Every new course in the Masters in Strategic Communication degree program means new assignments, a new professor, and new expectations. Understandably, these changes can be stressful, particularly if well-developed study habits are not practiced consistently.
In an effort to minimize anxiety and maximize performance, I’ve created the following tips that will help to ensure a pleasurable and efficient learning experience in all of your classes.
- Communicate with your professors. Your instructors are here to help you, and to provide support and assistance when needed. Not only is this their job, it’s also their sincere desire to ensure your academic success. As I stress to all of my own students, if you have questions or concerns, contact the professor sooner rather than later. Some students procrastinate on their assignments because they have questions, but they don’t reach out for help. This often results in 11th-hour panic or missed deadlines. Other students make the erroneous assumption that last-minute call and emails to their instructors – sometimes at 11PM on Sunday nights – will be received and returned. It’s always best to review the week’s discussion question(s) and assignments ahead of time so that questions can be answered well in advance of the deadline. Taking this kind of proactive approach and establishing a collaborative relationship with your professor will serve you well throughout your Strategic Masters in Communication program.
- Get familiar with your course. Busy students often focus on the “essentials” in their courses, thinking that they’re maximizing their time this way. Unfortunately, what they typically miss are critical instructions and information that ultimately cause delays and late submissions. It’s imperative that you peruse every link in your online courses. In particular, be sure to read your instructors’ announcements, as well as the course and assignment overviews sections, as there are often more detailed instructions provided in these areas. If your professor has uploaded additional readings or resources, you are expected to read these and to be familiar with their content. The more time you spend digesting the course content, policies, and expectations, the more control you will have over your studies and your learning.
- Double-Check and Check Again. It’s always a good idea to double-check and confirm all due dates in every course. Once you know what is expected and when, you can create an assignment calendar, or you might prefer to set up SMS, Outlook, or other types of electronic reminders to keep you on task and on time. Some students find the use of project management software to be very helpful; others like visual reminder tools like timelines and Gantt charts (especially helpful for group projects).
- Bookmark Links. Even if you don’t have time to fully explore every link provided in the module – or by your professors – you’ll most certainly want to create a file where you can store these resources for future reference. I recommend grouping links by course and by category (you can also add a brief description) so that, later on, you can easily access the information. Your professors often engage in in-depth research to locate information that they know will be helpful for you, so don’t waste the opportunity to benefit from their expertise.
- Follow Instructions. This may seem like a “no-brainer” tip, but experience has shown that some students fail to properly follow assignment and discussion forum instructions – and this can result in lost points and lower grades. I stress the importance of following instructions because this is such a critical skill in real-world settings. A strategic communicator who cannot follow a client’s or employer’s instructions will be hard-pressed to remain gainfully employed. Consider the client who is investing significant dollars into their strategic marketing efforts; they expect to have their wishes and instructions followed to the letter. Demonstrating this skill in the online classroom shows your professors that you are a trustworthy professional – someone who is ready and qualified to earn their Masters degree in Strategic Communication.
- Heed Good Advice. The feedback you receive from your professors should inform and guide your performance each week. Faculty members invest a tremendous amount of time and effort in reviewing, critiquing, editing, and commenting on student work. Their corrections, input, and advice are meant to help you become a better strategic communicator and scholar-practitioner. This feedback is an extremely important part of the learning process, so take the time to review and consider every comment. Defensiveness and bolstering have no place in the performance evaluation process. View any feedback you receive through an objective lens and contact your professor if you have questions or concerns about your grades.
The bottom line here is managing your classes, rather than your classes managing you. Scheduling regular study times; setting healthy boundaries with family members, friends, and coworkers; and avoiding the procrastination trap will put you in charge of your graduate studies. Remember, too, that procrastination is a fear-based response so, if you tend to be procrastinator, it would behoove you to conduct a root cause analysis of your fear and then to develop strategies that will empower you to overcome this self-defeating behavior.
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
About the Author
Debra Davenport is the president and CEO of Davenport Public Relations, a full-service firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles. She is a faculty member with Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication where she teaches in the MS in Communication program.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.