Looking For the Perfect Fit
For many students the IE program can solidify an already chosen life plan and start the path to making it a reality; for students like myself it can change their entire future goal. I always knew that I wanted to continue school after obtaining my undergraduate degree, but I began this internship originally leaning more toward law school than anything else. From this internship, I simply wanted to learn more about a field of study, interpersonal communication, that already interested me, get a feel for what a graduate workload was like and sample graduate study just to make sure that it was not a better fit. I still had a few trepidations that law school would not be the right fit--sometimes it pays to listen to your gut. With the help of my experiences in the pre-graduate school internship, I came to fully realize what I had known all along: I enjoy being a student. Asking questions, learning new theories, discussing my own beliefs, explaining to others what I knew--I did not want to give those things up and with graduate work I don't have to. If I did not have the hands-on experience of the IE internship, it would have taken me much longer to come to this conclusion if I even would have. Among my various adventures during the course of the semester, the experiences I value most exposed graduate study to me through three primary lenses: the world of Communication Studies research, the graduate student class setting, and the graduate student community.
Out of all my endeavors during this internship, working on and learning about academic research represented the biggest challenge for me, but ultimately contributed to a greater understanding for me of a key aspect of graduate study. Depending on the type of university/research facility you pursue your graduate study at, research can be more crucial to you than any class you take or paper you write. Graduate study takes the act of learning to a whole other level; your existing knowledge of a topic leads you to ask new questions and create new knowledge in your chosen discipline. That can be extremely thrilling and also extremely scary, especially for a lowly undergraduate in awe of the insightful research in her field. The mark of excellent research, in my opinion, is that it at once seems so reasonable and self-evident, yet you are amazed at how the researcher originated that thought.
My graduate mentor, Gary Beck, specializes in dating and relationships in the field of interpersonal communication, and so our research analysis surrounded that focus. We specifically concentrated on trajectory patterns in dating relationships, and what relationship paths lead to long lasting commitment and what paths lead to ultimate disaster. In the initial stage of our study, I read existing literature on two divisions of relationship types, relationship-driven and event-driven. This first phase, learning about someone else's academic work was both interesting (there is nothing more applicable to the real world than charting the path of a failed relationship) and reassuring. I had comprehended new theories before; it was routine. Relationship-driven relationships evolve over a longer period of time based on compatibility factors and increased interdependence, disclosure and other typical indicators of a progressing relationship. Event-driven relationships are seen often as of the more passionate, volatile variety. Partners experience intense highs and lows of satisfaction and commitment depending on temporary circumstances that serve to either reinforce or shake the relationship. Developing an internal definition of a new topic of study takes time but once secured has a level of certainty; developing a research question flies only on the will of the researcher. When Gary and I began shifting our work toward probing new terrain in what we had already studied, it amazed me that what was once a seemingly inconsequential idea bouncing around in my head could possibly transform into a legitimate voice on a topic for others to discuss. I had always wondered what it was about research that was so alluring to graduate students and professors that it became the most important part of their work--research stands as the ultimate source of intellectual empowerment. No measly "A" can top that. If while studying a topic, something strikes me as interesting, odd or in need of clarification, I can follow that whim until it turns into something powerful and solid on its own without certainty and legitimacy installed by others. Research allows a person to pull out those assumptions and insights we harness in our worldview and validate them for ourselves and for others. Suddenly your thoughts are more than just your own personal ramblings; they have a mind of their own.
As much as I enjoyed my research experience though, the most exciting time in my internship came during my visits to three graduate school classes in organizational communication, interpersonal communication and rhetoric. Not only was I excited to witness the structure of a graduate school classroom and discover if it was really for me, but I was monitoring classes with two professors whose reputations precede them and that I wanted to see in action, Dr. John Daly and Dr. Joshua Gunn. I was surprised and happy to note that just as the graduate classes I visited offered a variety of topics they also offered a variety of classroom settings, something I don't think you really get to experience much in undergraduate education. The first class I attended, Communication and Organizational Change with Dr. Laurie Lewis, was an example of a small seminar style class with approximately ten people. Rather than lecturing her students, Dr. Lewis conducted the class almost as a roundtable discussion of various academic articles on organizational communication. (My class dealt with successful innovation implementation into organizations.) The students were able to critique each article's arguments, raise unanswered questions and verbally follow the topic to new areas of inquiry. This class appeared like the perfect jumping off point for a new article or research question. Dr. Daly's Applied Interpersonal Theory class offered a different teaching environment more reminiscent of a lecture hall, which is essentially the perfect place for a scholar as knowledgeable as he is to share his nuggets of wisdom to be applied to various real world situations. His students were comprised of both Communication Studies and Business students, which I though was probably an interesting mix of perspectives. My favorite class, however, was Rhetoric and Psychoanalysis with Dr. Gunn. Although I was thoroughly confused for at least half of the lecture trying to decipher the complexities of Lacanian psychoanalysis, I found the whole class interesting, especially since rhetoric is the communications field that I believe I want to study. Dr. Gunn's class was a perfect lecture/discussion hybrid with a small number of students but a significant lecture component in order to make sense of the labyrinth of psychoanalytic works the class explored. The class also included at the end an editing/discussion circle where students could bring their course assignments to be audited by the class. Despite the three different classroom styles and subjects I encountered, all of the classes exhibited one of the chief benefits of graduate education: a more intimate and unique learning atmosphere.
Even without the umbrella of the IE program, I could have possibly engaged in some undergraduate research or attended a graduate class, but my informal yet invaluable exposure to the Communication Studies graduate community was a privilege that without the internship would not have been possible. The sheer range of scholars with which I was able to interact, from a wide range of interests, all resulted from my connections with the IE program. I talked with graduate students from all the different divisions of Communication Studies research, rhetoric, organizational and interpersonal. I was even able to take advantage of some of the state-of-the-art research facilities of the Human Development and Family Sciences department. My experience clued me in on one of the greatest benefits of graduate study: exposure to a talented group of individuals from all different backgrounds and interests who happen to love academics as much as you do. Everyone I met and worked with was so kind and open about graduate student life; rumors abound about graduate school that often only someone who has lived through the process can correct. As a mentor Gary was an invaluable source of the information one needs to survive in graduate school but that you are not necessarily going to find in a brochure: working with faculty, taking criticism, time management strategies, etc. All the little tips and tricks of the trade that are only realized and developed after years of experience. As an IE intern, I even got to sample some of the sacrifices required initially by graduate students. I mostly worked in the Communication Studies graduate student offices in UA9, a building eerily reminiscent of the hotel in Psycho. From my experiences I've learned that in graduate study it's the scholarship that initially draws you in but it is the camaraderie of colleagues that will help you survive.
I personally found the IE program so rewarding and helpful in my exploration of graduate scholarship, because the parameters of the internship allowed me to sample and accomplish so much within a short period of time and while in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. Graduate study requires a lot of planning and soul-searching before one decides to devote his/her life to it, and the specialized nature of each internship, working one-on-one with a graduate or faculty mentor, allows a person to explore, question and grow without fear, not unlike the entire graduate school experience itself.