In this week’s the PR Students Experience, we’re going international! I spoke to Rhea Mathew who studied her MA in Communications Studies at Indiana University after graduating from her BA in Communications, English and Psychology. Rhea graduated in 2016 so this is about her experience 5 years ago and things have certainly changed since then.
In The PR Students Experience we delve into past and present PR students’ modules & topics, course structure, universities’ guidance on how to enter the PR industry, career help, how they’re finding work in the industry and plans for the future.
Course structure and modules
Rhea’s bachelors degree was a triple major over three years. Communications included all elements of broadcast, PR, radio and journalism. English looked at different specialisms e.g., British literature, English literature and Indian literature. For psychology she studied developmental psychology, industrial psychology, and lots of other areas. Each semester of each year included modules on all three majors and they would progressively get harder with heavier topics.
Unlike here in England, every year of university in America counts towards your grade. This includes first year through to final year and even attendance. At the end of every year you need to have a minimum of 75% attendance.
Assessments in Rhea’s undergrad did include exams which seems to be a norm in American degrees. No one I have spoken to so far has had exams for PR, only assignments. However, she did study english and psychology which contained most of the exams.
Her masters was focused in communications studies and after the 2 years Rhea wrote her thesis on improving communications and social media for a particular institution within her university. Rhea mentioned that her masters involved a lot of the things she was taught during her undergrad, however, her masters degree involved a lot more research.
Gaining experience during university
Rhea’s undergraduate degree was more practical based which included internships during the summer. Her first internship was with a journalism company and her second was with a PR company. These internships also added to her final grade which is a great motivation as you’re gaining experience and getting a good grade.
Was the course up to date?
Rhea said “at the time, my course was up to date. Now, not so much.” She proceeded to say the world has completely changed so a lot of things she learnt are no longer relevant. However, she mentioned that having that foundation of knowledge has been useful. Rhea thinks universities need to get up to date and include new things in their courses, like handling trolls and crisis comms on social media. She didn’t think they were doing enough and that she went looking elsewhere for extra information.
Her university is starting to reinvent the masters courses and have realised students need to learn how to handle today’s topics.
What did Rhea wish she had been taught more about?
Rhea said, “during my undergrad I wish I had been taught more about crises and how to handle a crisis. PR is not this rosey bed of glitz and glamour…but it’s not that, there’s a lot of hard work behind it.”
She wishes she was taught that side of PR more as they were taught to believe it was something it’s not.
Her courses didn’t include PR measurement and Rhea said that in her first job she had no idea how to measure her work.
What Rhea is up to now
When she finished her masters degree, Rhea got her first job pretty quickly at HP as a global communications manager for one year and internal comms for 2 years. After that she decided to try something new and joined a fellowship programme in the US at a global women’s media publishing startup doing social media management.
She used her free time to take online courses to develop her learning and has certificates from Yale and University of Toronto. During the first lockdown Rhea took a digital marketing course which has helped with her work.
Most recently, she has joined Battenhall as a social media manager. She’s enjoying her new role at the agency!
Rhea said that one thing leads to another but her advice would be to never stop learning. Whether that be online courses or go back to university, there’s always room to learn.
If you’d like to be involved in The PR Students Experience then feel free to email me at email@example.com or DM me on Twitter! I’d love to talk to students across the country and the world to see what we are taught about PR at university.
In my next post on The PR Students Experience, I talk to Ella McLaren who’s in her second year of a BA in PR at University of the Arts London.