Arts alumni are an accomplished crew. They have great advice for students and fellow graduates, and know that arts degrees teach skills that are sought-after in the professional environment.
Tara Franz is a User Experience (UX) Research Manager at Facebook in Menlo Park, California. She has extensive experience in conducting both large and small scale research projects for social research and market research. Tara graduated from the University of Calgary in 2002 with a BA in Sociology.
I got to act in a University of Calgary presentation of The Vagina Monologues with a group of fellow women students. It was such a wonderful experience to share a theatrical presentation to communicate something I have always been really passionate about.
The main food court area. I would have a standing lunch meeting with friends to hang out, eat snacks and talk about all the things! That’s the place I remember most.
If you could give one piece of advice to an undergraduate completing the same degree that you did, what would it be?
Be open to all the ideas that come at you in college. To grow as a critical thinker, able to hear differing opinions, seek to understand them, is a great skill and will serve you well. Seek out opportunities to work with professors, fellow students and be involved on campus; a lot of the richest experiences I had came from outside of my classes in clubs, events and part time research assistant work I was able to take part in.
I started out doing a lot of Social research, really working with communities of people and deep analysis on patterns of demographics and behaviours. However doing a master's degree in gaming communities and moving to a research job with a digital agency, Critical Mass, I became really immersed and interested in online communities and technology. This really evolved my career into understanding the human experience of technology, even though I didn’t study Human Factors or Human Computer Interaction as a degree having the Sociological studies background allowed me to explore, study and understand the human experience of technology and continue down a path working in User Experience that I have loved. It has also allowed me to have jobs where I worked for myself and with great teams, like now.
I get to work on innovating new, exciting future products and improving current digital experiences. I get to talk to people regularly and make meaningful connections, either with my team members that I support or with research participants who I learn from. Working at Facebook I work with the best and the brightest which means I’m always challenged to level up my thinking and work really hard to make great things happen.
Sociology doesn’t just help you understand the social world, it provides a lens of curiousity, observation and analysis that has served me in all aspects of my life. The amount of “good questioning” I had to do has been an asset for my career in being a researcher, but also in being a mentor or manager as you have a framework for empathy that can help breed connections. I feel without that I may have had analysis but not true insight into problems or questions I was solving.
I got to work with Dr. Harry Hiller on the Alberta In-Migration study for my senior year of my bachelor’s. Working with him on such a large-scale, mixed-methods research project was inspiring for me. The study was long and in depth but it showed me that big research dreams can happen, will happen and are possible. From that point on, I never thought of a research problem as impossible, nor a method too hard – they were just big challenges. His mentorship was huge for me at that point in my career.