The Student

Graduate School Experience

by Ruth Marcom, Graduate Student in the MSPWTC program at UHD

Sometime during the winter of 2005, I was lamenting to my husband that I needed something to challenge me and get me out of the daily rut I had carved out for myself. “Well, what would you be interested in?” he asked. I made a couple of broad suggestions and went on about my business. The next day he called me at work to tell me that the University of Houston Downtown had a master’s program in professional writing. He suggested I might want to consider doing that. Now that I’m completing my final semester in the program, I view that suggestion as one of the best he ever gave me.

When I called to find out about the program, Dr. Molly Johnson welcomed me and advised that I had to really hustle if I wanted to start during the spring semester of 2006. I was very interested in taking the class called “Ethical and Legal Dimensions of Professional Communication” that was being offered that spring, so I hurriedly put my application together and hoped they would say yes. Fortunately for me, they did accept my application, and I enrolled in this class and one other I was interested in called “Advanced Medical Writing.” I elected to take only two classes since I had a full-time job to manage. I have found this to be a common situation among my classmates as well.

At that point, my anticipated graduation date in 2008 seemed a long way off. I thought that taking only six hours per semester would make the program seem long and drawn-out. In retrospect, however, these 36 hours have gone quickly. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you that I’m an “older” student. My son had moved out on his own several years before I began tossing around for this challenge. So you would think correctly that I was really nervous about beginning graduate school after such a lengthy absence from the challenge of academia.

To my relief and delight, I found the class environment as stimulating as I expected. Moreover, the program is supportive of students who attend classes and hold down jobs. Classes meet one night each week, and some are even offered fully online. I discovered that I could keep up, and as the semester progressed, I found that I enjoyed the challenge and even had some ideas to contribute to class discussion. Because of Dr. Stephanie Turner’s excellent mentoring and constructive criticism, my writing and critical thinking skills began to improve. The next summer, I wanted to take a course about scientific research at Baylor College of Medicine. When I asked about applying this class to my graduate program, I found that the UHD master’s program allows up to 6 hours credit for courses taken outside the program, with approval from the program director. Chalk up 3 more hours!

The next semester I signed up for two of the four core courses required by the program—Rhetorical Theory and Criticism and the Proseminar in Professional and Technical Communication. In these classes, I examined the rhetorical basis of communication and read some of the fundamental writing in the “tech comm” field. The next semester I took Technical Editing, an elective, and Visual Design, another core course. Following that, I signed up for Instructional Design and registered for my capstone research. Unbelievably, I had already arrived at my final semester.

I now had to choose whether to take my final nine hours and graduate in May or plan a more relaxed path to a December graduation date. If I chose to graduate in May, 2008, I needed to take my two remaining classes AND write my capstone project. As with my earlier semesters, I wanted to take the courses being offered because they would dovetail so perfectly with my capstone project. I decided to go for it. What else could I do? It was just not possible for me to turn down such an opportunity.

So now you know the story of how I found the program and how I progressed through it. There are many other paths through the program and other courses I wish I could have taken. Regardless, I am completing the program having accrued many benefits. First, I haven’t been bored in more than two years—not a small thing. I’ve improved my writing and my document design. I can’t say enough good things about the visual design and instructional design courses for improving document design acumen. Oh, that’s another thing—I’m remembering some of the more expressive words I used to use. I have new computer skills, new analytical skills, and new management skills, to name only a few of the areas of growth I’ve experienced. I’ve made many new friends, both among my fellow students and my professors. I can discuss current theoretical thought with my husband who, by the way, is finishing his master’s degree in Archaeology and Geographic Information Systems at the University of Houston main campus. I’ve become a more productive employee, so my employer is also benefiting. I couldn’t have accomplished these things without professors who were dedicated, competent, and excited professionals.

Perhaps the most important benefit is that I am a more confident, more outgoing person now. I feel great about what I’ve accomplished and the new knowledge and skills I have acquired. I’ve had excellent experiences in this program, and I would heartily recommend it. Even if this doesn’t happen to be the program that turns you on, I nevertheless suggest that you look around for one that will challenge and interest you. I can vouch for the benefits of pursuing such a challenge!

About the Author

Ruth is a Senior Administrative Assistant in the Credentialing and Quality Assurance Department at Baylor College of Medicine. Her primary responsibilities include supporting faculty members in obtaining and maintaining their managed care credentialing, hospital privileges, and provider enrollment with government payers. Ruth is in her final semester of the MSPWTC program at UHD.