Well first off, I can’t believe that it’s already over. Two years of toiling, tears, and tantrums are finally over. It was definitely well worth it.
First year vs. Second Year
When I first started CMU I was shocked at the number of people that were in one year programs. I felt that one year was too short to get your bearings in a place and still be expected to perform. As the first year went on, I began to understand why people did 1 year programs- physically, mentally, financially, it made a lot of sense. However, I think it was in the second year of graduate school that I really took advantage of everything CMU had to offer and got an understanding of what it meant to receive higher education. Reflecting back, I definitely think that the majority of my memories of graduate school will be from the second year.
With that said, I think the atmosphere within the studio was also very different. With the influx of a new batch of people with a diverse set of backgrounds, I really learned a lot from my friends / classmates. Last year the studio culture was different in the sense that people didn’t work at the studio, making it hard to ask for feedback and actually interact with each other while we were working.
Finishing a second year after the internship also makes a difference because you return as a more confident designer. After seeing the value you can contribute to an organization in industry, it’s much more empowering to come back to school to try and develop those skills much further. While I do have some regrets about my internship, I do believe it is a necessary experience.
New Product Management (Mini-3)
This was a second year MBA class I decided to take to get some understanding into graduate business school. While I did a lot of statistics number-crunching, I learned quite a bit about the logistical details of how to approach a problem from a business perspective. I was lucky to have a super-talented and hard-working group that really guided me through our case studies that were the bulk of the class.
Rape Aggression Defense Systems (RAD) (Mini-4)
Basically a female self-defense class, I took this to better understand how to defend myself. Realistically, it ended up being a class about how to get out of a situation so you wouldn’t have to defend yourself in in the first place. I actually grew more scared in the beginning of the course, realizing the limits of my own strength, but with time it was obvious that the mental stakes are higher than the physical. The final for this class was to fight a police officer (in a fat suit) who acted as an assaulter in two different situations (you had padding on as well). In the first 10 seconds I had the wind knocked out of me as he attacked me at full force. But when I got my marbles together, I managed to get our of the situation. Talk about frighteningly empowering.
I was super excited for this class initially because Jodi is a great professor. The start of the semester started off strong, with lots of exercises and course material distribution. However with the onset of interviews, conferences, and general springtime hullabaloo, it made it hard to stay motivated and focused on our project. The products produced by each of the groups was ok, but definitely could have been much better. The client thought each was feasible and produced value (which was the point), but I think we could have developed better deliverables to push ourselves more.
A whirlwind adventure is what I would characterize thesis as. At times I was so invigorated by the topic and felt so self-driven, I felt as if I was in love and I could conquer the world. And other times (read most of the time) I felt like I was always falling behind. I felt like I didn’t do my topic justice and just wanted to cancel everything else so I could focus on this one thing. One of the biggest realizations of doing a masters degree with a thesis component is that this is only the start to “the research”. Especially in design we know that because of the nature of our topics, we have to take the time to research our topic but everything that is tangential to it to get even an inkling of an understanding of the information space. At the beginning of the journey, we are all excited that we get to tackle this topic, then we get to the stage of realizing that this is physically impossible, and then we come to terms with what we can actually do. I realized that to actually research my topic to the entirety that I would like to, I would basically have to do a PhD.
While I intned to pursue my thesis in the future, I’m currently a little “burnt out”. I need some time and space to be able to think through all the concepts and come to the table with fresh ideas.
Entering graduate school, I think we all have a set of expectations of what the institution provides as well as what we want to learn. I would have loved to learn cardboard modeling with Joep, taken more visual design classes with Dan, or taken a class to learn better UI and videosketch skills with John. But I’m a believer of the “everything happens for a reason” track and these are just skills to continuously develop. Going to conferences, taking classes, and netowrking at various design events is still going to be an everyday part of my life. Learning doesn’t just end after school.
Being the last CPID batch is definitely bittersweet. Despite my complaints about some of the CPID classes, it was an amazing program with so many successful alumni. I wish the new curriculum would actually take into account more of the CPID classes, but we will see how it shapes up.
Although commencement itself was a little underwhelming (maybe cause I had just gone through one about two years ago), but a lot of fun. I was honored that my classmates chose me to give a short speech reflecting on our time in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon.