Three Life Lessons I Learned in My Online Graduate Program

It’s been a few months since I took to the stage at the Elliott Hall of Music and officially became a Boilermaker for life, but the lessons I learned as a Master of Science candidate at the Brian Lamb School of Communication (BLSC) are abiding. Scarcely a day passes without my application of some revelation or another that I had during the course of countless dialogues with my professors or fellow students. Below, I’ve shared a few BLSC themes that have shaped my professional outlook since graduation.

1. Confidence is key

I distinctly remember my first day as a communications graduate student at BLSC. I located the course syllabus to identify the course reading requirements for the first week. By the time I had finished reading the first piece, a treatise on organizational theory, I was surprised—and a little unnerved—to see that a few of my peers had already joined in on the conversation about the readings on the discussion board. It was at that point that I realized just how terrifying the blank stare of a new Microsoft Word document can be, especially for the newly minted graduate student. It took me forever to submit my first contribution to the discussion board: I spent entirely too long second-guessing every point I made, writing and rewriting each sentence. Many of my peers had decades more professional experience than I; some had been graduate students before and already knew the ropes. Over time, though, I gained confidence and came to enjoy the illuminating, often intense, conversations I had with my peers. Since graduation, I’ve learned something about myself: I have become an all-around much more confident individual. While I used to approach making many decisions at work with some trepidation, I now have more confidence in my decision-making process, and can render decisions without an unhealthy amount of self-doubt. BLSC forced me to confront my fears and stare down that blank Word document. The best part? I won.

2. One is the loneliest number

I’ve always taken my work seriously—perhaps even a little too seriously. I was never a fan of group projects in my high school or undergraduate courses. My thought process went something like this: “Why would I want to include my peers in my decision-making process? Why would I want to seek their input when I have such a stellar vision of my own? They’re only going to mess it up!” Call me a control freak, but that’s how I used to feel. Needless to say, I was less than thrilled when I read the syllabus for one of my courses and learned that a group project would account for a significant portion of my overall course grade. In the end, my team pulled together, navigated through the difficulties of working with a diverse group of individuals scattered across North America, and produced an awesome final project. In retrospect, and while it surprises no one more than I, this particular project was among the most meaningful I completed during my time at BLSC. As you may have guessed, collaboration has never really been a strong suit of mine. But the reality is, as Thomas Friedman would attest, the world is shrinking, and the ability to communicate and collaborate across time zones, cultures, and nations has never been more vital. Even though I embarked on many collaborative efforts somewhat begrudgingly, the importance of collaboration was impressed on me, and I apply the skills I honed at BLSC on a regular basis.

3. Stay cool under pressure

At the risk of stating the obvious, and even though the online MS in Communications program at BLSC is designed for working professionals, it’s not particularly easy to balance graduate school coursework with a full-time job. I wish I could say that I was able to remain calm, cool, and collected while balancing the sundry tasks that competed for my time while I was enrolled at BLSC, but there were definitely times when I got a little flustered and overwhelmed. Eventually, I built a routine and became more able to integrate graduate school coursework into my schedule. Moreover, I began to stress less and enjoy myself more. Looking back, I think my experience as a working graduate student tested my skill set and helped improve my outlook and mental and physiological response to working under pressure. Importantly, that change has helped me become a steadier, more engaging leader in my professional capacity, too. I’ve learned from experience that, particularly when leading teams through organizational change, the stable, soothing presence of a calm, thoughtful leader can make even the most arduous challenges seem manageable.

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David Rund is an alumni 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
Although I was born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, far from West Lafayette and smack in the middle of the legendary Duke-UNC-North Carolina State rivalry, my extended family (chock-full of Purdue grads) managed to inculcate in me the Boilermaker tradition nonetheless. Some of my fondest memories are of summers spent on the family farm just outside Lafayette, shucking corn and picking raspberries. I loved going ‘into town’, too, and the anticipation of such adventures only added to Purdue’s allure. I graduated with my BA from North Carolina State University, and was thrilled to begin my graduate studies at Purdue two years later. Following another couple years of hard, gratifying work, I can finally call myself Purdue alum!  I can attest to the value Purdue has added to both my resume and the caliber of my work. Furthermore, as a human resources professional, I assure you that neither the value of the Purdue brand name nor the potential value-add of a solid, effective communicator is lost on professional recruiters. I’m looking forward to sharing my Purdue experiences with a broader audience! Boiler up!

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.