A guide to navigating Media Studies at Cal and musings of my college journey as an interdisciplinary student.
This past Spring Break, I watched Avenue Q, a rather crude, humorous off-Broadway musical about finding your purpose in life. I had resonated with the main character Princeton’s post-college anxieties in “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English / It Sucks to be Me.” Now that I’ve already graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies, the thought of transitioning to a life without an educational institution to guide my next steps is a bit daunting to say the least.
“What is Media Studies?” In short, it is what you make of it. Taking a theoretical approach, its core classes are derived from traditions in communications, political science, anthropology, psychology, and sociology. It is a major that can complement and supplement a variety of majors/minors. You gain and hone skills ranging from analytical writing, communication, and qualitative research. Some people can concentrate on taking classes pertaining to marketing, film/media, new media, and journalism.
“What do you do with a B.A. in Media Studies?” My parents and fellow peers frequently asked me this question throughout my college career once I had decided to pursue this often misunderstood, ambiguous interdisciplinary major. Some friends joked that I would have difficulty finding a decent job after college. Others remarked that I should pursue a more practical, technical major because Media Studies is so broad. Graduates can pursue a career from a variety of industries from entertainment to tech or go on to attain graduate degrees (law, business, informatics, etc). Honestly, you can do whatever you want because majors don’t necessarily define your future job, unless it an extremely technical one. The skills learned in Media Studies can be applicable to a variety of roles. In my current role as a UX Designer, I’ve utilized skills of understanding the medium or a product’s effect on users through using quantitative and qualitative research methods (SOC 5 anyone?).
I entered my freshman year of college confidently knowing that I would pursue Business and Art History, and eventually make my mark in the fashion industry. In the middle of my second semester, I became disenchanted with the Business prerequisite classes and couldn’t see myself purely studying art as a medium for 4 years. After coming to that disheartening realization, I often asked myself these questions: “What do I gravitate towards?”, “What do I excel at?”, and “What else do I want to learn?” I knew that I loved analyzing visuals and working in collaborative teams to build something (which were missing from the prior classes I took), so the next semester I started experimenting with classes from other majors that seemed to include those elements.
I fell in love with Media Studies after taking MS 10: Intro to Media Studies, where I was exposed to women’s misrepresentation in the media and was challenged to think more critically about the media messages I consumed everyday. Simultaneously, I was taking my first Computer Science class where I learned to code for the first time.
Media Studies and CS were completely different, yet complimentary to one another. Many of my Media Studies classes examined how users produced content with the technologies that software engineers built with code. In my Media Studies classes, I always wondered how these social media platforms were built in the first place to empower users to use their voice and produce content. Consequently, I decided to minor in Computer Science. Outside of class, I joined Berkeley Innovation, a human-centered design organization, where I consulted clients to provide UX/UI design solutions. I also tried to take on various roles within my fashion organization, Fashion and Student Trends, as Events Director and Webmaster.
Involvements in these different student organizations and internships at fashion e-commerce startups helped me to concentrate on projects in graphic and web/product design. In junior year, I started choosing electives related to new media and information technologies. By senior year, I had a clearer idea that I wanted to pursue a career in either UX Design or Product Management. I wanted to take classes that would help me develop my design and project management skills as I built my portfolio.
Although I struggled to juggle between studying two different subjects, I learned to value the importance of interdisciplinary education, especially building the bridge between engineering and arts/humanities. John Maeda would call this the STEAM movement (STEM + Art). The opening of the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation made it easier to bridge the gap between the two disciplines (highly recommend that you take a class there and get it approved as an elective!). By taking classes related to my major but from different departments, Media Studies gave me the freedom to explore and find out what my interests and calling were.
Without knowing the name for the process I had applied at the time, I had used design thinking throughout college to gain a deeper understanding of my passions and calling. This process of empathizing, synthesizing observations, experimenting, and iterating is normally applied in a corporate context, but it can also have amazingly innovative ramifications if applied to yourself. Design thinking is a process I will continue to use throughout the rest of my life to try a new skill/activity and grow in my career and personal life. Despite the initial negative reactions for pursuing Media Studies, I was able to carve a path for myself and so can anyone else.
- Even if you still don’t know what career path you ultimately want to pursue with a Media Studies degree, be aware of what your interests and passions are by asking “What do I find myself gravitating towards?” As Wong Fu Production’s Philip Wang said at the UCSD commencement, “Take your time, but don’t waste your time.”
- Try out new classes, student organizations, and internships that could possibly unlock new interests or build upon your current career trajectory.
- Once you know which career or industry to strive toward, hone in on the specific skills sought after in those positions through the classes you take, the student groups you lead, and the jobs/internships you do. You can also take on the challenge of adding a major or minor, if timing permits.
- Apply design thinking as a part of your decision-making process: explore the possibilities (different majors/classes + student orgs) → synthesize observations of your interests/dislikes and strengths → experiment and try → evaluate feedback and iterate → refine and specialize in an area
If you have any questions about Media Studies at Cal or navigating college, I would be happy to chat with you.