My Online Technical Communication Program Experience

This post is a quick shout-out for the graduate school program I have been enrolled, MSPTC (Master of Professional and Technical Communication) from  the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). If you are interested in taking a higher education in technical communication (= a fancier version of the phrase technical writing, not unlike executive administrator vs. secretary).

Two years after stumbling into technical writing, I decided to turn it into my lifetime career. I  had fallen in love with the surprisingly rich and rewarding work of organizing and mapping technical information. One thing bothered me, though: the lack of formal education.

I had acquired all my technical writing skills on the job, from collaboration with engineers to document formatting to graphic layout. I had enough skills to execute the tasks at hand, but would I be able to rely entirely on my own initiative to keep acquiring and expanding the expertise required in the ever-changing world of technology? I doubted I could, and moreover, I wanted to explore my skills beyond my hands-on experience.

It was time to take formal educational training. I searched for a night school in my neighborhood—Taipei, Taiwan—and found nothing, not even a course offered in Chinese. Then a quick Google search yielded a surprisingly rich selection of U.S.-based programs, including a MSPTC (Master of Professional and Technical Communication) from  the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).

MSPTC at NJIT stood out from other distance learning programs in two aspects. First, it offered the best mixture of writing and technology. Some universities modified their existing English writing degrees into a Technical Communication program, relying on proven English writing materials and not adding enough curricula on the technology aspect of technical communication.

Second, NJIT offers a two-tier system: a graduate certificate and a master’s degree. Students can enroll in the Technical Communication Essentials graduate certificate program, which includes four essential technical communication courses, and then if they want to explore more, they can step up to the master’s degree, carrying the credits they have already earned.

I started as a graduate certificate student and this year I have taken the leap and joined the master’s degree. So far, mostly, I have been taking one course per semester. It is a slow pace, but has three benefits. First, it works well with my daytime work; there is only so much I can do after my office hours. Second, I have less financial burden thanks to NJIT’s per-semester paying scheme. Third and most importantly, I have been spending ample time on each course and applying what I have learned to my work, and vice versa. 

What about the distance between me and the university? So far, I have encountered no problems. Although Taiwan and the US have almost twelve hours of time difference, most of the course works are done asynchronously. Synchronous events such as online chats usually take place in the evening (in the US), early morning in Taiwan (which provides me with a good incentive to get out of bed earlier).

I am more than satisfied with the learning and networking experience I have acquired so far. At this pace, I might graduate from the course at 2012, a full five years after enrolling in the program. The long time is worth it; the purpose of this learning is not to quickly tuck an “M.S.” into my resume but to slowly absorb knowledge and grow as a professional.

P.S. Sounds too pretty? Yes, I haven't talked about the negative aspects of that program. If you do want to know because you are seriously considering NJIT, please send me a message at isaokato (at) I will describe the untold stories, although my conclusion stays the same: go for it.