By Timothy Rose
Timothy has a Public Relations diploma through the University of Victoria, is currently a Master of Arts in Professional Communication student at Royal Roads University, and has been a proud student member of CPRS since February 2020.
I recently had the great opportunity to speak to Jen Colp, a fellow cohort member of my M.A. in Professional Communication program through Royal Roads University. Jen and I discussed several things during our time, and I hope that everyone will take something beneficial away from our discussion.
So, Jen, have you previously taken a university program?
Jen: Yes, I have. In 2007, I graduated from high school, and I knew I wanted to pursue post-secondary education. Still, I was on the fence about becoming a teacher, particularly a high school teacher, or going into public relations. I successfully got into some schools for becoming a teacher, and I had also put in a few applications to do public relations. When the applications came in for teaching, I was very excited, of course, but I knew that something was missing. My heart was truly in public relations, so I decided to forego teaching and investigate PR as my career choice. I applied to Mount Royal University here in Calgary; I didn’t get in, but I did get into Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax. So being 18 at the time, full of adventure and gusto and probably a little bit too much vinegar, I decided to move to Halifax to pursue a Bachelor of Public Relations. I did that for a year at MSVU and lived in the dorms, but truthfully got homesick. In 2008, I applied to Mount Royal University in Calgary and got in and completed the rest of my degree there. So, at the end of the day, I graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Applied Communications and Public Relations.
How was that program experience compared to the current program you are in?
The main difference between my undergrad experience and graduate experience is that with my undergraduate, I needed that to have a career, I needed to have the foundations in place, the building blocks created to go out into the world, make money and support myself. Whereas with my graduate degree, yes, there will be pieces that will help to support my career, but this time it’s more for my enjoyment, for my soul. Plus, I realized that for a long time I was missing something: I was missing learning and being part of an environment where things were new and exciting. But with the master’s program, I don’t feel as much pressure because I feel like this is my choice, so I’m putting in as much effort and energy into it as I want. I’m trying to enjoy this experience and trying to absorb all the material I’m learning to see how it can correlate to my current work and enjoy the experience of being back at school again. There’s also a little bit of familiarity with it. It’s surprising after 10 years how familiar it feels to be back in school and have the same grind we would have had in undergrad. But this time around, this experience is more for me.
How has the pandemic impacted your learning experience as a student?
To be honest, I think the pandemic was the push I needed to pursue my graduate education. For years, I have wondered if I should go back to school, try something different and whatnot, and ultimately the pandemic gave me the ability to say, you know what, why not now? There’s no better time than being at home. Having nowhere to go and nothing to do, why not pursue your education? This is the time.
One of the biggest things I found difficult was not seeing people in real life; I think that was one of the things that I really loved about my undergrad program because there were a lot of meetings and opportunities to collaborate with people in person. I very much recognize that this program is virtual, and we missed our first residency due to the pandemic. As much as we’ve been able to build a support system through virtual means, I believe nothing beats face-to-face communications with people and having that one-on-one experience with them.
Do you think your learning experience would be different without the pandemic?
I think had the pandemic not happened, we would have had more opportunity to collaborate as a group one on one, which I think would have been beneficial. I am very excited that perhaps we’ll meet each other in the Fall, but do I think the pandemic has affected the learning? No, I wouldn’t say so because the program is primarily online and has been for some time – so I don’t think it would have impacted what we were learning or what the teachers or the professors were teaching us.
What is one takeaway you would give to future students enrolling in a post-secondary program this coming fall?
Get ready for the grind; school is not easy; there are lots of times where you must forgo watching TV, or going out to see your friends because you’ve got to study for an exam or write a paper. So, be ready to know that that will change. I think one of the other things is it’s okay not to know exactly where you’re going to end up in your career. I think for me, I had this idea of being a super professional “COMMS” person in public relations for an oil and gas company. I had that opportunity but realized it wasn’t the right fit for me and I needed to go into a different field that I would feel some purpose in. So, I think it’s okay to experiment with different courses; it’s okay to experiment with different thoughts, try something new because you never know that might be the path you’re meant to be on. Also, it’s okay to be scared but do it anyway because fear is one thing that prevents people from achieving things. If you let fear win, you’ll never be able to experience something pretty fantastic, so be fearless.
