From PhD to Pinterest: Meet communication alumnus Marcos Moldes

March 15, 2022

Meet communication alumnus Marcos Moldes. Marcos graduated in 2017 and pursued a career outside of academia.  

When did you complete your degree?

I defended my dissertation in 2016 and then formally graduated from SFU in 2017. After graduation I moved to the UK where I worked as an innovation researcher for two years and then joined Pinterest as a Qualitative UX Researcher.

Tell us about your graduate experience at SFU. Do you have a favourite memory?

My graduate experience was multi-faceted, like any venture in life there were good and bad times but what sticks out in my memory is the space that my graduate committee, particularly my supervisor Dr. Kirsten McAllister, carved out for me to ask questions, explore innovative research methods, and to pursue the research project that I wanted to do during my time there. My favourite memory is definitely my dissertation defence, not just because it meant I had completed the degree but because it felt like a celebration of the work and a recognition of my effort.

Why did you pick SFU to pursue your PhD?

I chose SFU specifically to work with Dr. Kirsten McAllister. From our first conversation I knew that she was the person I wanted to work with. Kirsten is a mentor and was my thought-partner throughout the PhD, I couldn’t have picked a better person to work with.

What was your research focus?

My research focused on the idea of belonging in diasporic communities. Specifically, I was interested in thinking through how belonging can feel contingent for the children of immigrants who feel attached to both their parent’s homeland and to Canada. I was interested in understanding how this population experienced belonging and the challenges they faced in articulating a sense of belonging and attachment to both (and neither) of the cultures they grew up in. I focused specifically on how second-generation Latin Canadians (the children of immigrants from Latin America) spoke about and experienced belonging both in Canada and in their parent’s homeland.

Many PhD alumni pursue a career in academia. What influenced you to pursue a career outside of academia?

I had originally planned on pursuing an academic career after graduation because I didn’t know there were other options available to me. When I arrived in the UK, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do and struggled to tap into the academic networks in the UK. As luck would have it a friend introduced me to an innovation research firm that specifically hired PhDs with experience in ethnographic research methods. I was able to continue to do research but in a slightly different context.

How does your PhD degree help you in your role at Pinterest?

I use my research training every day at work. I work with cross-functional teams (designers, product managers, engineers) to understand the questions they have and translate that into a research study that will get them the information they need to make decisions about the product roadmap. After designing and then executing a study I translate my findings into a set of actionable insights that empower teams to make decisions that are grounded in the needs of users.

Do you have tips for current undergraduate or graduate students who are interested in pursing a PhD program?

Find a program that encourages their students to explore interdisciplinary solutions to research questions. My committee included people with expertise in performance studies, ethnography, cultural policy and critical race/diaspora studies. You want to find a program that will not only support the completion of your project but will push you towards unexpected places, ideas and concepts… it was the unexpected that helped make me a better researcher and opened me up to new ways of thinking and doing research.

What do you like to do outside of your day job?

I’m perpetually on the hunt for a dance floor, a black americano and a good book (though not all at the same time).

Learn more about the School of Communication PhD program.