Beth and I thought some ongoing discussions of public relations education would be beneficial to anyone thinking of going into the PR field, changing majors to PR, or going on to get his/her Masters in Communication or Public Relations. So we’re going to do a multi-part Graduate Life ongoing post. We’ll welcome questions and obviously, we’ll open discussion to anyone interested in discussing the topic.
For our first couple posts, we’re just going to talk about why each of us chose to go back to school, to continue our educations at the graduate level, and why we choose Public Relations.
I guess I had always planned on getting my Masters at some point. Several years into my original college experience, I packed it up and went home. I wasn’t sure in which direction I wanted to go in so I couldn’t see me wasting all that time and money at a University. I worked in a machine shop for several years until I decided it was time to go back to school. I got my BA in Speech Communications from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, a small state school in NW PA. Initially I was a psych major – a carryover from my earlier college days – but when I discovered the communication field I knew I had found what I was looking for. Interestingly, I don’t ever recall having been exposed to the communication field. If I had, I probably would have focused on that from the beginning as it seems a natural fit for me. I’m loquacious, personable, mildly entertaining to a few people, but I also have a natural interest in human communication. But why Public Relations? I’m not sure, what I’m about to write may seem controversial, but I never wanted to go into advertising because it seems so fake, it’s creative yes, but with an air of single-sidedness I didn’t like. PR is so much more – to use a current buzzword – transparent when it’s done properly. Public Relations has overcome a major obstacle of it’s youth in the last decade or so – steering away from lingering “spin artist” stereotype. Unfortunately, there are people out there still practicing in such a way as to foster this stereotype. But just looking at the PRSA Code of Ethics or the PRSA Statement of Values gives me a sense of hope and pride in the profession. But I’m straying away from my point. Getting the story out, getting the news out, helping an organization communicate with its publics – it’s an amazing thing, and one I’m glad to be a part of. Plus, say what you want about advertising and marketing, but Public Relations is also an excellent outlet for creativity.
So why grad school? I don’t know about you, but my undergraduate program wasn’t all that thorough. I really felt incomplete when I left school, maybe that’s why I struggled so much trying to break into the field. I hadn’t done an internship [Note: DO AN INTERNSHIP if you have the opportunity] and I was a little unprepared. I graduated with top marks, so it wasn’t like I hadn’t done well, I lacked the experience and – most importantly – the confidence to work in the business.
Grad school allows you to focus on what truly matters to you. There aren’t any humanities or world cultures classes needed, you just focus on communication, specifically the area you’d like to study. You learn about theory, research, and writing in a whole new light. Write papers, get published, attend conferences, speak at events, this is what grad school can offer if you choose to let it. But, choose a school wisely and consider your instructors well. I cannot stress enough the importance of a good mentor, whether you’re going on to your PhD or not, a good mentor will make all the difference in your education.
I hate to sum up like this, but graduate school is also a good place to weather a stormy job market. I moved to Ohio from Alaska where I had been working for the federal government. Moving to a state with a -3% job market made it difficult to land a job in a competitive industry. Grad school seemed to hold the answers. The contacts you can build, the experience you can get – not only in school, but how you use your time to reach out and find other creative outlets for learning – is unparalleled. The experience may be better if you’re working full time and getting your Masters as a job requirement or to increase salary – depending on your beliefs. I have enjoyed being a full time graduate student, but it isn’t for everyone, money can be tight and time is short. Either way, I encourage anyone in PR to get more depth, more refined in their chosen profession.
Some days I don’t know how I got to grad school, it just happened. I took some detours and sidesteps to where I thought one day I would end up, in Communications/PR. I got my BA in Political Science from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. “The Duke” a.k.a, Governor Dukakis was one of my professors. He is brilliant and remembers everyone and thing. I learned about policy and the mortar that (kind of) holds society and government together. Early on I took an interest in politics. I was a young environmentalist, writing letters to corporate and government polluters. Writing and communicating worked for me. The power to express and impact with words, images and voice seemed profound. In politics, communication is needed, especially PR. Every politician has PR counsel. I thought a degree in political science would help me get a job in PR. I didn’t have any communication related internships. (Do an internship, it is so important). I was actually a substitute teacher at an inner-city charter high school and then a summer school writing teacher. My students were awesome, inspiring, taught me patience and challenged me to rethink the way I communicated.
An act of love brought me to Cleveland from Boston. Sorry, but at first I hated Cleveland, it wasn’t Boston and well it still isn’t – I secretly miss the accent. At first I enrolled in a Masters of Teaching program and as I was sitting at orientation I had an epiphany and bolted. I ended up getting a job at Cleveland Intern.Net and Cuyahoga Community College’s career center informing students about internships and marketing the program to employers. This was undeniably a great way to learn about not-for-profit work and I found my niche.
Then as an account assistant at a media-buying agency, I learned about ethics and what it’s like to work for a dishonest company. However, I did meet one of my mentors. You never know who you are going to meet and how that person may impact your life and career. Lesson learned ethics and honesty are paramount. If something seems fishy and goes against your beliefs don’t risk your name and reputation. Needless to say I quit.
After that lovely bout, I went to work as a Sales/Marketing/Lead Administrator (Slash jobs are wonderful – they are the ones where you have many job titles.) for Robert Half International a temporary placement firm. It was here that finally I realized I needed to go back to school to get to where I wanted. I didn’t have a degree in communications, the perquisite for most entry-level jobs. It was “Grad School or Bust!”
Why PR? PR has the power to inform, find/establish relationships that are meaningful and valuable. It embodies creativity. Also, I am a passionate person. I think you have to be passionate, charismatic about an organization/company or product, etc. to want to share it with the world and see it flourish. PR can help do this in a transparent and purposeful way.
Grad School Tidbits:
1. If you decide to go to grad school, choose a school with a range of professors and focus areas. I suggest talking to a few of the professors or alumni at your schools of interest. The program you choose will make all of the difference-trust me!
2. Explore, take risks and maybe work for a while before you go back to school. Because you might change your mind once you get out there in the ‘real world.’
3. Mentors and teachers are like butter to bread-totally essential. Mentors are real life teachers there for guidance, support and can be great contacts. Don’t be apprehensive about finding a professor or professional to be your mentor. The relationship will only help you.
4. Grad school lets you to explore, refine and analyze a topic you are passionate about. You become part of it and own it through the work and research you do and knowledge you gain. You will seriously do more thinking, learning and analyzing in your life in 1-2 years than you could ever imagine. Resilience, patience, and ORGANIZATION are key.
5. Grad school has to fit in your life. I have the opportunity to be a full-time student and I enjoy the immersion.
The end…You never know what you will learn and what will inspire you…
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