my masters program, but I presented work on behalf of my school, and now I don't really have an umbrella organization sponsoring me. If I could submit just on behalf of myself, then I could definitely do this. One of the benefits of working at my university is that I have access to their massive library. Do you have any ideas for getting research experience if you aren't currently associated with an academic unit?

Thanks so much for your help---this forum has been very enlightening.

Which programs did you apply to (If you feel comfortable sharing)?

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Jones, we seem to have much in common. A bit of my background:

I took the GRE in 2007 in anticipation of applying to a program I never applied to. I did very well on the verbal and writing sections, but tanked the math. Like, 430 (16th percentile). Yeah, that bad. When I decided that I wanted to apply to programs this year, I knew I would have to get that score up. I'm 36 years old and finished my master's degree 10 years ago, and hadn't really taken any math since high school! So I was freaking out. I used a combination of the tutorials on SparkNotes.com, a Barron's guide, and the website 800score.com, and studied my butt off for three months. I ended up with a 720 on the math. I nearly fainted. If you're worried that you're not "good" at math, trust me, you can learn. You can even teach yourself.

I have spent the last several years teaching at a community college and at at a four-year state college. I had no experience before I started - you have to start somewhere! I had the best luck approaching department chairs directly. Don't even bother with HR. Send an introductory email to the department chair saying that you have professional experience in a particular area, that you have a master's degree, and ask if they are in need of any adjuncts to cover courses that might fall within your area of experience. If they say they have nothing now, try following up in a few months. Adjunct spots are often filled in the 11th hour, and a lot is right time, right place kind of timing. As an example - my background is in PR and magazine journalism. I was hired at the state college to teach media writing (a journalism-heavy course that introduces mass communication theory and covers writing for a variety of media) and to teach/develop a course in writing for public relations. They didn't care that I'd never taught before. They cared that I had worked in these fields and could bring practical experience to the classroom.

Last year I decided that if I was going to apply to PhD programs, a presentation or two would be helpful. So I wrote a paper about an activity I use when teaching interpersonal communication, and tied it into communication theory and aspects of experiential learning. I submitted it to two conferences and was accepted at both, and presented variations on the paper at both. I used the paper as my writing sample for my applications. You don't have to be a student or a faculty member to get a presentation accepted. You just have to write something good that fits the conference theme.

I have been accepted at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and am waiting to hear from UAlbany, UMass, and UConn.

Hope that's helpful!

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Oh, and yes, you can submit as an "independent researcher" without a sponsoring organizatoin. Many smaller, regional conferences are very welcoming to new/unpublished scholars. As a staff member at a university, can you get access to their library? If not, contact the university where you got your master's degree. Most will give a user ID and password for the library's online resources to alumni.

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Thanks for your advice. I'm sure I could beef up my quantitative and even my verbal too. If I had to take the GRE again I'm honestly not too worried about it, I just didn't focus on the Math section much because at the time it really didn't matter for the programs I was applying to. Glad to hear you made such an improvement.

That's good advice for the community colleges. I don't know if I have enough "real-world" experience yet, but it never hurts to try. I may explore that option at some point. Do you think it's more critical to have experience in research/publications or teaching?

If I am eligible for presenting at conferences without being officially tied to a university (the scope of what my office does is extremely different from what I would like to study) I will definitely give it a shot. You (or anyone else for that matter) wouldn't happen to be able to recommend some resources for finding those. I.e. sites or social networks/groups that have information about conferences? As a staff member I have access to to my schools library which is a huge perk, so I will definitely explore that. I wonder if there are any opportunities out there to participate in research in some capacity on like, ongoing projects. I would totally be willing to give free hours just to be a part of that. Have you done much research yourself?

Also congrats on Rennselear Polytechnic---one of my professors from my master's program came from there, and he was one of the coolest instructors I've ever had. It's a great school.

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I know that there are some sites that list conferences in various disciplines, but do not have any URLs off the top of my head. If you think you might write about a trend in your field or something on the practical side, you might want to look at organizations like PRSA or IABC to see if you can find any conferences aimed at private sector professionals rather than academics. I found the two conferences I submitted to via friends and co-workers. One was a small teaching conference created specifically for community colleges, and the comm. college I taught for was very involved in it and encouraging of its faculty's involvement. The other was the New York State Communication Association. Several of my friends who have faculty positions are active in NYSCA, and I knew it to be a conference that was welcoming to unpublished/inexperienced scholars and students. Often the regional chapters of national organizations are easier to get into when you're unknown in the field.

I honestly can't say how heavily teaching experience will be weighed by various schools. I happen to have a significant amount, but I don't know how much that played into RPI's decision to admit me or how much it might affect my decision elsewhere. I definitely think it helps. As for research - again, I can't really say. Some PhD programs will admit students straight out of their BA program and many of them will have little or no research experience. I have a M.S. degree, but my master's program was more practical than academic and I did not do the thesis option, so any research experience I have is really self-taught.

Anyway, best wishes to you!

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