What I’ve Learned in My First Semester in Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture and Technology Program
Finals are over and all of my classes are complete, so I can safely say, I have survived my first semester in grad school. These last few months have been full of questions, answers, and lingering thoughts, but I’ve learned that Georgetown CCT is certainly not a program made for everyone. I’m not sure how other graduate programs are, so I can’t really compare it to anything besides what I “think” it should be like and my program is not exactly what I expected. But then again, I also expected it to be like that. Weird.
CCT is advertised as this very interdisciplinary program that is great for creative and critical thinkers who are ready to lay out their own path in life. It’s certainly not the kind of program where you can come in, take the classes, and just get a job. But then again, what educational program is like that these days? You have to do the work outside of the classroom too. That makes the difference. Being in an interdisciplinary program means that every class won’t align with the next nor does it necessarily build off each other. It’s up to you to sort of connect the dots and to figure out what your story is or the one you’re trying to create. That’s both beautiful and challenging and can make for an interesting experience if you make the most of it.
People from my program go on to do a myriad of things. The kind of skills we learn are created by the space we’re cultivated in. Everyone comes from somewhere else on the world with all different ideas, some more formulated than others, in search for ourselves and for something more. A lot of people go into consulting for companies like Deloitte and Booz Allen Hamilton it seems. While others go to work for the government or other policy institutions working in research, communication, and technology policy. Some people even make it into the tech world working for companies like IBM and Google working in user research which is what I hope to do. It’s not a technical program in the sense that you’re learning how to do heavy technical work. There are some interaction design courses, courses in creative web development, and courses that discuss big ideas like AI, the cloud and data privacy. With the Georgetown Makerhub, there is a space to dive into VR and design your own projects and prototypes whether through laser cutting, 3D printing, Arduinos and other electronics, but these more technical skills are all skills (for the most part) that you will have to devote time to learning on your own. So if you’re hoping to come to this program to be a software developer, you’re better off with a computer science program because that’s just not what this program is for. This is one that’s more about bridging the connection between techies and non-techies. It’s also more of a political communication / technology policy program so keep that in mind. We are in D.C.
I’d say it provides a more theoretical backing than it is practical. I mean, when you have a program where everyone wants to do something different, the practical classes can be quite generic and has to meet everyone’s level so it’s really important to work at your level and even challenge yourself a little more. If you take a methods course, it’s up to you to work on projects that are going to be relevant to what you hope to do in your career. If you haven’t discovered that yet when you enter the program, it is possible to feel like the projects you worked on weren’t meaningful but it’s all about how you think about it and apply those skills you learned in the process. I’d suggest making any and all assignments as meaningful and applicable as possible. This is grad school. The things we learn shouldn’t just be about getting the grade or just doing the work. This school literally costs way too much to just be doing assignments to get it out of the way.
This semester I took Interaction Design where I designed this really cool final semester project. It doesn’t include the housing because I really imagine this screen being on a wall on a much larger scale like a modern art installation so the housing I created for it isn’t quite what I liked. It incorporates a distance sensor, an Arduino board, a breadboard, a 16x2 LCD, some soldering, Arduino code and lots of wires.
It’s cool because I got to incorporate my love for poetry and critical design by creating something where ideally, people have to embody in order to understand it. In the real form, this project would require your physical body to move further and closer away in order to get the text to change, thus capturing in a more metaphorical sense, the purpose. The project is called CLOSER and really seeks to demonstrate how Black Americans’ stories and identities are not broken, but are full of life when you are close enough to see that. Much like Hughes’ poem, I wanted people to be able to understand how easy it is to feel something (or someone) is broken when you are far away, but when you get closer, you are able to recognize who they really are. That’s the gist atleast. #criticaldesign #interactiondesign #lookmomimadesomethingcool
I like that this program allows me to explore these ideas. Honestly, I’ve been considering doing an independent study where I can further create more critical, poetic, and interactive design projects. I think there is something there for me that I hadn’t realized before. Being a creator, I love to make things that mean something. This program in a sense is a good mix between my need for practical skills (interaction design was one of the technical classes I mentioned) with enough room to interweave my critical and cultural questions through it.
I live in this battle between being a creator who makes things and being a person who can make a living. It’s my hope that during this time, I learn how to combine to the two in a meaningful way using technology in ways I hadn’t ever thought I could.
On another note, I also took Systemic Design for User Experience where I learned about user personas and journey maps and how to design with the users in mind. For my final project, I researched the Georgetown University Off-Campus Housing Service website to understand what the typical users are and how the website could improve in it’s experience. I used this website when I was moving to D.C. and although it was helpful, it could have been a much more helpful source. I ended up using Apartments.com instead. I think it’s a great resource my school offers but there’s definitely some shortcomings along the way. I will do a more in depth discussion on my research in another post.
Finally, for my last course which was a required course called Interdisciplinary Methods, I joined a group that was interested in helping small businesses in the tourist industry combat globalization. We had to develop some new technology and I really wanted to work on the UX part of it so I created the prototype for the website using Figma. It was a really great experience and my first time completing a prototype on this website.
I think one of the best things about this program and this university is it’s network. I mean seriously. People from the university go off to do really amazing things in some really cool companies and I don’t hesitate to reach out to them to say, hey, how did you get there? That’s something you really have to do. I’ve grown up being known as the “shy” girl, but I don’t consider myself shy. I know how and when to be quiet. And I believe in the saying “being shy costs you money.” It’s true. I’ve been talking to everybody. I talked to as many people as I could before I came because I honestly care about doing important work and having a good life and I want to be sure that I’m creating a life path for myself that has those componenets.
So here it is. Is it what you expected? Did I ramble on too much? Well, I questioned whether or not this program was the right decision when I first arrived and honestly before I came. People leave disappoined. That’s an honest truth. But people also leave loving the experience and go off to live happy lives. I think it’s all about the work you put in and the luck that comes with being in the right place at the right time. Regardless, if you can get into this program, I think you’ll go far in life no matter what because you already have the mindset of a high level thinker.
You want to go places and you’re actively trying to figure out how to get there.
That’s a large part of it in my opinion. I’m still learning but I’m hopeful that everything else will work it’s way out.
Are you a grad student? What’s your program like?
If you’re reading this because you’re interested in applying to CCT, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to speak with you about it. Also, follow me on Medium and the rest of my social media!
Share this post with your friends, give it some claps and give yourself a break. We’re all just trying to figure it out.