Another Degree of Overqualified

Earning the MFA in Film and Digital Technology proved a challenge, in many ways. We had medical emergencies (including surgeries for both my wife and me), family emergencies, and the general financial stress of a graduate degree. There were long nights and weekends spent working on projects and papers, trying to add to my marketability so I might earn some money to contribute to the household.

I now possess the MA, MFA, and PhD pieces of paper. My areas of specialization are the economics of media and portrayals of economic issues in the media. I'm interested in how we discuss economics and find it fascinating that an expensive industry (media) that embodies capitalism finds itself conflicted. More narrowly, I'm fascinated by the visual aspects of digital media and how those are used to engage in persuasion.

There isn't a huge demand for the rhetoric of economics, especially within visual rhetoric. It's a small field, dominated by a few names. You need an appreciation for and basic knowledge of economics, as well as design theory, genre theory, and narrative theory. How do stories (and their visual elements) persuade people to embrace or reject economic theories and tested economic research?

I hear the question regularly: You don't study autism? You don't specialize in special needs education?

Tangentially, I do, when it concerns the economics of access and training for the disabled. I have written about making the tools for digital media content creation more accessible, for example. When do the costs of access become prohibitive? Not only the dollar costs, but the costs in human time and expertise. There aren't that many good designers who understand accommodating special needs, sadly. (The designers with user interface/experience skills should, in theory, be well-paid and in demand for legal compliance reasons. Unfortunately, organizations would rather pay fines than create better tools and hire more UI/UX professionals.)

The main reason I don't focus on "autism" research is that I found special education issues exhausting, emotionally. I don't like to dwell on what I cannot do as a disabled person and I don't want to encourage other people to dwell on their limitations day after day. I'm not an angry and bitter warrior, despite the tone of online posts. Most days are good and I don't find myself compelled to write: "We mowed the lawn and pruned roses today." That a nice day, but not a compelling blog.

Economic theories and research rely on math. I like math; it makes sense to me. Business analysts, policy experts, and economists need help explaining their fields to the public. I like that challenge. How do you tell people what they don't want to believe?

I am interested in subtle design choices that influence people to take content seriously. (Don't use a "handwritten" typeface for a serious document. It does not make it seem friendly, according to research data.) How can we guide people to make wiser life choices? In some cases, arranging default checkboxes carefully changes how many people decide to donate organs, save for retirement, or vote for a candidate. Fonts, form designs, and so on interest me.

Anyway, I now have another degree and am back on the academic job market. We shall see if the MFA helps or if I end up returning to private industry in some manner.

As long as I make some difference in educating people, and pay our family expenses, I suppose that's good enough.


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