Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

Higher Education in Technical Communication- Is it worth it?

Technical Communicators are passionate about learning and often ponder on the question of higher education in the field of technical communication. The dream of gaining knowledge and credibility by pursuing higher education in technical writing often eludes technical writers at all levels of their career.

Gurpreet’s First Day @Seneca College

I worked as a technical writer for eight years in New Delhi and recently took a sabbatical to pursue a postgraduate certificate in technical communication from Seneca College, Toronto. The term sabbatical (from Latin ‘sabbaticus’, from Greek ‘sabbatikos’, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) means to take a break from work for an extended period of time to pursue a goal. In modern times, several professionals have started taking a sabbatical to pursue higher education in their chosen disciplines.

Along with an intense desire to pursue higher education, a train of thoughts started in my mind- Will I gain more knowledge by going back to the classroom? How much will it cost? Will it be easy for me to adjust in a new country where the temperature dips well below -60 degrees in winters? Will I be a victim of racism because of the turban I wear and because of my brown skin?

When I decided to take a year-long sabbatical, I was confused. However, at the verge of completing my sabbatical, I feel much confident in my decision and wanted to share my experience with Indus readers. Over the past few months I have received several queries about higher education in technical communication and I hope this article will shed light on few of the questions I often receive by fellow technical writers.

About Seneca College
Founded in 1967, Seneca is Canada’s largest government-funded college and has 10 campuses across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Seneca offers 260 programs to more than 20,000 full-time and 70,000 part-time students. Every year, Seneca welcomes more than 3500 international students from 111 countries.

About Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication
Seneca College (post) Graduate Certificate in Technical Communication (Co-op) program is a yearlong (two semesters) full-time program which includes a four month paid internship between the two semesters. It provides an intensive learning/work experience designed to prepare students for a career as a technical communicator (writer, editor, documentation specialist) in a variety of fields.

This program has a fall intake and classes start every year in September at Seneca’s York campus and require a good IELTS score and an impressive writing portfolio. However, the admission process is long and highly competitive and the entire process (including visa) can take almost a year for an international student! From my personal experience, I’d recommend starting as early as January to apply for this program.

Interestingly, even though this course is full-time, the classes are never more than 20 hours per week. The focus is more on writing and document design assignments (both as individual and in a group) and practical aspects instead of rote learning.

For more details about this program, refer to: http://www.senecac.on.ca/fulltime/TECC.html.

Cost
It goes without saying that International studies are expensive. There isn’t any scholarship available for international students due to the recent budget cuts and getting part time work along with your studies is difficult, if not impossible.

The tuition fees for an international student for this program is approximately $ 14,000 CAD (roughly Rs 7,42,000). This figure may seem high, but Canada has the lowest fees for international students compared to other countries. Compared to any college in the U.S, the fees is almost half for a similar program in Canada!

Living expenses, of course, depends upon an individual’s lifestyle but is considered to be around $1000-1500 CAD per month or about $ 12,000 to $ 18,000 CAD (roughly Rs 6,36,000 to Rs 9,54,000) per year. Books are astonishingly expensive and cost roughly $1000 (Rs 53,000) for the entire program.

In total, the entire cost for this program is around $30,000 CAD (roughly Rs 15,00,000). If you are working, then add your annual salary to this figure (since you have to leave your job to pursue this course) and it might be sufficient to buy a small house in a suburban area in India!

Faculty of this Program
The faculty is highly experienced and most have 15-25 years of experience working as technical communicators. All the professors in the program are renowned experts from the field and it a pleasure to learn from them. Additionally, the class notes are always made available to students through the college intranet. Four out of seven professors in our class were past STC presidents and three worked as technical communicators in reputed Canadian companies. Imagine the learning one can get from seven experts every semester!

My experience with this program
I had an amazing experience and even if I had the option to go back in time and change my decision, I will still make the same choice of pursuing this course. I also learned a lot about the North American work culture. Though I always worked with colleagues in US and Canada and used to think that I know much about the culture, I had numerous cultural and social learning opportunities in the past few months. Sometimes, my learning outside the classroom was greater than my learning inside the classroom.

My thoughts are echoed by my classmates too. “The Seneca TECC program is the best technical writing graduate program I have come across. The courses are so varied and structured with adequate practice sessions that students receive comprehensive education before stepping into the technical writing world. Students can learn about modern-day documentation technologies and concepts such as single-sourcing, DITA, XML, FrameMaker, principles of simplified English and so on as well as the time-honored elements of document design, style guide, web tutorials, principles of technical editing and business writing,” one of my classmates told me with a confident smile on her face.

