Becoming an expert

WHEN it comes to the field of communications and media studies, what does having a Master's degree make you an expert of? It is a question worth mulling over for anyone who is considering pursuing further education.

After all, deciding on a postgraduate degree is a big decision. Forget the potential promotion, pay rise and prestige that comes with having a Master's degree, enrolling in a Master programme is a conscious decision to become an expert in something.

If you are unclear about that, you should not be doing a Master's, said Dr Tan Meng Yoe, coordinator for the Master in Communications and Media Studies programme in Monash University Malaysia's School of Arts and Social Sciences.

The Master of Communications and Media Studies (MCMS) at Monash University Malaysia gives you the skill to identify, unpack, and deconstruct communication processes and networks that societies require to function. In short, it makes you an expert in cultural research. It does not sound fancy, but it makes practical sense in the increasingly globalised society that we live in today.

Media and communications professionals such as journalists and corporate communications professionals are often already experts in their technical craft by the time they consider enrolling in a Master's programme.

The real step up is the development of advanced critical thinking, exposure to a more diverse range of knowledge, and the ability to conduct quality research in order to raise the level of media content, management process, business insights, or any communication roles that one is involved in.  

Critical thinking

Critical thinking, on the basic level, refers to the ability to objectively analyse any issue to develop an informed opinion on it. We are all by nature biased, and it takes discipline and practice to be truly informed.

An example of this is to think of the type of news that we consume. If our habit is to exclusively seek out news that conforms to our pre-existing world view, that is a bias that restricts our capacity to juggle multiple perspectives and analyse deeper layers of meaning.

Without the willingness to engage with our own biases and consider alternative approaches to data, we become echo chambers, hearing only what we want to hear. This is detrimental to any individual as it leads to intellectual complacency.

Here, we provide the tools to break that habit. New theoretical ideas about media and society are taught and applied to real world case studies in order to sharpen our ability to objectively identify issues and solve problems creatively.

New knowledge

Critical thinking is important, but it can only happen when there is something to think about. New knowledge is always necessary. Students learn and share the latest trends and developments in the media and communications industry, and are exposed to a wide range of contemporary issues that have implications on every day life in the Asian region.

Students are also encouraged to learn about cultures beyond their own, to broaden understanding of the world we live in. This accumulation of knowledge is a valuable resource.

All of this is facilitated not just by the lecturers and the curriculum, but also by the diverse student cohort. Because students come from different professional backgrounds and are represented by people from various nationalities, it is an opportunity to learn from each other's cultural and career experiences.

Learning to work together in this environment is a lesson in itself. In short, the spirit of learning is actively cultivated.

Research skills
Contemporary issues are not just gleaned through reading about global events in the news, but through active research by both teacher and student.

Research is a crucial skill to have. Learning to gather information, analyse and synthesise it into knowledge that can be applied into every day life is an advantageous skill to have.

The lecturers in the programme are all research active in a wide variety of areas – social media, communications, urban anthropology, politics and international relations, and more.

But having good teachers with years of teaching experience is not enough. Their scholars are actively producing new knowledge and can pass on advanced skills in conducting relevant research. This provides students with the skills required to develop expertise in their respective fields of work through rigorous, critical, and insightful research.

We often hear that good study programmes are all about being job ready, relevant to the 21st century, collaborative, internationally recognised, and more. The MCMS programme at Monash University Malaysia not only has these elements, but synergises them to create a learning environment where one can develop holistically in every area.