A holiday blog

It’s been an action-packed three months, to say the least. I’ve started and completed a quarter of my MSC degree at Northwestern. In that same period of time, my company has moved offices (just two floors, but it’s a thing!). My yoga practice has suffered. Winter wasn’t coming and then it arrived without ringing the doorbell. As if in deep empathy to all of this, my Mini Cooper refused to purr to life two cold nights ago. Could it be, like me, on a well-deserved holiday break?

In my last blog entry I promised some key takeaways from my elective, Foundations of Strategic Communication Management with Professor Randy Iden. Here are a holiday handful (including a few inside jokes–take the class to collect them all!):

  • To be “boundaryless” as an organization is to tear down hierarchical and horizontal walls (horizontal walls?) only to build them up again when no one’s doing their real job, or everyone’s trying to do everyone else’s job. Managers: If you want to move walls at your whim, call them “fences” so it seems fairer. (I like to picture picket fences.)
  • PR can and will do basically want it wants to optimize a business image, but it would be wise to consider it at least feigning to be dialogic. It gets you brownie points, especially in today’s feedback economy.
  • Being dialogic (talking and listening) makes you vulnerable. That’s why we must force ourselves to do it intentionally, like yogic breathwork. What if they say something you don’t want to hear?! What if they say it so loudly that other stakeholders (employees, shareholders, customers) hear it, and start throwing in their two cents (or cashing out their stock)?
  • Now that everyone (except for Trader Joe’s and its delicious Cookie Butter) is on social media and thus totally beholden to responding to incidents instantaneously, it’s painful but pragmatic to consider your brand in a state of “permanent crisis.” Now you can staff for it!

Quips aside, I learned a lot in my first quarter of the MSC program–and I’m excited to get back into the routine after holiday break. To my wonderful cohort (many of whom I’ll see tonight at our program party), cheers! To my husband, friends, and incredibly patient two cats: buckle up. You’ve got my undivided attention for the next three weeks.

Jennifer Lindner

MSC Class of 2017

Staff Spotlight: A Conversation with Toby Cortelyou

Toby Cortelyou is the Director of Enrollment Management and Strategic Initiatives for the MSC.  Toby joined the MSC team in the fall of 2015 and is responsible for the admissions and marketing efforts of the MSC program.  He is an alumnus of the MSC class of 2012.

Why did you decide to come work for MSC at Northwestern?

My career has been mostly in higher education marketing and admissions, promoting the value propositions of the places I have worked for. I wanted the opportunity to do that for the MSC program because I truly believe in importance of what is taught here. I love being around people who are smarter than me, and there’s no shortage of that around here. Now that I work for MSC, I can walk down the hall and interact with amazing  faculty and colleagues every day.

Why did you decide to attend MSC at Northwestern as a student? What makes it unique?

The curriculum was exactly what I was looking for. The frameworks, formats, tools, and everything else we learned exposed me to tons of new ideas and allowed me to take them back to  my workplace. I  feel like I have always been an intuitively decent communicator, but the research, theory, and knowledge I  was exposed to backed up my intuition. Understanding exactly why certain techniques and strategies were more effective made my communication even more impactful. For example, imagine taking a social media class five years ago: much of what you would have learned is irrelevant today. However, the fundamental concepts of understanding an audience and how to communicate with them elegantly are timeless. Regardless of what the mode of communication is, the art of communication is going to be with you forever. Of course, it would be a mistake to not recognize the importance of the Northwestern network. People see the Northwestern name on your resume and know you’ve been someplace special and have earned the degree. It’s not just in the name, though. Part of what makes the network work is in experiencing the program with your classmates. This year alone, we have students dozens of industries, multiple cultural backgrounds and even three different generations represented in the classroom. You see groups of people willing to share, succeed and even fail together. A person may contribute, “This is how we communicate in my world.” Or “This is how I do things,” and we take these ideas and try to land on some indisputable truths and find that certain things are consistent across cultures and time.

What is your favorite aspect of the MSC program at Northwestern?

