What good is theory if you can’t apply it?

By Carina Ludgate, communications co-ordinator 

Is a practical skill better than the ability to formulate an argument based on theoretical knowledge, or vice versa? When it comes to the field of communications specifically, how valuable is theoretical knowledge if it can’t be used to help communicate our messages?

Many communications students may have asked themselves these questions, especially sitting in an uninspiring theory class, but after six weeks with JGR Communications, I can confidently say that both my practical and theoretical skills have come in handy, helping me produce work from public service announcements for non-profits, to research projects for large-scale clients.

In the past, the focus of post-secondary education was on theory and abstract knowledge rather than concrete skills, but a recent increase in the number of vocational schools tells a different story. Even ivory tower institutions are beginning to see the value in developing students’ pragmatic skills.

Enter my chosen degree program at MacEwan University. The educators and administrators who developed the three-year-old Bachelor of Communication Studies program wrestled with the debate of practice versus theory. Eventually, they reached some middle ground and decided that the largest practical component of the degree would be the completion of a 160-hour internship. After a year and a half of classroom preparation I showed up at JGR Communications ready to tackle my internship.

160 hours of experience

Now it has been up to me to take what I have learned in the classroom, both theoretical and practical, and apply it, making a contribution to the high quality of work produced by JGR Communications. I have to say that one of the most rewarding parts of my internship has been putting my education to use. It’s nice to know that some of what I have learned at school is directly applicable to the “real world.”

I believe in receiving a well-rounded degree, including theoretically-based courses because they help teach critical and analytic thinking. At the same time, there is certainly something gratifying about being able to practically apply what you have learned in a course to your job.

Take for example a foundational tool of strategic communication, the SWOT analysis. On my first day at JGR Communications I sat in on a conference call where the term “SWOT analysis” was used frequently. Luckily for me, I paid attention in my 310 Strategic Communications class. Professor Macpherson would be proud.

Not to belittle my experience to simply learning useful industry jargon, I also had the chance to see a full-scale survey research project through from start to finish. This is a fine example of the application of practical and theoretical education to my internship. My coursework experience in research afforded me the opportunity to complete a survey study with relative independence for one of JGR Communications’ clients.

For seven days, the success of this project and happiness of the client rested with me. I have to say, I was pleased to be an intern trusted with such responsibility. Ultimately, this project taught me target goal setting and time management. Most importantly, it taught me how to keep the client happy by completing the most amount of quality work in the least amount of time.

Yet, it has been the team environment at JGR Communications that has guided me through my internship. Collaboration is a useful tool for helping transition knowledge into practice. Working with the folks at JGR Communications, who have more years of industry experience, has helped me to effectively channel my theoretical education into practical know-how.

The past six weeks have flown by. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with some wonderful and truly talented people. My experience at JGR Communications has been invaluable for my educational and professional development. Jim and the team have been kind and patient while helping me navigate my first communications job. Of course six weeks of experience does not make anyone an expert, so if JGR will have me, I think I may stick around …