Career After PhD In Mass Communication

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

Mass communication(s) is a broad field, spanning traditional media to contemporary, technology-driven new media (e.g. web and social media). At its core, mass communication is messaging that is created for, delivered to and consumed by large audiences. A comprehensive academic discipline, the study of mass communication considers the function and effects of media in its various forms and how it is shaped by and impacts social, cultural, political, and social institutions.

Whether it is the study of how media influences social activities and trends or how consumer behavior informs advertising methods, doctoral-level studies in mass communication integrate communication theory, research methods, and critical analysis. The Ph.D. in mass communication prepares students to become academics, teachers, and researchers, but may also offer them pathways to careers in media-related industries, such as public relations, journalism, advertising, and mass media

As I travel and meet new people inside and outside of academia, I often get this question. It is a good one, but that I can never seem to answer it in a sufficiently concise answer or one-liner. IS there a simple answer to this question? One simple answer might be: teach. The common and traditional thinking involves earning a Ph.D. in a particular subject in order to teach that subject to future undergraduate and/or graduate students. For example, once I graduate, I could teach science and environmental writing courses to future university students. But other than learning how to teach what you learned in your own classes as an undergraduate and/or graduate student, what do you do with a Ph.D. in Mass Communication (of science)?

But my Ph.D. goes far beyond teaching my field to others. As a Ph.D. student, I take classes that are likely only ever taught to other aspiring graduate students. Here are just a few of the classes and topics I have learned as a Ph.D. student:

–          Crisis communication: Certainly a topic useful both inside and outside academia, and extremely important to any industry or company faced with a crisis. Crisis communicators are an absolute staple in today’s world of social media and global networks – and to be a crisis communicator, you must know what works, what doesn’t work, and why. And if you come up with new tactics as a crisis communicator, how do you know that they are working, and working better than previous tactics?

–          Research Methods: Conducting a survey? Market research? Probing public opinion on an issue? Learning best practices from elites in a particular field? All these require knowledge of research methods – how to both ask and answer questions with rigorous research.

–          Statistics: Any project that requires analysis of large sets of data, for example a national poll or survey, is going to require someone well-versed in statistics and data analysis.

–          Political Communication: Want to investigate or predict voting behavior? Response to a political issue among certain key publics? Yeah, you might want a Ph.D. for that!

–          Public Opinion and Media Effects: How do you tell a science story better to engage the public or change people’s opinion on an important issue such as the need for vaccinations, for example? What attributes of your message are people going to be attentive to? What are they going to tune out, and how do you know? How do your audiences’ pre-conceived notions and knowledge of an issue affect how they interpret your story on climate change? Can a climate change video game really help people learn about the issue and engage in pro-environmental behaviors? How do you know? If you are going to show me the evidence, you’ll probably need a Ph.D. to do it.

I conduct research in the field of mass communication, and my own area of specialty, science communication.  What does that mean? It means I ask the questions how and why behind current practices in science communication. Other journalists may be taught or come to know through experience the norms and routines accepted in the field. Science writers are often experts in their area of science and talented communicators. But how did those norms and routines we accept as journalists come into being? Why do the work, or not work, when applied to science and environmental issues? How do you know what best persuades your readers to engage in pro-science and pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors, if you don’t ask them or observe their subsequent behaviors in a systematic way?

And this is just the tip of the iceberg to my Ph.D. I’ve also learned how to write better, how to present issues ethically, how to interview, and how the media works when it comes to science and environmental issues.

Outside of my Ph.D. research, I love writing about science and environmental issues in any form I can – blogging, journalism, PR, education. Even if I do enter a career as a research professor in science communication, I won’t want to give up my work as a science blogger and freelance journalist.

So what could I do with my Ph.D.? Work for an environmental Think Tank? Conduct public opinion research for a national research center, individual company, non-profit, or university? Consult with science communicators on best practices in the field? Become a research professor? Become a full-time science journalist, editor or science museum communicator? Who knows? But I have a feeling my work and learning as a Ph.D. student in mass communication won’t be lost or wasted on any of these career paths.

Career Paths With a Degree in Communication

Earning a communication degree involves studying how humans create information and share it both on interpersonal and organizational levels. Students who major in this subject will graduate with the ability to present and exchange information—whether it is written, visual, or oral—in an appropriate manner for the audience and context.

Areas of Specialization

The communication major encompasses several areas of specialization including:

  • Journalism
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Mass communication: Subspecialties are television, radio, and film
  • Strategic communication: Subspecialties are health, public relations, and advertising
  • Games and interactive media design
  • Visual communication
  • Sports communication

While communication majors at some schools study all of these topics, some ​allow or even require, their students to have a concentration in one. Communication is a versatile major in that graduates can take one of a variety of career paths. 