The people. One aspect that I think doesn’t get enough attention is making new connections along the way. I got to know students and faculty on a personal basis. The professors here aren’t just talking heads, they are actually invested in your success.  If you’re interested in moving from one place to another professionally, there is always someone you can call. For example, a year after the program, I got a promotion where I would be supervising people that had previously been my peers. It was an uncomfortable  situation. Going into it, I was confident I had a good strategy in place, but I wanted to double check if anyone had advice. So, I sent an email to Professor Roloff basically asking, “What might happen, what should I look out for?” Within 24 hours I got this 3 page email back with research on what could happen and advice on what to do. Everything he said came true. That resource, the people I built relationships with, is invaluable.

How have you grown from the program?

In terms of the curriculum, I loved the “Leveraging and Understanding Networks” course I took. I grew from being an intuitive communicator, to being much more deliberate and strategic in how I view organizations I’m a part of. Even in my personal networks like family and friends, I’ve grown in a way to be able to identify how information moves and then impact it. The course alone really help me grow my view of life professionally and personally, and how I lived. My interaction with my classmates also expanded my worldview. I saw them not just as academic classmates, but as close friends I could have fun with. You can’t help but to grow when engaging with as diverse a group of people as are in the MSC Program.

Admissions Interview

The application to the MSC program at Northwestern University is fairly standard.  We ask you to submit a resume, essay, recommendations, transcripts (no GRE or GMAT though) – and we conduct an admissions interview.

The interview can be a source of anxiety for some applicants but that is not necessary.  I would like to briefly explain what you can expect during an admissions interview and some general do’s and don’ts.

What you can expect:

The interview is an extension of the application in the form of a conversation.  You can expect to interview with a member of the MSC Admission Committee – usually an MSC staff member.  The interview environment is collegial (no pun intended). We’re not going to try to trick you or stump you, we’re not going to ask you any questions you don’t already know the answer to because all of the answers will be about you and your experience and opinions. 

You can expect questions about your background.  You might be asked for more detail about a piece of your resume or portion of your essay.  You can expect to be asked about your motivations for applying to the program and how you hope to contribute to your classmates.  You will also be given an opportunity to ask any final questions you might have about the program during the interview.

Do’s and Don’ts:

Do – show up early
Don’t – show up more than 15 minutes early

Do – have some questions ready for the interviewer
Don’t – ask basic questions that you should know the answer to by spending 2 minutes on our website.

Do – be genuine
Don’t – try to guess what we want to hear

Do – dress professionally
Don’t – wear a tuxedo or evening gown

Think of the interview as an opportunity for us all to get to know each other better.  The MSC program is a very diverse place with students from dozens of industries and cultures alike.  The interview is your chance to help us understand where you fit in the program.

We look forward to meeting you!

Toby Cortelyou
Director Enrollment Management and Strategic Initiatives

Communication School Career Options

The decision to choose a communication program is never easy.   You may be thinking about the types of jobs available after your program of study.  You may have questions about the return on your investment.  These are all valid questions when you begin thinking about the types of jobs you might be qualified for after your graduate program.

The MSC program gives students the flexibility to take classes online or on Saturdays.  This means you can focus on your current position and gain new skills to transition into a new role (and not loose out on a year’s income!). You can also use the time to build up your portfolio of skills and use the school year to network with Northwestern alumni to make the connections you need for an all-important career transition.

I coach students each week and help them evaluate their career options. Many times coaching can come down to helping someone see their potential.  It’s becoming more common for people to change jobs or positions every couple of years.  These means job seekers constantly need to evaluate and revaluate their potential as they change positions.  That type of movement, whether vertical or horizontal, means each role will require new skills and force you to pull from your reservoir of talents. The job (or jobs) you take after you complete your MSC degree may change from what you initially want to do.  The fact you have a master’s degree from Northwestern will open new doors for you, but ultimately it means your ability to think critically and communicate effectively will give you the foundation to succeed in any career you choose.

Michael Johnson
Associate Director EPICS


Faculty Spotlight: A Conversation with Northwestern MSC Professor Michael Roloff

Michael Roloff received his Ph.D. in Communication from Michigan State University. He joined the faculty at Northwestern in 1978.roloff_michaelMichael Roloff’s research and teaching interests center around interpersonal influence. He has published articles and offers courses focused on persuasion, interpersonal compliance-gaining, conflict management, organizational change, and bargaining and negotiation. His current research is focused on conflict avoidance and serial arguing in intimate relationships, the interpretation and construction of persuasive messages, and the effects of planning and alternatives on negotiation processes. This is his 33rd year teaching for MSC and 38th year teaching at Northwestern.

