What is communication studies?

It’s the question that frightens me at every family event, social gathering and in almost any university setting: “What is communication studies?”

Whenever this daunting question is asked, I have to scramble my brain to try and remember what I learn in every single communication studies class. Usually, I’ll blurt out an answer like “it’s business without the math,” or “it’s the study of advertisements and media in modern society” and even, “it’s the business side of media,” with the responses usually being “oh,” “what can you do with that degree?” and “how is that a real program?”

When I first came to Wilfrid Laurier University, I thought I was the only communications student who didn’t have a clue as to what their program was, until someone asked a fellow communications student and we both stared at each other in utter confusion. At that point in time I came to the realization that there really is no clear way of defining communication studies. But why is that?

According to Laurier’s official website, communication studies “examines the forms and practices of communication through three areas of emphasis: communication history and theory, visual communication, global communication and media.” The department of communication studies also offers “a comprehensive approach to the study of communication in society,” while providing students with the critical skills to understand the role of communication and media in society.

While this definition covers the general understanding of what the program entails for enrolled students, it’s not a clear description of what communication studies is. What do we study? How can we apply these skills to our lives and to the lives of others? Why do we have to learn about communication in society anyways?

While I’ve heard these questions from non-communication students, I’ll admit to asking them myself.

As most of us know, communication studies is a very broad program and can offer a huge variety of careers. Strong communication is essential in every business and industry.

Companies and organizations need a prominent individual, such as a communication studies student, to interact with clients and representatives. Communication graduates can find jobs in marketing, journalism and public relations, among many others.

While some may dig deeper into their pockets to earn a post-grad, it’s relieving to know you can dip your feet in a number of specialties and interests.

What do we actually learn about in communication classes? This may be my own personal belief, but as communication students we learn about old, modern and new society. We are educated on how society works, how we can use language to benefit our culture and how we can engage with other human beings, whether it be physical or digital. Our countless assignments, essays and presentations also help us gain impeccable research skills and give us the opportunity to put our own opinions and theories into our work.

So are communication students successful? Sure, but it obviously varies for each individual. If you’ve graduated with a communication studies degree and now lounge around all day watching Netflix while cursing Justin Trudeau for a shitty economy, then you may not be too successful.

If you graduate and actually use your newfound skills to search for your dream job, then you may have a better chance.

Did you know Stephen Colbert (yes, that Stephen Colbert) studied communication at Northwestern University School of Communication? Remember, it’s not the degree that makes you successful, it’s how you use it to your advantage.

I’ve talked about what communication studies is, how it benefits students and what we as undergrads can accomplish.

But as a third-year communication studies undergrad, I believe we as a society are still confused about its purpose. We need a better definition of what communication studies is and how we as undergraduates or graduates can better our society, whether it be through our competent research or writing skills, or our knowledge of Marshall McLuhan and his famous phrase (let’s all say it together): “The medium is the message.”

So when a family member asks you what communication studies is, take a chance to think back even a year ago and remember all you have accomplished in the program.

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