Image credit: Austin Kleon
I have been getting calls for job interviews (finally!) and with that, I have been getting the cold feet. I am one of those people who turn into a blubbering mess when I am nervous, and this is where in an attempt to answer a simple question, I tend to relate one fact after another it turned into a whole life story. It’s really interesting to think that your fate in your own livelihood could depend on an hour session of the interview, and a piece of paper. I also couldn’t stop thinking that there is also a definite power imbalance where a lot of times the decisions — to be hired, salary, employee benefits — largely fall on the companies and not on the workers. Also, because all of this while I have done a fair share of interviewing and hiring myself, I realised I needed to learn to take lead less in these interviews by not asking so many questions — although, I am not sure if that’s not such a bad idea?
I noticed, one question that turned me into a blubbering, albeit an energetic mess, was always along the lines of: “Why should we hire you when you have a PhD?” I have always forgotten that people often make the assumption that when you pursue a PhD, you would want to stay in academia by teaching, becoming a faculty member, pursuing for tenure, and so on so forth. But I am someone who is in limbo — someone with both an industry and academia experience — I have known from the start that while I might love teaching, academia is not for me. I have also heard numerous times that pursuing PhD for someone who wanted to transition into an industry position is a liability (admittedly it was soul-crushing because one such comment came from a good friend) because PhD — as written in one of its requirements — requires us to work independently and this is something off-putting to companies due to their nature of always working in teams, hence implies us PhDs do not work well in teams. This is untrue because a lot of PhD candidates are required to liaise with so many groups of people, organisations, and communities in order to proceed with their research. Some of them are required to do labwork, of whose work processes would involve dealing and working with a group of other people. Another assumption was that we PhDs do not fare well in a fast-paced environment like real life jobs (what is this ‘real life’ anyway) because we are used to slow and thoughtful ruminations in our research processes, and unlike the people in the industry, some of us are not burdened with deadlines, which again is untrue.
I wanted to attempt to answer the question better here, so I do not turn into a blubbering mess again in the future when I am posed with the question: “Why should we hire you when you have a PhD?” I am framing this hypothetical job interview here as one for the position of a UX Researcher for a company who designs an e-wallet application.
That is a very interesting question because this is also something that I myself have been thinking a lot. There are a few things I learned while pursuing my PhD, while challenging, is definitely one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had the privilege to choose and embark on. I think the most important lesson I needed to unlearn is the fact that all these while my individual belief has always been in the idea that technology could solve everything. In my doctoral journey in the area of Sociology, I learned this to be predominantly untrue — that most of the times the community of whom we design digital products for would often have the best (sometimes low-tech) solution to their problems, hence we should always recenter these community of whom we are designing our technology for and include them in every process, that design and technology should not be the areas only for the privileged few, that we needed to always credit who we include into our design narrative, and always be aware of the consequences of the products we design. This is something I found out in my 3-year long doctoral research.
It was also found that the design and technology industry — our industry — are rife with the counter practices of the ones I stated above. I am of the belief that if you are designing a digital product, you have to fully understand the communities and the extension of the audience you are designing more — not just individually, but also on a more societal approach. This is because our products would touch lives more so than just for the consumers with the purchasing power, but also those in the peripheral view of them e.g. warehouse workers, the elderly grocery store owners trying to apply to use the app in their stores, if your designers are compensated fairly while building the product, etc. I am not saying that you do not have all of these considerations in mind, I am just saying that sometimes in the process of building digital products, we got caught up in technicalities and indeliberately inflicted harm upon each other. My role, should I am accepted, is to be able to ask all of these important, critical questions and construct an achievable and measurable framework so we can lessen the harm. If you currently do not have someone with an industry background in UX, writing, research, and a social sciences academic perspective to have a better view of how to build not only a profitable, functional, and aesthetically pleasant digital product, but also an ethical and an inclusive one, I can be your person.
Reading in my tab:
- “I say that abolition is a political vision with a goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. That it’s not just about getting rid of building cages, it’s about actually undoing the society that continues to feed on and maintain the oppression of masses of people through punishment, violence, and control.” How would prison abolition actually work? Also, highly recommended reading: Are Prisons Obsolete?
- What does abolition mean for the companies and industries that empower police violence and profit from it?
- Detroit police admitted facial recognition tech gets it wrong 96% of the time. That’s, uhm, a LOT.
- We’re losing the war against surveillance capitalism because we let Big Tech frame the debate.
- “In this sense, then, the value of the Obama image isn’t that it exposes a single flaw in a single algorithm; it’s that it communicates, at an intuitive level, the pervasive nature of AI bias. What it hides, however, is that the problem of bias goes far deeper than any dataset or algorithm. It’s a pervasive issue that requires much more than technical fixes.” What a machine learning tool that turns Obama white can (and can’t) tell us about AI bias.
- Facebook has become THE vehicle “for climate misinformation, and thus should be held partially responsible for a lack of action on climate change.”
- “The harm is that telling people to “assume good intent” is a sign that if they come to you with a concern, you will minimise their feelings, police their reactions, and question their perceptions. It tells marginalised people that you don’t see codes of conduct as tools to address systemic discrimination, but as tools to manage personal conflicts without taking power differences into account. Telling people to “assume good intent” sends a message about whose feelings you plan to center when an issue arises in your community.”
- Why social justice feels like self-help to privileged women.
- “And so instead of maybe doing a little research, understanding the history and the different semantic valences of a particular term to decide for yourself, or to understand the appropriateness of a use in a particular context, people generally go, ‘Tell me the word, and I will use the word.’ They’re not interested in learning things about the history of the term, or the context in which it’s appropriate.” Why the term ‘BIPOC’ is so complicated, explained by linguists.
- Stop doomscrolling.
- “Who said it was simple?”
- Reading: Sasha Costanza-Chock’s Design Justice.
- Listening: How to write a book.
- Viewing: Eurovision Song Content: The Story of Fire Saga. The accents are on point, Rachel McAdams is adorable, and now I can’t get the song Ja Ja Ding Dong out of my head. Also, the most perfect TikTok.
- Food & Drink: I made crab curry with chunks of homegrown pineapples! I also purchased ulam latok at one of the stores, which went great with white rice and grilled fish.