Post-undergraduate paths and careers

I recently read Tom Johnson’s post in response to an English and technical writing undergraduate major considering either law school or a pursuing more education in technical communication. Rather than post a comment, I thought I’d write a post on my blog as a trackback. Isn’t that what blogs are for, after all?

As a response to the original email Tom quoted, I’d offer the obvious – that deciding whether to get a masters or other advanced degree in technical writing is not an easy decision. I have interviewed two different people who took that path, and their interviews might be helpful to those who want to make a decision:

A recent graduate talks about her experiences getting a masters degree in technical communication

Should I get a graduate degree in technical writing? Interviews with those who have

A master’s degree worked well for me when I was a 22-year-old with a BS in Chemistry in hand. The summer prior to my senior year, I had completed a 3-month job as an analytical lab technician. When I found myself more interested in reading the manuals for the spectrophotometer than running tests for eight hours on second shift, I found out more about technical writing graduate programs. Miami University’s Masters of Technical and Scientific Communication degree program turned out to be the best combination of the practical, technical, and theoretical skills you’d need to transition from any undergraduate degree to technical communication.

Whenever I bring up this topic at lunchtime discussion or on email lists, the classic argument surfaces – learn by doing, or learn by being taught? I don’t take a side in that argument – I can offer examples of success either way. The pathways to a technical communicator job are winding and varied. You can learn a lot about choosing your path by talking to those who have gotten there in many different ways.


  • Cat
    November 26, 2008 - 11:32 pm | Permalink

    I think getting a masters when you already have a similar undergrad is like putting all your eggs in one basket. I’m feeling like the future for American tech writers is gloomy with off shoring growing more all the time. She’d be smart to have a plan B.

    (Seriously, I’m not always this glum.)

  • November 28, 2008 - 9:06 pm | Permalink

    Yep, I’d agree with that sentiment as well – why go with a graduate program if your undergrad degree is in technical communication already? Then again, graduate studies should probably be something you want to pursue in more depth, though, so if you had some incredible research idea I wouldn’t stop you. 🙂 I’m a terrible help for deciding anything life-changing since I see a pathway from here to there no matter what the here is or the there is. 🙂

  • September 15, 2011 - 8:33 am | Permalink

    Well, here’s a couple of reasons I can think of: if you are interested in shifting your career focus more toward leadership, graduate credentialing can certainly help establish your credibility. You are going to find that many graduate programs will include coursework in communications project management or process management. It may seem a bit cliched to say it, but I think there’s a good argument to be made that bachelors level degree focus more on production-related issues, whereas a strong graduate program should blend some production oriented courses with a curriculum that develops higher-level management & development skills.

    Second reason: there needs to be a stronger connection between our profession and our academic field. The point of meaningful contact, I believe, is applied research. I would love to see more graduate programs in technical communication (and information design and instructional design and…and…) working with industry to build those bridges. Having practitioners in the field who have that advanced degree, and who can deploy meaningful and effective applied research, will perhaps counteract the “gloomy future” for tech writers limited to production-level jobs.

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