ACADEMIC INSIGHT: SARAH WILLIAMS, UNIVERSITY OF WOLVERHAMPTON

Name: Sarah Williams
University: University of Wolverhampton
Job title: Senior Lecturer and course leader

Twitter: @sasbongo
LinkedIn: Sarah Williams 

What does your job involve?
No day is ever the same; I teach classes, have one-to-one meetings with students, look after programme management and I am currently reviewing our existing course with a view to changing the curriculum next year. There is also a research element so I am currently writing two book chapters and finishing my PhD.

What does the PR masters at your university involve?
Our masters is aimed at people who are either working in PR or events and want to consolidate their working knowledge into a qualification. Therefore, half the course looks at PR management, theory and practice and the other half focuses on event management.  It is a very practical and hands on course and involves students having to plan, manage and hold an event and promote it appropriately.

There has been a growth in digital specific courses

Have PR degrees and post grad qualifications changed much in the last ten years?
Yes! As the industry grows and develops in response to new digital developments so have PR degrees. There has been a growth in digital specific courses and PR degrees have changed to reflect this. At the same time, there has been an increase in students choosing a more general course to improve their chances of gaining employment and this has resulted in much more industry-specific and innovative curriculum developments in PR courses.

Why study PR and not a general business or marketing course?
PR courses offer a unique blend of theory and skills that are relevant to the communications industry, this is difficult to replicate in a general business or marketing course as they have to cover too many different subject areas. A specialist degree gives students the time and space to develop industry specific skills, as well as helping to grow the research base of the industry. The better a student understands and is prepared for working in PR, the more valuable their contribution will be.

the value in doing a masters comes after a few years of experience

Is doing a masters or post grad PR qualification a good idea?  When’s the best time?
I certainly think so! For me, the value in doing a masters comes after a few years of experience and this can vary from student to student. After a few years in the industry, and a few years out of University, you have more experience to reflect on and doing a masters gives you space to reflect and constructively learn from those experiences. In my own experience, doing my masters was much more meaningful than my first degree as I could relate some of the more difficult concepts and theories to my practice and this enabled me to better understand how theory can help to strengthen individual practice, and therefore, the industry.

What makes a successful PR student?
Someone with a curious mind; someone interested in communication and how communication shapes the world around us; someone who knows when to work hard and when to let their hair down. The ideal student is open-minded, hard-working and curious.

What are your tips for A level students considering a PR degree?
Be curious! Talk to people working in the industry; ask them what they do and how they do it. Go along to open days and talk to PR course teams but more than that ask if you can talk to current students, sit in on a lecture, come along to student events; be curious, be interested and do your research.

Show enthusiasm and commitment through everything you do

What should PR students be doing along with their studies to make them attractive to a PR employer?
Grades are important but so is getting involved. Organise a student event, volunteer for a local charity and help them to communicate their work, offer to help local agencies, talk to guest speakers and arrange work experience. Show enthusiasm and commitment through everything you do, whether this is in the classroom or in the student union, get involved and practice your skills.

Which PR blogs, news sites and websites do you read?
Many! I like to draw from a wide range of sources but these are my ‘go to’ sites: 

Comms2point0 –  primarily aimed at public sector comms professionals, I watched this evolve from a small local government focussed blog into a fantastic source of information and insight

Smart Insights –  Dr Dave Chaffey’s digital marketing site provides useful information and research on the evolution and application of digital platforms and resources

eConsultancy –  there is a wealth of up-to-date and useful research on the application of digital techniques on this site

PR Week – useful round up of industry news and events

Stephen Waddington –  there is a wealth of good industry comment and opinion here

The Guardian 

The Times 

The Telegraph 

Reuters 

The New Day –  (on Facebook and twitter)

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