Students can earn associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degrees in communications. Most associate degree programs are designed for students who plan to transfer to bachelor-level programs, but there are some that offer a terminal degree in communications.

Master’s degree programs focus on teaching communication theory, research methodology and practice, therefore preparing students for academia or the workplace. Doctoral programs emphasize original research and students are expected to develop an area of specialization. Earning a Ph.D. prepares students for academic careers or for managerial or consulting positions that draw upon an individual’s area of expertise.

Sample of Courses You Can Expect to Take

Bachelor’s or Associate’s Degree Courses

  • Introduction to Communication Studies
  • History of Television
  • Principles of Persuasion and Influence
  • Rhetorical Criticism
  • Mass Media and Society
  • Techniques of Speaking
  • Principles of Public Relations
  • Public Relations Campaigns
  • Media Writing
  • Audio Production
  • Storytelling for Communications
  • Interpersonal Communication
  • Digital Design in Communication
  • History of Journalism
  • Communication Law and Ethics

Master’s Degree Courses

  • Rhetorical Theory
  • Intercultural Communication
  • Research and Writing Methods
  • Communication in Practice
  • Media Policy and Regulation
  • Race and Media
  • Organizational Strategy and Leadership
  • Strategic Writing
  • The Role of Communication in Conflict Negotiation
  • Media Relations
  • Digital Media Production
  • Public Relations Management
  • Designing and Evaluating Effective Communications for the Web
  • Writing for Multimedia
  • New Communication Technologies

Ph.D. Courses

  • Media Theory
  • Philosophical Foundations of Communication
  • Technical Writing
  • Ethics for Science and Technical Communication
  • Methods of Communication Research
  • Information Needs, Seeking and Use
  • Communication Research Design
  • Special Topics in Cultural and Visual Studies
  • New Media Research Studio

Career Options With Your Bachelor’s Degree

A degree in communication at the Bachelor’s level can open the door to several entry-level occupations. These entry jobs will help to give you the experience you need to advance in the field after a couple of years. Internships taken during your college years will help provide the experience you need as well.

This list was compiled by searching job sites for openings that require a degree in communications. It includes options for those who graduate with a degree in communications only. It does not include any jobs that require earning an additional degree in another discipline.

  • Public Relations Specialist
  • Media Communications Manager
  • Marketing Assistant
  • Marketing Communications Specialist
  • Technical Writer
  • Event Marketing Specialist
  • Customer Communications Specialist
  • Content Marketing Campaign Manager
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Media Specialist (Traditional and Emerging Media)
  • Social Media and Communications Coordinator
  • Public Affairs Specialist
  • Communications Coordinator

Master’s and Doctoral Degree Opportunities

Yor advanced Master’s or Doctoral degrees will open other avenues for employment in the field of communication.

  • Senior Communications Specialist
  • Public Relations Manager
  • Senior Manager of Communications
  • Community College Communications Instructor
  • Professor
  • Consultant

Typical Work Settings

Strong communication skills are invaluable in many occupations which gives those who major in this subject a wide range of choices. In addition to the more obvious choices listed above, including jobs in media, marketing, and public relations, communications majors can take some alternative routes. They typically work in offices but may find themselves in jobs that involve interacting with people in a variety of settings.

How High School Students Can Prepare for This Major

If you are a high school student who is thinking about studying communications in college, take classes in writing, speech, journalism, and theater.

  • This major may also be called communication studies, mass communications, strategic communications or communication, and media studies.
  • Some undergraduate programs are accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism & Mass Communications (ACEJMC).
  • A bachelor’s degree in communications isn’t necessarily a requirement for acceptance into a master’s degree program. Undergraduate students may major in other subjects.
  • Some doctoral programs require a master’s degree in communications or a related field for admission, while others require only a bachelor’s degree.
  • Doctoral candidates must write a dissertation.
  • It can take from four and six years to earn a Ph.D.
  • Some master’s degree programs require students to write a thesis.
  • Universities require, or at least encourage, students to get practical experience by doing internships.

Professional Organizations and Other Resources

It is important to be involved in professional organizations that focus on communications. Being a member of one—or several—of these groups will help you keep current on new technologies and methods in the field.

  • Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC)
  • The American Communication Association (ACA)
  • Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC)
  • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
  • National Communication Association (NCA)
  • NCA Doctoral Program Guide


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