The End Is Near

It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a…well, you know the rest if you’re a hip-hop fan. I’ve had fifty-eleven post ideas run through my head. Really, how couldn’t I be inspired by the cultural appropriation of Miley Cyrus at the MTV VMA Awards, the news about Netflix for Emmy Awards, usually the accolade reserved for television-based entertainment, my recent cable upgrade that gives me access to new movie channels (winning!) and various other topics of interest. So I do apologize to my (few) readers and to myself for the slackery.

Today, the topic is the end. The end of a life-defining journey. The end…of graduate school. This is my last semester, and it has me feeling some kind of way. I’ve formed such good relationships with my classmates, and in the course of our two years of knowing each other we have seen folks get married, have kids and supported each other through tragic events. Already we’ve had some graduations, and though we keep in touch in our Facebook group, it’s not the same as giving knowing looks at each other across FA 414 as we wait for the clock to tick down to 8:49:59 and we can calmly start gathering our books, notes and run toward the door. Okay, it’s not that bad but after nearly three hours, you’re ready to stop listening to words.

I will admit, a part of me is not ready for the idea of not having the kinds of discussions that are the staple of graduate school. It’s the entire reason I have devoted at least one night a week to talking theory, subjectivity and objectivity, 20-page research reports and current trends. When I began college, I thought I was going to be a math major…but then I really looked at the work expected of me and took a left turn. I knew I didn’t want to do English, mostly because I had no desire to read the “classics” and parse them for years to come. Though I came out of school right before the economic crash, I was wise enough to know that an English degree wasn’t going to put a lot of food on the table, whether it was feast or famine season in the economy. My initial reaction to the Intro to Communication class was “Oh, wow, so this is how the sausage is made?” My studies and career in communication has made me more selective of my media and more analytical of what I read and believe in the newspaper.

My final class is a bit of a hodgepodge but it combines all of the topics I love: language, culture and communication. In one class, we talked about accent tag videos (seriously, I can’t stop watching them), neologisms and the power it takes to create a new word, language versus speech, individual versus social functions of language and all the topics that make me go back and read and reread sentences. Although we’re focusing on the language of the States, I’d love to study the patois of the Caribbean Islands, especially considering there is such a diversity of language based on the various countries that colonized the region and the influence of indigenous mother tongue.

This week we get into language and gender, and my reading is from Judith Butler, whose name I remember from undergraduate studies. I’ll let that reading, and the other 80-odd pages be my inspiration for writing. Then, before I know it, it’ll be over.

Theory Versus Real World: What Gets You A Job?


cube Both look so appealing, don’t they?

I have to say, lately it feels like “The Onion” is trolling my life. Between poking fun at how little time we truly have to dedicate to our passions and then a too-close-to-home joke about the usefulness of a communications degree, my ego is a bit bruised. Though I’ve still not forgiven them for their “joke” about Quvenzhané Wallis (for a review of that mess, read Awesomely Luvvie’s thoughts), those two articles are the epitome of the snark, sarcasm and punch to the gut smart writing the site is known for.

Let me not lead you to think that this post is about “The Onion” and their capacity to make you feel things, all of the feelings. The reason why the article on the communications degree hit home so hard is because that was my life in the first six months after graduation. Now, as I approach December graduation for this Masters degree (silently cheers), the question of how communication schools are appropriately preparing students for the tough job market really comes to the forefront. When I was an undergrad at SMU, my major program was known as corporate communications and public affairs. Very clear, right? The school offered three tracks: corporate communications, public affairs and nonprofit. I ended up with multiple internships and met some nice people at the organizations. But really, what do you learn on internships, other than how much you hate filing and how to be shuttled around as you shadow person after person who doesn’t have time to really delve into their role because in five months, you’ll be gone anyway. I don’t know how much interaction the school had with the companies who hired SMU interns, but that relationship could have used an overhaul and direction on what the students should be learning. The evidence of the lack of collaboration was apparent when, in an interview not long after I graduated, I realized I could have an hour-long discussion about critical theory but I couldn’t tell you what an editorial calendar was and I had no idea how to pitch the media.