How are MSC students different from your other students?

Their motivation. For undergraduates, class is usually their first exposure to anything in depth. So when it comes to things like organizational change, you can only make them more familiar. When you go to PhD level, most students just want to do research. MSC students, however, are very interested in application and how they can use this stuff. They have a wealth of background because they are out there working on the experiential level. They want to know what they can do on the job that can make a difference. They have the knowledge base and the broader interest, which is lacking at the PhD and undergraduate level.

Was this new to you?

I expected it because when I was in graduate school, I took a job teaching army recruiters. They wanted to know about applied persuasion and how to get someone to join the army. Thus, I knew going into teaching for MSC that there were people out there who didn’t exist in university settings and who were interested in ideas that worked and were applicable to their context. It was refreshing when I got back into teaching.

Can you talk a little bit about the class you teach for MSC and the main takeaways for your students?
I teach Change Management. It’s basically organizational change. In the first part of the course I work on persuasion, attitude change, and bargaining negotiation. In the second half of the course, I talk about change strategies, reactions employees have to change, and how people can resist change. In terms of my goals, I want students to get important research based information they can use. I also want to make it entertaining. The course is incredibly cathartic, and I get a chance to rant and rave about the injustice in the workplace and they get a chance to rant the same way to me. There’s a tension in organizational change. Organizations obviously have problems, but the problem is change agents approach it in an unrealistic way. Anything you do has costs to it, and one problem is we don’t always look at the costs of change, but just its benefits.

Plus another problem I try to stress with students is that there aren’t that many new ideas. Every generation suffers from the problem of thinking that they’re doing something new. We’ve been such change oriented and addicted. Organizational change and innovation has such a positive connotation. If we’re not doing something, it’s because we’ve already done it. What has happened is people change the titles and labels. If you’re an old buffalo, it’s easy to detect if a bad idea is coming back. If you don’t have the experience, you can’t recognize it’s a camouflaged pack.

So I do a lot of stuff like that. It’s really me just trying to be grounded. It’s not all dark. Almost any organizational change structure will work in the right circumstances. The challenge is figuring out what those circumstances are.

I have done some consulting with corporations and I’ve read a lot of papers about failed organizational change. Some of what I teach is based on direct experience, some is vicarious, and some is just my own research. My research is generally focused on how you influence people, persuasion research, bargaining and negotiation research, and conflict research. But I am not solely interested in organizational change.

All the assignments are applied, so students write two papers and ask them to take a failed organizational change that they’ve heard about, experienced, or have been in charge of. They take some aspect of the perspectives we talk about and devise a plan that would’ve worked. I take a very pragmatic approach. I want to know what their goals were, why they were trying to create the change, what they did wrong, what class indicates they should’ve done better, and how they know whether it would work.

One of the best comments I’ve ever gotten from a student at our last class last year was: “When I came in here, I thought anyone who opposed change was just a curmudgeon, or some old nasty person. After spending 10 weeks in your class, I’m beginning to wonder if the people who are promoting change are just in it for themselves. These are the people we should be especially concerned about.” I immediately went, “I’ve accomplished my goal! I’ve made you even handed.” Because that’s my ultimate goal for my students: they’ve got to learn how to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of both sides when thinking about change.

What makes Northwestern MSC different from other Masters in Communications programs?

Many programs are very narrow in their focus. There was a time when many communication departments were eclectic. Yet, over the last 10 to 15 years, departments have become more narrowly focused. I believe this is under the change mantra: if you can’t do everything well, do one thing well.

The MSC program is the one program where we haven’t gotten that narrow. It is more eclectic. It’s the one program where various faculty members work together when they normally don’t work together outside of MSC. It’s truly interdisciplinary. I have MSC colleagues who don’t do anything like my research, but we can put together something that works.

We also have very broad programming, so we get a combination of people in various markets. All our students are smart, willing to put in extra time to get things done, and very interested in application.

