What to Expect in a Graduate Seminar

As you prepare for your first graduate semester, you might be wondering what to expect in your courses. Even though you might be in a class that has both undergraduates and graduate students, especially in your advanced language courses, expectations for graduate students are a little different than for bachelor's students.

Bachelor's vs. Master's Education

During your bachelor's degree, your main objective is to learn the basic foundation of a field, gaining content knowledge and basic skills in that field, as well as informational literacy--that is, learning how to absorb new information responsibly (i.e. learning how to learn in that field).

In a master's degree, your goal is to become an independent agent in that field of study. Your goal is to hone your knowledge of that field (potentially gaining an area of specialization), develop your skills to a level that will work in a professional environment, and begin to make your own contribution to that field as a colleague.

What do we talk about when we talk about "media" and "language"?

The humanities is a collection of fields that explores the noisy, complex, messy, and imperfect human experience. These include Media Studies, Cultural Studies, History, Linguistics, Literary Studies, and International Affairs, among others.

We analyze the objects that human society creates in order to better understand how society operates, and what underlying assumptions and phenomena might drive decisions and give rise to the structures and events we experience. Traditionally, these have included novels, films, political documents, works of art. Today, our faculty also research "cultural artifacts" such as the news, social media trends, environmental policy and sustainable development, TV and pop culture, and underground communities.

In a media or language course, we analyze how these objects work, what meaning they create, what assumptions or arguments they reflect, and how they can affect change in their audience. We also learn about the historical, political, and cultural contexts that shape this meaning, either through scholarly research articles or through comparison to other works (e.g. comparing two films from the same period).

There are a variety of approaches to exploring these questions. In an advanced language course, the focus might be on a specific geographic or cultural community. In a media studies course, the focus might be on an ethical problem across several contexts.

What looks different in a graduate course?

In your language courses, you will continue to develop your language abilities, but you'll take on more independence in the process. Some class activities may look similar to your undergraduate experience, especially if you're a language learner in a class with other learners. However, as you work toward independence, we expect you to take charge of your language learning and look for materials that relate to your professional interests to expand your vocabulary and gain knowledge of areas that interest you. For suggestions on how to practice your language independently, check out our blog post on how to maintain your language outside of class.

In your seminars, you will encounter more scholarly research or "secondary sources," in addition to news, poetry, film, and other "primary sources." You will read analyses of media, its history, and its cultural contexts in order to help inform your own analyses and views. In addition to forming your own reaction to a text, you will learn to contextualize your views in the research that has already been done and to take a broad view of all the factors that go into the significance of language in a text, event, or cultural artifact.

Whether you plan to work in a business team, a new role or a research position at a think tank, your ability to analyze a text professionally will allow you to navigate through the noise of international events and identify the significant sources that can help you gain a meaningful understanding of the situation.

What is your role in a graduate course?

Ultimately, in this program, you will design your own project, and spend your final semester working independently, without the structures of a course, to discover something new and communicate it to the world, whether it's a research paper, documentary film, translation, or educational initiative. So at the end of the day, the biggest difference between bachelor's and master's courses is your role in the course. While you will continue to learn a lot of new content and read new texts, your courses are no longer a series of assignments to complete. They are first and foremost an exploratory space, in which to pursue the questions that interest you.

So when you go into a graduate course, look for the topics that most interest you, use assignments as an opportunity to try out something related to your goals, and approach your faculty as colleagues who can help you achieve your own goals as a researcher, writer, and media expert.