Another classmate shares his experience with the program- “This program has thought me the basics of technical communication, concepts and methodologies, and about the latest tools –all of which is usually not taught in organizations. I can now apply my classroom learning in my future employment. It has also helped me to improve and fine-tune my writing”.

The Co-op (Internship) Experience
The second term of Seneca’s Technical Communication program is a co-op placement. Cooperative education, also known as co-op placement, is a paid or un-paid work term and is an integral part of this program. The cooperative education semester, also known as Co-op semester, supplements the classroom training and provides a great opportunity for gaining real-world work experience.

The selection by Canadian employers, however, is highly competitive and nothing less challenging than finding a full-time job. The co-op students are sometimes retained by their co-op employers even after the internship ends and later recruited as full-time employees.

I completed my four month co-op placement at Seneca College IT department and created documentation and video tutorials for an internally developed Content Management System. My employer liked my work and hired me again to work part time in my final semester.

Why I pursued this program?
I wanted to pursue a post graduate certificate/degree in technical communication and was interested in developing my writing skills. I looked around and couldn’t find any suitable course in India which met my expectations. I researched and found out that Seneca’s Technical Communication program not only meets but exceeds my expectation on many fronts. I also got excited about the experience I’d get by living in a new culture.

For other international students, reasons were a bit different. “I wanted to expand my skill set with an emphasis on international exposure. The Seneca program seemed to be the best option, as it combined the co-op component with formal training,” says one of the several international students in my class.

Was it an easy decision? No, not at all! Leaving your job, the safety of a monthly income, your friends and family is never an easy choice. Moving out of India was a difficult decision as I was already settled in my career. I consider the decision to pursue this program as the biggest decision of my life (I’m not married yet so I still have to make the other big decision of my life!).

Was this decision worth it? “It was a bit of hard decision considering I was leaving family, friends, steady income, and the comfort of my home behind. But I think it’s all worth it!” says another international student in my class.

Advice to writers interested in this program

Consider your goal to pursue this program. The job market is not doing well in Canada and it is extremely difficult to find a good job. Even jobs that pay minimum salary are increasingly becoming highly competitive. Since my focus was to develop my skills and not getting employed in Canada, I would not hesitate to move back to India after pursuing this program. After completing this program, International students receive one year of post graduate work permit that allows them to work for one year in Canada. I’m looking forward to utilize my work permit to gain valuable Canadian work experience.

Gaining few years of experience in a writing related job will also help in understanding advanced concepts in this program. And be prepared to face the unexpected, as many technical writers do in their work life.

I would love to hear what you think about pursuing higher education in Technical Communication? Is it worth it? Leave a comment and let me know.

About the Author:
Gurpreet Singh is a technical writer, blogger, and social media strategist with over nine years of professional writing experience. He is currently a full-time student working toward his post graduate certificate in technical communication at Seneca College, Toronto. He blogs about technical writing at: http://TechnicalWritingToolBox.com.

This article was published in May-June 2012 edition of INDUS. INDUS is an award-winning publication of the India chapter of STC and is published six times a year.

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11 responses to “Higher Education in Technical Communication- Is it worth it?

  1. Shweta Hardikar July 3, 2012 at 1:25 am

    Wonderful Gurpreet! You addressed the concerns so well…I never had any formal education in Technical Communication and I agree with your reasons for pursuing education outside India.

  2. Bernard Aschwanden July 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Articles like this make me proud to be a part of the program. Well written, well researched, and a lot of great content that really does justice to the program. Congratulations on the work and I’m glad to have you in the course. You bring a lot of good questions, and have great ideas.

  3. Harry July 4, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Good to know about your international educational pursuit. You shared all the relevant information that will help others who are interested to pursue advanced knowledge in technical communication!

  4. Rachel McAlpine July 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for your insights, Gurpreet, so clearly expressed. Quality is a major criterion when you’re choosing a higher education program, and clearly the Seneca program is outstanding of its kind. But when you also consider the true cost and impact on career prospects, there’s no universal answer to the question, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” Individual motivation is key, as you’ve made clear. For technical communicators facing an uncertain job market and rapid changes in technology and standards, we fill another slot: quick professional development courses delivered online.

  5. Rajender Mehta July 6, 2012 at 1:39 am

    Nicely crafted article. It displays the organization of your thoughts and skills you acquired by long corporate experience and last but the greatest, this course. Wish you good luck for future.

  6. Kell Condon July 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

    If you are interested in adding business analysis to your skillset, I would recommend checking out IIBA certified courses. These are always great sources for foundational information, and can be a truely cost effective alternative to pursuing a graduate degree. Best of luck

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  9. Harish November 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    A very nice article. You answered every question that I had, and it’s a tough decision to make and I can’t agree more. It seems a risk worth taking, and if you want something you never had, then you got to do something you never did. All the best!

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