Any generally interesting or unique research or projects that you specifically have been working on through the program that alumni or prospective students might like to know about?

I just finished directing dissertations. We’ve done a lot of studies focused on serial arguing: the tendency of people in relationships to argue about same things over and over again. A lot of the research is focused on how it makes them physically sick, and how conflict can adversely hurt your health. For example, it takes longer for a cut to heal if you just had an argument with your significant other versus a pleasant experience.

For organizational change at the undergraduate level, we also look at how organizational stress and health problems emerge. We explore presenteeism, and the problem of sick employees dragging themselves to work instead of staying home. Organizations are put in positions to convince employees it would be a good idea to not come into work sick.

How many Classes do I need to earn a Masters in Communication?

Completing the Northwestern MSC degree can be viewed a few different ways. 

  • The communication masters curriculum requirements indicate you must complete nine (9) credits. Each credit is one course. 
  • The masters in communication length is designed to be completed in one (1) academic year – from September to August. 
  • The MS Communication hours depend on which delivery model you choose:

The Custom Leadership Program (CLP) meets for 36 Saturdays from 9:30am – 5:00pm over the course of one year. This includes two 3-hour classes and an executive lunch where co-curricular opportunities are offered. Each week you are in class for a total of 6 hours. You may also have approximately 5 – 10 hours of work outside of class per week. This ebbs and flows and also varies with the elective courses you choose. 

The Hybrid Leadership Program (HLP) consists of a seven 5-week and four 1-week asynchronous online classes. You take one class at a time with a minimum of a weeklong break in between. Each week of class is designed to have approximately 6 – 8 hours of work within the class portal. Prep work and assignments may take more time. Additionally, you are required to attend four “In Residence Seminars.” Generally, these are 2.5 days on the Evanston campus with your cohort. 

Both the CLP and the HLP also complete a culminating Capstone project that counts as one full credit toward their degree requirements.

Regardless of which model you choose, you will complete nine credits to earn your Master in Communication Degree.  

Amy Hauenstein
Director of Curriculum and Non-Degree Programs


What communication degree will best benefit my career?

Employer surveys, including the most recent from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), indicate that communication skills, both verbal and written are highly desirable.  Nearly 70% of employers surveyed said the ability to communicate verbally was an attribute they seek in candidates.  Written communication skills were equally important. 

Choosing a master’s program can be a difficult process.  As a working professional you have to consider the time commitment and a broad range of classes designed to have a real impact on your professional career.

Graduate school has traditionally been focused on a two-year format. Full-time classes can mean you are taking yourself out of the job market for two years and losing out on career growth and having to adjust to several years of reduced income.

There are several types of communication degrees you may want to consider. Your initial searches may bring up master’s degrees in communication that relate to journalism, public relations or marketing. The MSC program focuses its curriculum on three outcomes that employers consistently agree are skills employees truly need in today’s competitive business environment: managing complexity, collaborative leadership and elegant communication.  These concepts are directly applicable to many careers and teach students many of the soft skills that employers are looking for in candidates.  

The MSC program at Northwestern is designed specifically to accommodate your busy life.  The graduate curriculum offers two flexible options for today’s working professionals. For those with an experienced management background, the Hybrid Leadership Program features a mix of online courses and four, three day “sessions” on campus featuring workshops and hands-on learning.   The Custom Leadership Program is a four quarter Saturday-only program. Students take two classes a quarter and receive a master’s degree in one year. Both programs give you the flexibility to remain in your current position while taking classes.

Whether you are thinking of the hybrid or custom leadership programs, MSC students and graduates are able to see a real impact on their careers by teaching the skills employers are looking for most in qualified candidates.

Michael Johnson
Associate Director EPICS

The Art of Untangling a Crisis

I was late to the party that is Scandal. Over the summer, I watched five episodes of Olivia Pope expertly turn crisis situations around before I gave up. All said and done, it pepped me up to learn about the world of crisis communication in my elective, Foundations of Strategic Communication Management.