SMU has since revamped their program underpinnings, and current undergraduates can focus on communication studies or public relations and strategic communication. Many non-theory related skills that would have helped me as a student who was transitioning to the real world – video production , photojournalism, production, campaigns – are now core classes. Perhaps, back in 2003-2007, we didn’t truly understand the way the communications field would shrink, requiring practitioners to be Jacks of all trades. However, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Don’t misunderstand, I love theory – I should hope I do, since I’m in graduate school. Hindsight being the all-knowing pain it is, I now understand that combining that theory with cross-departmental offerings would have been a benefit for me, and I’m sure others.

As “The Onion” points out ever so cleverly, the kind of real world training obtained in internships and junior positions can be limited as well, and communication studies programs need to proactively influence the preparation students receive. Yes, the ability to keep organized files is important, but if that is the highest level of involvement an intern receives, it’s a waste of everyone’s time – except for the company who gets dirt cheap labor for summer.

In my previous position, the intern was an eager student who wanted to learn as much as possible, exactly what one would want from young workers. I made it my goal to make sure her internship did not mirror the experience I had  years ago, waiting on the next assignment and considering how I was going to apply the little I was learning to my resume.

The best feedback I received when I left: she felt blessed to have had me as her manager. So I guess something good did come of yesteryear, if I can take the complete opposite of my experience and apply it to her internship.

What would you say made you prepared for your first job out of school: theory or internships? A blend of the two? Any intern horror stories you want to share?

The Stretch Goals

My mom always joked with me as a kid that I was born late. While it is true that more often than not, I’m running behind, I am also a master procrastinator. It’s under control, as it has to be in order for me to make a living doing anything useful in life. Joy of joys, I’ve just entered final paper season of school, also known as the point at which I start to question my life decisions. So my challenge this week is to write on here at least four times, get a decent draft of my computer mediated communications class paper down that doesn’t give me heartburn and stop being a seasonally affected bum and work out. Let’s go!

When the Best Intentions Go Awry

Wow, I had every intention of blogging regularly this month. Time ran away like it’d stolen my wallet. I looked up and it was Thanksgiving, which was doubly important to me this year with my sister being in town. So my brain was on “gorge stomach with food and wine, sit around watching judge shows, laugh and enjoy family/friends” mode. And I loved every moment of it.

Now it’s final papers, which are truly kicking my butt. I had a moment last night, after spending three hours on the paper and feeling like all I did was move text around on the page. A good Google search told me that literature reviews can easily read as annotated bibliographies, and I need to be cognizant of keeping an analytic eye as I parse the literature. I’m struggling with that because I feel like James Woods in that episode of Family Guy. You know the one…

Except my exclamations are “Ooh, a good article! Ooh, a good article!” on LexisNexis, JSTOR, EBSCO and all those fantastic research databases. As I told my family, my intention in pursuing my degree was to be challenged, yes, but I also want to be super awesome at it all. I knew when I woke up this morning, after only four-five hours of sleep (not even good sleep at that), and I was already in a crap mood that it was time to take a deep breath. I have to realize that more than likely, no one will fail me so long as I’ve put forth a sincere effort, which I have. And while my classmates were lamenting their draft reviews, I only got grammatical corrections. (Not bragging…okay, maybe a little bit.)

I’m back on it tonight, but I’m switching gears to my other beautiful project, a content analysis. At this point, that seems like a piece of cake…Ooh, a piece of cake!


When Things Get Real, The Real Goes to New York

I will gladly admit: I took a mental vacation. I went to see my friends in New York, and I pretended like I was young again, without a care or career in the world. And I had a great time. The last few weeks have been…intense to say the least. Not really one to put it all out there, but my network of “talk you off the ledge” friends and family were tapped.

