Future-proof yourself with the Master of Communications and Media Studies

Pursuing a post-graduate degree in a pandemic

Two years ago, Acushla Wijesinha had just graduated from the Bachelor of Arts and Social Sciences programme at Monash University Malaysia. Her positive experience as a Monash undergraduate convinced her to return to her alma mater to further her studies in the field of media and communications. Upon completing the Master of Communications and Media Studies (MCMS) programme amid the Covid-19 global pandemic last year, the 23-year-old received job offers from several companies.

Today, Wijesinha works as a public relations executive at Omnicom Media Group in Sri Lanka – a job that she secured due to her extensive background in communications and her MCMS degree. “I believe that having a Master’s degree does open up more employment options to you. As someone living in Sri Lanka, it is recognised here and makes you more hireable,” said Wijesinha.

Upskilling for career mobility

Finding employment in a pandemic economy is no mean feat, with rising unemployment and depressed wages to contend with. Prolonged periods of lockdowns imposed by the Malaysian government in response to the Covid-19 pandemic last year have had a massive impact on the labour market. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) in its Malaysian Labour Force Survey Report 2020, the country recorded a 4.5% unemployment rate last year – its highest rate since 1993. Salaries – both median and mean – also fell for the first time since 2010, according to DOSM in its 2020 Salaries and Wages Report.

With hopes of gaining greater career mobility and higher wages, Malaysian Su Lyn Chong quit her job as an English teacher to take a sabbatical and pursue her MCMS degree in March last year. An alumna of Monash University Malaysia’s Bachelor of Communications programme, the 35-year-old currently works as a freelance English tutor while undergoing her MCMS course. “A Monash degree opened numerous doors for me in the past 10 years of working in both the publishing and education industry. I am hoping that with the addition of a Master’s degree, that same credibility can open up more lucrative opportunities in the future,” Chong added.

One of the advantages of the MCMS programme is the flexibility and support it offers to working students. Working professionals can enjoy the stability of keeping their jobs in a pandemic, without compromising career progression or work experience to study part-time, said Monash University Malaysia’s Head of School of Arts and Social Sciences Professor Stephanie Hemelryk Donald.

Pivoting one’s career

For individuals like Daiki Morita, the MCMS programme provides a pathway for those looking to switch careers. The 30-year-old Japanese sales engineer was working in Japan when he discovered his interest in public relations. After studying English on his own for two and a half years, followed by a year-long stint in the US as a Japanese tutor, he finally arrived in Malaysia to pursue the MCMS degree in March last year. His MCMS experience not only gave him a strong foundation in communication methodology; he also experienced cultural diversity and gained confidence in speaking English as a non-native speaker. “Before leaving Japan, I did not have foreign friends. My MCMS coursemates are from Malaysia, Indonesia, China and the UK, so their different work experiences make for exciting discussions,” he said.

Set to complete the MCMS programme in July, Morita has already received a job offer for a marketing position in a university in Japan. “The human resource department were impressed with my engineering career and my post-graduate studies in MCMS. In my job scope, I will support university students and professors, as well as market the university to prospective students internationally,” said Morita.

The international make-up of the MCMS student cohort allows students to learn about other cultures and develop empathy, said MCMS course coordinator Dr Tan Meng Yoe. “If you look at any advertising backlash where parties are accused of whitewashing or racism, it is usually not due to malice but a lack of knowledge of others’ cultures. At MCMS, we actively look out for these relationships. For the Current Affairs subject, the lecturer gets students to present on issues in their home countries. The world is much bigger than we perceive it to be,” said Tan.

Preparing students for the digital age

Virtual classes, online shopping, and webinars – the pandemic has accelerated digitalisation as people are forced to stay home during lockdowns. In response to this, the updated MCMS programme will incorporate a stronger focus on the digital environment, with modules on digital cultures, digital technology and policy, data analytics and communication and media management.

“We will look at what kind of communities are going online, how digital policies affect the way we manage online environments, how to handle crises in a digital environment, as well as how to interpret and make use of Big Data,” Tan explained. In a departure from essays and examinations, the course also utilises new forms of digital assessments, in the form of video essays, blogs and podcasts to demonstrate learning.

The silver lining of the MCMS course being conducted online during the pandemic is that students now have greater access to a wider knowledge pool, in the form of industry speakers from overseas and online libraries. Wijesinha credited the lecturers for going the extra mile during the pandemic to ensure a smooth transition to online learning. “We were given one-on-one Zoom sessions to get our doubts addressed and the lecturers made themselves available to us whenever we needed them. My student experience was positive because of their added effort,” she said.

Communicating in unprecedented times

Whether one is selling soap or managing the government vaccination rollout, learning how to communicate strategically and effectively matters. “The world has changed and is changing constantly. We need to understand the changes in society to make the best decisions. It is important to understand the different environments you operate in, and how it is impacted by other parts of the world. Communications is about strategic thinking and understanding people where they are, with empathy,” said Prof Donald.

For Wijesinha, the MCMS programme deepened her understanding the dynamics of media and communications, and how these landscapes are constantly shifting. “Applying what I’ve learnt at MCMS in my current job scope, I am able to navigate the challenges posed by the transition from traditional media towards digital media,” she said. Wijesinha said that those interested in pursuing the MCMS course should not be deterred by the pandemic. “The world does not stop just because we are in a lockdown. While other plans are on hold, you can study remotely and improve your education, so that when things do settle into a new norm, you can pursue your dreams unhindered,” said Wijesinha. Chong says that any time is as good as another when it comes to learning. “Learning never truly ends. All you have got to do is to keep moving forward,” she said.