What I can write with confidence, after my first semester of studying Strategic Communication, is that I am glad I decided to enrol in this degree. In February 2020 I knew I loved podcasting, and I knew I wanted to understand why the government communications about the Australian bushfires and looming COVID-19 pandemic were so ineffective, and when I discovered the Master of Media (Strategic Communication) I was excited that I had found a way to develop what I already knew about media while also learning entirely new things. After deciding to enrol, I just had to wait for a chance to incorporate study into everything else I do.
I went to my first class as a Masters student (in March 2021) with a high degree of trepidation, not knowing what it would be like to be a University student after nearly twenty years of being a University lecturer and tutor. I quickly confirmed that I love to learn, even if I don’t like studying, and that there is plenty of material that interests me in the degree.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned during my first semester is that what you are being taught is less important than what you can do with it. I learned a lot about managing reputation during the semester, but, more significantly, learning about this motivated me to read more widely and deeply. This has resulted in me becoming interested in what Robert Ringer calls Posture, as well as in the implications of the difference between value and price.
Robert Ringer, Winning Through Intimidation:
www.audible.com.au/pd/Winning-through-Intimidation-Audiobook/1705242 642?qid=1623291186&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=771c6463-05d7 -4981-9b47-920dc34a70f1&pf_rd_r=JYH6VQ2AXQKMFXP2WAWS
Being a student has exposed me to material that I doubt I would have read in my own time, which has led me to material that I wish I had read years ago. Importantly, I have learned that key issues and concepts discussed in one discipline have normally been investigated by other disciplines, and exposure to these new perspectives can have a very positive impact on your depth of knowledge. I knew I had a good grounding in philosophical and psychological literature related to character and value before I started studying this year, but, after reading media literature, my understanding is now deeper and more nuanced.
In contrast, I have also confirmed my existing awareness that University disciplines can become lost in their own abstractions and reification. As a Politics and International Relations lecturer and tutor, I was regularly frustrated that much of the material being taught had lost its connection to reality, and didn’t seem to know (or want) to reconnect with the world we live in. Media literature on Risk and Crisis Communication is similarly abstract, and does not appear to recognise that there is plenty of Psychological, High Reliability, and Human Performance literature and practice that would help to ground Risk and Crisis Communication in quantifiable situational awareness and best practice. Since I have years of experience teaching High Reliability and Human Performance material to University students and clients, I think I now know what needs to be done to help organisations improve their Risk and Crisis Communications.
As part of my studies, I was able to undertake an internship with Andy Martin and Liam Carter at the Auscast Network.
I will be forever grateful for Andy and Liam believing in Tim and me, and for hosting Blind Insights and Blind Drunk on the Auscast Network. I have learned so much about the practical side of producing and disseminating content during my internship, and I now have a much deeper understanding of the constant balancing act between creativity and financial viability that media companies have to manage. I definitely want to do more media work in future, and I now know that I have more to offer thanks to my internship and studies.
The final thing I have learned this semester, is a deeper appreciation of how the University functions. As a University teacher, I always felt that I was having to deal with friction caused by the system as I tried to give my students the best experience I could. As a student, I have experienced more parts of the system than I experienced as a teacher. What I have observed this semester, is that people who have chosen a role that directly connects them to students are doing their version of what I did for years (making the experience of studying as smooth and engaging as possible), but there are also lots of people in lots of roles who are primarily focused on making the University system continue to go around.
For example, it took seven people and three hours to try and make my ID card work to open one door. This process failed, and so did the following attempt, which also took seven people and three hours. Whether my card can open a door is not a big thing, but it is instructive of a significant issue that affects universities: too many functionaries are focused on who is supposed to solve the problem, rather than on solving the problem.
This issue is not unique to universities, but is particularly evident from a student’s perspective, from which the institution should be focused on empowering students to succeed at their studies. Each time the system has been more interested in who should solve the problem, than getting the problem solved during the semester, I have found myself thinking about Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book, Extreme Ownership.
www.audible.com.au/pd/Extreme-Ownership-Audiobook/B07HP9WNYQ?qid=162 3296161&sr=1-1&ref=a_search_c3_lProduct_1_1&pf_rd_p=771c6463-05d7-4981-9b47- 920dc34a70f1&pf_rd_r=N74YGD16VS26MTVEZPFE
The essence of Extreme Ownership is that leaders are responsible for making sure that their personnel can do their job, and, if their people can’t, then the leader is responsible for getting the job done and improving the training and preparedness of their personnel. People in student focused roles definitely demonstrate Extreme Ownership, but the University as a whole has no idea what the concept means, or what it would look like if they properly supported the people who are manifesting the concept. I now understand why I used to get so tired and angry when I was a University teacher: I was trying to manifest Extreme Ownership within a system that is based on moving, rather than solving, problems. If universities really want to prepare their students for life after study, then they need to embody what effective problem solving looks like, rather than conditioning their students to not being able to solve problems.
In conclusion, and in summary, I have enjoyed my first semester as a Master’s student, and I am very grateful for what I have learned and been motivated to learn. I am in a better position to empower people and improve the world than I was at the start of the semester, and I have a greater understanding of why the University frustrated me when I was a lecturer and tutor. I encourage any of you thinking about undertaking study to dive in, and to remember that it is not just what you will learn, but what you will be able to do with it, that is motivating and valuable.
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