The Value of a Communication Degree

With all the talk about the value of the MLS, both online and in informal gatherings of library folk lately, I find myself thinking about the value of the education I participated in in general. I ended up getting BAs in both Communication and Philosophy with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies before going to library school. And now I fantasize about getting a PhD, or at least a few more interesting master’s degrees, though I recognize at this particular life phase it’s not an option for me.

But in this thinking, I keep coming back to how valuable, though my degrees aren’t necessarily the “marketable” ones you hear politicians wishing higher ed would emphasize.

My specialty was interpersonal and small group communication, a concentration that’s no longer offered at my alma mater–But it’s incredibly useful. At the time I wondered if I was taking the easy way out, avoiding the public speaking of rhetoric (something I didn’t really like doing in college) or something that would be obviously useful in the “real” world like mass communication and journalism. Though it wasn’t clear to me in the months immediately following college, when I was trying to find any job that I was qualified for, it’s ended up being immensely useful. At this point in my career, one on one and small group communication are the main things I spend time on in the course of a work day, and I find the context I gained through my coursework invaluable.

A few examples? First think of audience. Recognize it takes time for a group to come together (storm, form, norm, perform). Know the importance of cohesiveness in groups and how to encourage it. Understand what nonverbal signals you give off, and have a sense of non-verbal communication and what is actually being said rather than what is being said in words (a very large percentage of communication is nonverbal) Look out for the Halo Effect and all of its potential impact on people’s perception of the library, their librarians, how coworkers interpret each other, and how teams within an organization think of each other.

Only recently, in the conversations on the value of specific degrees, had I begun to think of concrete examples, which, if anything, is drawing me back into digging up my college text books and refamiliarizing myself with the concepts that didn’t stick so concretely.

Communication. It’s a good skill. As an employee, a coworker, a supervisor, a teacher, a public services worker.

My name is Lauren Pressley. This is where I think out loud, document what I'm doing, and share the things that I like. I'm the Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech University Libraries and author of a few books. This blog focuses on libraries, education, information, & the internet. When not at work or blogging, I spend most of my time with John and our son, Leif.

2 thoughts on “The Value of a Communication Degree

  1. Hello, Lauren!

    I was googling “Communications Degree” when your sight popped up, and I am so happy it did! The thing is, I have just changed my major to Communications. I am a junior in college who just transferred from a community college into a 4 year university. I took my general ed courses pretty aimlessly, never really finding my “calling,” mostly because I didn’t know how to go about finding it (my junior college didn’t offer career advising). In my university, however, I have sought out career help and have learned many things. For one, I learned that my Myers Briggs Personality type is ISFJ. I have also realized MANY career options that are compatible with my personality – many of which I just never considered before, like elementary teaching (I don’t know why it never occurred to be that I’d be a great teacher), and counseling, etc. The unfortunate thing: I have to graduate in 2 years. An education major will take me much longer, and my family won’t let me major in psychology because they think it is unmarketable. I, too, will be emphasizing in small group and interpersonal communications, with classes like “communication within the family” and “non-verbal communication.” My family just wants me to graduate with a degree that is pretty flexible, but what worries me is where I’ll end up after graduation. I am introverted and I don’t want to work in media or be a journalist… So I feel pretty lost.

    I have considered a masters in Library Science, but I don’t know how great job prospects are for librarians, nor do I know much about what that career would entail.

    What led you into getting an MLS? How did you go about finding work? I am a very diligent student and I am extremely goal oriented. I have a 4.0 (so far) in my top ranked private university. I just lack practical, marketable skills and I don’t know what I could do in the real world.

    Thank you so much for reading!
    Jessica

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