Do you feel waiting to enroll in a post-secondary program until post-pandemic would have been a good idea?
Gut reaction, no. I think the pandemic has put so many things on hold for the entire world, and your education is one thing you shouldn’t put on hold. Will it look different? Yes, it will feel different, but you will never regret getting your education. People are more resilient than we give them credit for, and you adapt very quickly. Ultimately, if it’s something you want to do, do not wait for the pandemic to be over because your life is continuing to tick by. The pandemic, God willing, will only be a specific time of your life, and you don’t want to give up things that might be really good learning opportunities or friendships or whatnot because of a pandemic. So, dive right in, and you never know; it could be one of the best experiences of your life.
What is the number one challenge of a graduate-level student?
The challenge for me was getting back into the swing of being a student. Being in a career for 10 years, you kind of forget what it’s like to be in school. You forget all the academic writing required for school, like how to cite things, so I think just getting your head back into school was the number one challenge for me. It’s also beneficial that the internet is so much farther along now than when I was in undergrad. There are so many more resources available for people now.
The other thing with a graduate-level program that the content is more advanced. There’s more openness for interpretation and discovery; I found with my undergrad degree; I was very much taught how to do things. For example, this is how you write a press release, and this is how you update a website. With the master’s program, I’m finding there’s a lot of theoretical approaches to the content and looking at things from a very different level. It’s less about how something is done and more about why it’s done, how it impacts people or society, and how it’s influencing communication with others. I think recognizing there is a more advanced level of thinking that’s required, more analytical but more theoretical as well; just realizing that your masters aren’t supposed to be easy. It’s not supposed to be a free ride and a home run. You’re designed to work for it but working for it will feel so good when you graduate and go across the stage.
What advice would you give to individuals looking to enroll in a graduate-level academic program?
If you’re on the fence about it, just do it anyway. Education never goes out of style. Taking the first step and recognizing you are worth the money, you are worth the time, and you are worth the fortitude that it’s going to take to get this program – that’s important. The other piece of advice would be to prepare for a lot of work and a lot of different expectations. I’m now married, have a dog and a bird in the house, and that’s very different from when I was in university going for my undergraduate. Just make sure your partner (if you have one) has your back and they recognize that it will not always be easy, and it won’t always be nice or fun.
But this is a really great opportunity for you and a great opportunity for your family. I would say if you’re looking for another piece of advice, I’d say find something you’re passionate about and know that when you’re going into your master’s program or graduate program or whatever you’re doing, you are expanding your education. At this point in your career, you’ve probably found something you enjoy doing, and if you haven’t, then don’t just take a program to get ahead in your career. Take a program you will enjoy being immersed in for two or three years or whatever it is, do something that you enjoy, do something that you will love to learn. Now, if you have an additional career benefit, perfect, but just make sure that you enjoy it.
If you had to describe your current learning experience in one word, what would it be?
I think it would be adaptive. I’m working full time as I’m doing this, as many people are, and that means adapting your work schedule to be able to accommodate a school schedule. I’m adapting to learn the information that I need to learn in a very short period.
The only other thing I would say to those looking at enrolling in a graduate program is that you’ll never regret it. It’s something you will be so proud of yourself for doing. Your program has the opportunity to not only teach you things but give you so many other additional opportunities, for example, friendships; one of my closest friends is from my undergrad in Halifax, and I’ve known her for 13 years. That has been one of the greatest takeaways for me is the friendships, the connections, the colleagues that I’ve gotten to know, and the experiences going through the trenches with people and having that shared experience. That is always fun.
So go into it, enjoy the experience and be proud of yourself if you’re doing something for yourself.