December 18, 2015

Reflecting back on a degree in Communication


By Mack Stannard

Shirin has recently graduated from SFU with a major in Communication and a minor in Print and Digital Publishing. She talks about why communication was the right fit for her and provides advice on how to make the most of your degree as an FCAT student.

What made you choose a Communication Major?

As someone always fascinated by media forms, trends, and culture, Communication seemed like a great fit for me. I ultimately chose SFU’s Communication program due to the testimonials I had read about the Co-op program. I truly knew that the program was perfect for me when a senior Communication student told me that she had written a final paper on the academic value of Jay-Z’s lyrics for a popular music class. I wanted to do the same for K-pop! Looking back, completing a Communication degree was the right decision. 

What personal characteristics do you see as someone having in order to make a good fit for the Communication program?

Curiosity and alertness. With curiosity we are able to critically analyze the messages we encounter and assess the way they are being delivered. The many ways this can be done grow each day through the emergence of new social platforms and innovative combinations of traditional and digital media. We also need to stay alert regarding up and coming mediums and challenge ourselves to visualize how these mediums will add value or devalue the messages.

What was your favorite course during your undergrad degree and why?

I can’t pick one, so here are four that really stand out for me:

Introduction to Communication Studies: Looking back, I can categorize all the upper-level Communication courses I took through the different weeks of this one first year course. If you are unsure of what course to take next, look back at this class and the weeks you enjoyed most. I guarantee that a few courses will align with the topics for those weeks.

Applied Communication for Social Issues: Think of a social issue you are immensely passionate about; can you imagine doing something about it and being provided suggestions and resources for improvement from other brilliant communicators? This class offers just that. As a new professional in the world of Communication, I can tell you that if you put the work in, this class is a good simulation of the workforce. I have to thank the fantastic and eloquent Martin Laba who taught my group in Spring 2015.

Evaluation Methods for Applied Communication Research: This 6-credit course tested me intellectually and physically. I discovered a deep interest in the grueling, but ultimately rewarding, world of research. I recommend the course to anyone considering honours or grad school.

Cultural Production of Popular Music: This class allowed me to academically and critically analyze my favorite music genre, K-pop, and revealed many social factors about the production of music that I hadn’t thought of before.

Outside of the classroom what opportunities added to your University experience?

I kept myself very occupied outside of the classroom.  I was involved in the Canadianized Asian Club in numerous capacities, honing my skills in event planning, print and web design, and internal administration. Concurrently, I worked at SFU Residence Life as a Community Advisor and eventually a Program Coordinator. As a Program Coordinator, I supervised event planning processes, served as residence’s liaison to partners, and assisted in the development of staff training programs. I also joined SFU Miracle Network Dance Marathon’s organizing crew in its second year, focusing on recruiting more attendees for the fundraiser.

In my fourth and final year at SFU, I was privileged to represent FCAT in multiple government roles. I was elected as the Faculty Representative for FCAT in the Simon Fraser Student Society and the Faculty Student Senator on the SFU Senate. I wore a variety of hats in these roles and was exposed to different situations that contributed greatly to my personal and professional development.

What did you learn from these?

Time management, transit productivity (especially when you’re at Surrey, Vancouver, and Burnaby in a single day), the importance of humility, and to pat myself on the back every once in a while.

What advice can you give to students just starting their university career?

I can’t stress enough the importance of taking initiative. You will never know if you are ready for the seemingly out of reach Co-op job if you never apply. I recommend seeing “rejection” as a pro-active response. After all, it gives you the next steps you need to succeed: figuring out how to get accepted the next time or the chance to search for another opportunity.

Was there anyone who really helped you through a tough spot in your degree?

Yes, and I am immensely grateful to the support system I gained at SFU through friends, colleagues, mentors, and instructors for believing in me so much. Within Communication, the advisors were my rock through and through. My credit count and Co-op check-ins became life check-ins too as the advisors made sure that I was taking my holistic wellness into consideration.

What advantages has the Communication degree given you as you leave University?

Communication transcends all things. You can work anywhere and everywhere as all organizations, no matter the size or industry, require people who are able to effectively reach a target audience. Tangible work related to communication ranges from journalism to event planning to digital marketing and much more—and at equally diverse places from academia to tech to health care and beyond. The Communication degree gives you a way of thinking that is valuable to all of these organizations and opens many doors.

Can you talk about your current position?

I work as the Communications and Events Coordinator at SFU Venture Connection. Among many projects I have on the go right now is The Fifth Annual Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize — the department’s flagship business competition. This competition invites SFU students, faculty, and alumni to compete for over $15 000 in cash and in-kind prizes to grow their current business.

How can FCAT students benefit from the programs you and your team offer?

We help students who want to see their idea grow! SFU Venture Connection offers support through workshops, speaker series, and drop in consultation sessions for students to connect with industry leaders. We also have a business incubator where entrepreneurs are provided direct mentorship. To learn more about us, drop by our Surrey office (Room 5355, from 9:00 AM-4:30 PM) or any of our upcoming events and workshops to say hello.  You can also visit our website at for more information.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Knowing the field of communication, I could be working a job that does not yet exist and, to me, this is very exciting! I hope that in the future I will be considered a thought leader in strategic communication and working collaboratively with a passionate, talented, growth-receptive team.

If you could go back and tell your first year self one thing what would it be?

I would tell myself to save some money in order to travel during my degree. My one regret is not doing some sort of International Co-op in Korea.

If people want to get in touch with you, how can they?

I can be reached through email at or send me a message on LinkedIn. Once again, don’t be afraid to take the initiative!

Follow me on Twitter @shirinescarcha for some exciting news about a blog I’ll be launching January 2016 on tips, tools, and hacks I gathered from university.