Increasingly, grad school is showing me who is in charge. I’ve selected my topics for research and theory class semester projects, both of which I’m extremely excited to explore, as are my professors (no pressure, right?). But this past weekend, that was all for me. I shopped, ate, strolled the city, got snowed in, watched scary movies and just thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had great hosts in my college friend Mychael, and his awesome roommate, Devere (happy birthday, boo!). After all that excitement and activity, it was quite nice to be home.

Now that I’m back, I’ll be focusing on these research projects. In the driest of tones, after realizing that no one had started their content analysis portion yet, Dr. Christie (research) told us “It might be a good time to begin.” I’ve never been one to believe that fat meat isn’t greasy, so I’m taking his advice.

I also owe you and myself a review of the Dallas Urban League Young Professionals Ready. Set. Grow. conference that I attended a couple of weeks ago. I have some notes and lingering thoughts on the event, which was excellent.

Two Pictures Worth 1,000 Words

I came across two pictures that currently matter to me:

 The Tea Party and the Occupiers: Can They Just Get Along?

This Venn diagram is from a great Slate article on the similarities and differences between Occupy Wall Street and the Team Party movements. Why this matters? After the head scratching  three-hour brainstrom session in which I tried to narrow my research choices, I found inspiration in the latest news cycles. Seeing as I’m supposed to either believe that the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are a bunch of rude, dirt-encrusted ne’er-do-wells who just want to rob the rich or they’re the noble, progressive alternative to the crass and crotchety Tea Party, I decided on a textual analysis of the media coverage both groups received in the first 30 days. After presenting in class, I feel secure that this is simple enough to be manageable but could still be expanded upon in the future.

Personally, I would love to explore the lack of minority representation in both of these movements. As a black woman solidly within the demographic fit of the Occupy Wall Street protesters (middle class, college educated, etc.) I and several people I know like me is not going to spend precious time camping out in public to hold up signs and be a spectacle for media searching for a story. I’d rather be looking for a job and interviewing (if that was my issue like some of the protesters) or networking or anything other than standing still.

The second image that is of interest to me has to do with my industry.

According to the 2011 IBM Global Chief Marketing Officer Study (via Marketing Profs), there is a significant gap between the number of executives who report an high expected “level of complexity” in marketing and the actual number of those executives who feel prepared for this complexity. As the graph handily points out, this is a 31 percent gap. The rest of the report details the following slightly troublesome data:

  • 82 percent of CMOs plan to increase the use of social media but 68 percent of CMOs reporting unpreparedness for social media. I wonder how they plan to get past this 14 percent deficit between those who recognize the need for more social media and those who are not prepared to do just that.
  • Some communication folks may be tired of the “content is king” trope but it appears to be true. Categorized as “data explosion” and explained as “the increasing volume, variety, and velocity of data available from new digital sources such as social networks,” 71 percent of respondents indicated this as an area of unpreparedness (seeing a pattern here?).
Sadly, a lot of these areas of need can be filled by adequately training the less senior positions but companies are trying to be so “lean” that training and actual experience to teach employees is lacking.

It’s All a Process

I think I hit my first wall this week, when I sat down to write my research proposal. As my boyfriend said, “It’s like telling someone they can go on vacation anywhere in the world but they can only pick one place.” I sat for three hours and felt that old frustration from undergrad. No, actually it was worse. In my early 20s, time wasn’t as valuable as it is now. You work on something, you nap, you play online, you watch a marathon of “Law & Order” and then you get back to work. Now it’s  you work for actual money, you hustle for additional ways to possibly make money, you keep up on the news, you keep up with your friends who are becoming increasingly distant due to marriage, kids and their own work, you try to sneak in some TV and then you work on extra stuff like grad school.