There is a whole science to handling public crises completely unbeknownst to the average Joe.  It requires an intricate mix of strategic communication, audience vetting and medium management.  There are a myriad of concepts to consider: Instructing information, adjusting information, reputation repair, secondary crisis communication, crisis reaction, etc.  It’s no simple task, certainly, and it seems to take a special sort of skill. Of course, in line with all preconceptions about the communications and media field, you can’t help but wonder whether it is really for public pacification or for self-preservation. Perhaps, it varies under different circumstances but exploring the literature behind it definitely helps create a different perspective.

While we often connect crisis communication to corporates, the field also encapsulates other phenomena. For example, earlier this month, Bermuda—yes, the entire country—won four elite British awards for fighting to eliminate its label as a tax haven.  Similarly, Panama also hired a crisis communication firm to weather the storm in the aftermath of the Panama Papers leak.  Public information about natural disasters also comes under the umbrella of crisis communication–who would have thought?

While the work of crisis communicators naturally comes under scrutiny, it is fascinating to see the breadth of their work and the different opportunities that emerge. At the end of the day, whether it is self-preservation or genuinely public pacification, we all do rely on crisis communicators to let us know, in some small way, that everything will be okay.

Madhurya Manohar
MSC Class of 2017

MSC Elective: Foundations of Strategic Communication Management

“Strategic communication.” Eight weeks ago, my mental picture of this concept was some amusing hybrid of Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush impersonation (“strate…gery”) and that Seinfeld episode where George jbtdlzr-2
Costanza is forced by his boss to back up his mastery of “risk management” (and so turns to a book on tape for help). I’ve learned a lot since then,
but my Buzzfeedy brain hasn’t been completely rewired. Professor Randy Iden gets the inherent hilarity of the academic vocab—and loves Larry David enterprises, too. We talk Seinfeld. We talk Curb Your Enthusiasm.

So, what is strategic communication? In this writer’s opinion, strategic communication is not just a C-suite euphemism for pushy business talk, but a pervasive phenomenon you’ll see throughout your organization at every level. In fact, I guarantee you use it, too. If you’ve ever omitted information to spare feelings, hung your hat a bit con-ven-ient-ly on a company mission statement, or walked employees or colleagues through anything new or uncomfortable using really careful language—well, you’ve been a tad strategic, haven’t you? Don’t feel too guilty. Strategic communication, while it has an acknowledged dark side (commonly identified as bold-faced lying!), is often hugely necessary even when it’s a maybe little evil. It can often do a lot of good for an organization (or maybe just your own work welfare).

Now that I’ve convinced you that you need this product, stay tuned for my next blog entry: a list of concepts I’ve learned in class, translated into (basically) conversational language. If this week’s political climes have you dreading Thanksgiving dinner conversation as much as I am, then I hope these grab-and-go conversation-starters (like “so, what’s the deal with airplane peanuts…and boundaryless organizations?”) will serve us all well. Otherwise, just be strategic and bring really chewy stuffing.

Jennifer Lindner
MSC Class of 2017


What industries is the NU MSC program best suited for?

MSC students come from a variety of professional backgrounds. The diversity of their work experiences creates a vibrant class culture allowing lectures to draw upon that diversity.  Every industry needs strong, effective communicators. Whether you are interested in Health Communication or Finance, the ability to create messaging and connect with an audience is paramount in today’s competitive business environment.

The School of Communication understands that MSC students require a curriculum design that is flexible and adaptable.  That is one of this program’s biggest strengths. Time and again, employers mention that communication skills, and other “soft skills” are what they seek in employees and applicants. And this is across industries.

MSC’s curriculum design consistently stands the test of time. It challenges students to see themselves as communications experts. And since we communicate to stakeholders every day, the impact from your studies can be seen immediately. From health communication to consulting, crafting messages specifically honed for an intended audience, are vital in virtually every industry.  

As the program’s career coach, I meet with students frequently who are seeking to use the program as the catapult to enter a new field. Each coaching session draws upon a student’s unique background and the skills they’ve developed from the program. Each of the industries they are exploring are searching for many of the same qualities: someone who is seen as a leader, an effective communicator and has strategic vision.  As an MSC student, the course content is applicable to many industries and gives you the ability to propel your career forward. 

Michael Johnson
Associate Director
MSC External Programs, Internships, & Career Services