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The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters in Technical Communication

NJIT MSPTC Class of 2012

Today was a big milestone day in my life. Today, twenty-two years after I received my Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Mary Washington (Mary Washington College back then), I received my Masters of Science in Professional and Technical Communication from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). Let me tell you, if you had talked to me at the time of my Bachelors degree and told me that a) I’d be getting a Masters degree and b) it would be in a program that involved computer related stuff and technical writing, I would have thought you were insane.

I put two and a half years of my life into this degree. There was blood, sweat and tears that were involved now and then (literally, in some cases!). My husband was a weekend widower for most of that time, and my son understood that Mom had to do her homework too, and it was way more than he had because she was anywhere from in the 17th-20th grades (compared to him being in 5th grade).

I started this program because I was unemployed. I was being laid off from a job that had certain aspects I liked, namely editing and the use of instructional design. I also had some e-learning and some instructional design from a prior job that I liked, so I decided to “work the system” in seeing if I could find some sort of coursework that would help to update my skills as job retraining through the state’s re-employment programs. By a miracle, there was an ad on Facebook–of all places– for NJIT’s MSPTC program and the grad certificates in technical communications essentials. When I looked at the curriculum, it was exactly what I was looking for, and so many of the electives that I wanted to take! I was able to complete all the paperwork and convince the state to pay for my tech comm certificate. I started with that, because I figured that it was a shorter commitment, I would still get some significant training out of it, and if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t stuck in it for the long haul. And if I did like it, I could always transfer the credits straight into the Masters program.

Well, you guessed it– I ended up loving it. The state ended up paying for my first three courses until I got a job that allowed me to pay for the rest of my education myself, which was an incredibly expensive investment.  I took as broad a range of subjects as I could, but found myself always gravitating towards e-learning and m-learning just the same. I oriented many papers to cover e-learning and m-learning topics over time, yet kept my options open so that I had more opportunities to not only expand my own knowledge base, but provide opportunities in other areas I liked in case the e-learning direction didn’t work out the way I wanted.

And now…I have a Masters degree. I think there was a point in my career that I knew I wanted a Masters degree, and that perhaps a Masters degree would help with my career– but doing what? The problem was that the kind of degree I wanted to do wasn’t around the way it is now when I first got my undergraduate degree. Creating websites was strictly for computer developers and programmers, and I wasn’t that. I wasn’t an English major who specialized in creative writing or journalistic writing either. Not that there’s anything wrong with those majors–not at all, but they weren’t me, or at least not quite me. Discovering the world of technical communication when I did and finding an educational resource when I did was purely fortuitous timing, if nothing else, but I’m glad it’s become part of my life.

I seem to recall that the advisor for the program said something about me in reference to this program to the effect of it being something where I learned about my own voice. I think this is definitely true. Growing up, and even through my undergrad years, I thought being a good writer had to do with being a “flowery” writer, someone who always included all these incredible details in their works. I couldn’t do that. Part of the reason that a History degree appealed to me was that I just had to collect and re-churn out facts in a cohesive manner. Even with that, I didn’t understand that I could do that well until my senior year of college, when my favorite professor motivated me to write some of my best work of my college career. Some of the papers I did for him that I thought were horrible were ones that he thought were my best. When I re-read them years later, I realized what he was saying– they were good. Maybe I really was someone who could write decently.

I think the understanding that I could write well was developed more as I winged my way through my professional life, but it really didn’t become clear until I joined this program. I did find my voice, and I could express my opinion, and…people listened. People understood my message. And people thought I explained myself well, and liked the work that I did.  I sometimes am still surprised that I was able to pull this off. But yes, I found my voice, and I found what makes me excited in the working world, and that’s technical communication with an emphasis on e-learning and m-learning the most. (But get me started on editing “International English“, UX or content strategy as well, and my engines get revved up as well!)

Today is a big day. Today is a day I realized that I can make a big contribution to global society just being myself and truly doing what I love. I know that even with a Masters degree in my hand, I still have SO much more to learn to realize my full potential in the e-learning and m-learning world, and I’m doing my best to take what I’ve learned from my MSPTC program and move forward. And I don’t mean just academically, but what I’ve learned about myself from the experience as well.

In my last post, I talked about how important it is right now in the technical communications world to keep up with skills and teach yourself new things. The world is moving SO fast that it’s hard to keep up, even with a brand-spanking new graduate degree in hand! Even as I write this, while it might seem like I’m done, I’m far from done. I’m trying to take some online tutorials in Adobe Tech Comm Suite 3.5 software, and I’m throwing myself into an instructional design project. I need to get my feet wet in the real world, and I have to keep it moving or else I’ll miss out or fall behind quickly.  Even if your goal is not getting a Masters degree, I highly encourage you to challenge yourself with something new. The ID/TC Education Resources link above is a list of programs that I curated to help others to find additional education to help further their careers as well.  I found that NJIT’s MSPTC program fit my needs at the time I started, but I’ve since learned of some other great programs that are listed on that page.  You might learn some new skills, but you might also learn more about yourself in the process.

Other than teaching myself more software, are there plans to continue with, say, a doctoral degree? While I would love to be known as “Dr. Villegas,” I think I need some time and space to still fully realize this MSPTC degree. It hasn’t sunk in that I have it. It still seems a little surreal.  I also need time to figure out, if I do go on with further education, if it only is a matter of getting another graduate certificate, or if a PhD or EdD is what I want to do. And then…in what, and how? Perhaps, like 22 years ago, the program I want or need isn’t out there yet, so biding my time will help.

Tomorrow is a new day, and a step towards a new future as a master of technical communication. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next!


Danielle M. Villegas is a technical communicator who currently employed at Cox Automotive, Inc., and freelances as her own technical communications consultancy, Dair Communications. She has worked at the International Refugee Committee, MetLife, Novo Nordisk, BASF North America, Merck, and Deloitte, with a background in content strategy, web content management, social media, project management, e-learning, and client services. Danielle is best known in the technical communications world for her blog,, which has continued to flourish since it was launched during her graduate studies at NJIT in 2012. She has presented webinars and seminars for Adobe, the Society for Technical Communication (STC), the IEEE ProComm, TCUK (ISTC) and at Drexel University’s eLearning Conference. She has written articles for the STC Intercom, STC Notebook, the Content Rules blog, and The Content Wrangler as well. She is very active in the STC, as a former chapter president for the STC-Philadelphia Metro Chapter, and is currently serving on three STC Board committees. You can learn more about Danielle on LinkedIn at, on Twitter @techcommgeekmom, or through her blog. All content is the owner's opinions, and does not reflect those of her employers past or present.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters in Technical Communication

    1. Thank you. And I found it ironic, at Capstone presentations, when you said that I fought you about my e-portfolio design. You were totally right about that. I fought with every professor at one point or another, but I suppose part of that is about finding my voice as well. LOL

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