Mastering communication through education

What have the following got in common: Cumbria, Michelle Obama, student unions, Edinburgh, Machiavelli and real ale? All have featured in Master of Arts (MA) assignments for Laura Davies.

Laura (pictured) is currently studying for a Masters Degree in Strategic Communication at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in England and has written to share her experiences. I can see from my blog’s search terms that readers are interested in knowing what courses are available and want to know information about studying communication. You can find a list of courses on my resources page and I’ve linked to previous articles below so you can discover more. Do tweet me @AllthingsIC or contact me if you have a specific query.

Laura worked in the public sector for 20 years, (in central and local government), in a variety of disciplines including public transport, strategic planning, regeneration and education. She was Head of Stakeholder Relations at the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) for five years, with responsibility for consultation and stakeholder liaison with over 600 organisations.

After a six month US road trip with husband Roger in 2008, she moved to Cumbria (England) and began her MA studies at UCLan in October 2011. Laura is an external trustee and board vice-chair of the University of Cumbria Students’ Union. She says her proudest PR/comms achievement to date has been persuading the actress and transport activist Jenny Agutter to contribute to a transport strategy consultation event in Medway, Kent, in 2005.

Over to you Laura…

Mastering communication through education
Some of you will relate to my story. Having worked full-time since graduating from Keele University in 1988, I did not hold a desire for further study. So I can’t explain why, three weeks before my wedding in July 2011, I found myself in Preston at a UCLan open day, talking to the MA course leader, Dr. Mary Welch, about further study. I decided to study part-time to spread the cost of the course as well as giving me time to get to know our new home in Cumbria (England).

I will come clean that I have never considered myself a “communications professional.” After my graduation, I started working for a local authority transport planning department. I took professional qualifications in transport in my early 20s. I worked in both central and local government, including two quangos, in transport, regeneration, planning, economic development and education. I never worked in a communications department… and yet I’d held positions as a corporate planning manager, head of stakeholder relations and partnership & liaison manager. All communications.

The UCLan MA in Strategic Communication takes familiar aspects of communications:

  • communication management
  • internal communication
  • communication & technology
  • rhetoric

…to name a few – and puts them in context. It provides the foundation of communication practice and recognises the part played by technology in how organisations engage with internal and external stakeholders.

Altering the dynamics
This module was a reminder of how the tools available to communications practitioners alter the dynamics of communication. I remember being trained on how to use email and mobile phones, both of which would be a given skill these days! Yet I’ve gone from Twitter refusenik to social media evangelist in the past 18 months…

For me, the appeal of the course is the focus on the strategic level. My own research interest is how an organisation’s voice is influenced and affected by the people at the top – “the dominant coalition” for those of you who know your Grunig & Hunt – specifically, its leader.

If there is a piece of wisdom I’ve learnt so far, it is this. Having a good support network is critical. My husband Roger, who is a writer, is my in-house proof-reader and has become skilled in the etiquette of Harvard referencing required for assignments.

As a lay trustee at the University of Cumbria Students’ Union (USCU), I have an inside track on what students should expect from their places of learning at a time of tumultuous change for higher education. My colleagues at UCSU are generous with their time when it comes to practical/case study assignments. The second photograph on this page shows three wise men – Danny, Matt and Peter from UCSU, brainstorming for my strategic comms management assignment.

So, if you’re curious to know more about why communication is so important to organisations, why not think about further study? Come December, I’ll be glad it’s over and glad to have stayed the course. To paraphrase Jennifer Aniston, “Because it’ll be worth it …”

Post author: Laura Davies @lauradavies24

Further reading
Read Laura’s article in the Guardian about Cumbria’s students
I wrote about uclan’s Internal Communication Management course last year
Diary of an IC student: guest post by Jess Grant
Rolling out the red carpet for comms courses: guest post by Chris Gamble
Comms pros are qualified to celebrate: guest post by Richard Cooper
CIPR diploma: article by Jenni Wheller

See my Rachel’s resources page for a list of courses

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