I’ve had some frustrations this week, and I’m not quite sure when they’ll be resolved. As I mentioned previously, some days just aren’t for it. We all have them. The other day, riding and listening to NPR (also known as mental down time), they reviewed a graduation speech that the recently deceased Steve Jobs gave back in 2005 at Stanford. In it, he says:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

I was moved, to tears. How beautiful to have a death sentence over your head, and to live with such grace. I’m not sure what I’ll do with my frustrations, but I know I have control of where I’m going. I will not let the “noise of others’ opinions,” which can often be quite loud and press in from all sides, be the story of my life right now. Chin high, shoulders back, carrying on.


Party of Two, My +1 is the Couch

“You will feel isolated. You’re not alone.”

That statement, spoken to the assembled students at the graduate orientation just weeks ago, didn’t really strike me until today. Today when I made the first of what I’m sure are many social sacrifices for the sake of couch riding with my textbook, my computer and my trusty ballpoint pen for notes.

I should clarify I’ve been moving away from the party life for the past almost four years. The thought of stumble bumbling around the club in four-inch heels, swaying to the bass and trying to one-eye drive my way back north of town just no longer has any appeal to me. Nowadays, give me two drinks for the night, some techno to jump around to and the enjoyment of being in bed by 2, not being in line to get my car at 2:30. Just the standard evolution of life I think; can’t be the party girl forever. You get a reputation, Dallas is kind of a small town that way.

So when I found myself texting my friend, pulling the “rain check” card and then getting comfortable with a plate of Soba Tofu takeout and Chapter 4 (The Communicator & Sociopsychological Tradition), I knew it got real. My two sources of knowledge on the grad school pledging, I mean education, process are my older sister and work associate turned confidant Armando. I distinctly remember my sister telling me to get all my fun-having out this past summer, because once classes start the graduate student guilt will prevent me from being able to enjoy a night out, knowing I have dozens of pages of reading waiting for me when I get back, all fuzzy-head and good times. But I didn’t want to believe fat meat was greasy (shout out to my mom for that useful phrase), thinking to myself “Bump that, I’ll be able to hang.” Fast forward to sleeping on the couch because it’s comfortable and a lifelong dislike of waking up early, leading to late  nights at work, and I’m rethinking my approach to how I spend free time.

I conquered part one of Chapter 4, which thankfully is a much more tolerable reading than last week’s brain drain. Tomorrow, the only outside time I get is the gym. Then it’s part two and three, as well as those lovely 20-page journal articles. Did I mention I’m an avid note-taker, making this process nearly twice as long as just reading?

Since we’re talking school, the first test is here and gone. Midterms in a month or so. All in all, I haven’t jumped off the roof yet but there’s more to come.

That First Step is a Doozy

OkayI know I said that the next post would be a review of my shiny new book; all I can say is that it’s in draft. And that book is data and fact filled. So I’m not rushing myself, I decided to veer a bit and talk about my first day of class! (Cue shifting of backpack straps and pushing up of glasses.)

The class of 2013, as I suppose we’re classified, is pretty small. About 13 people of various ages, experience and background. It’s a relief to meet new people and hear their stories and how they got into communication. Theory class on Monday gave a basic overview of what we will be doing during the semester. Based on the reading schedule, it has become very clear that the trope of “Grad school is not undegrad” holds very true. We’re talking on average three to four peer-reviewed articles per week. However, it came back to me that the reading, exploring theories and the application of those theories was what made me so excited about studying when I was 20, 21. At 26, I’m excited to get back to that love.

Now research, that’s going to be a challenge. I’m not the most analytical person and this course will challenge me. We are exploring qualitative and quantitative research, and I’m looking forward to the cumulative two or three-person project for the semester. Of course, now I have to scope out my classmates and, as I told my sister in the Bat Cave, “figure out who is smart but not so smart I have to manage their ego.” Folks in academia can live in ivory towers, as my theory professor said, and I don’t want to aid and abet this attitude.

So far, so good. Some reading to do, I have to get back in the studying frame of mind. More than anything I’m excited to get back to what it is I love…education.