We recently caught up with Tyler Morgenstern, a 2011 School of Communication alumnus. A keen interest in popular media studies drew him to the Communication program where he found his intellectual home. Since graduating Tyler has spent time in the non-profit sector, working for companies such as OpenMedia and BC’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. Recently he completed his MA in Media Studies and plans to earn his Doctorate.
In the midst of his busy schedule Tyler sat down with us to answer a few questions about his journey after University.
Why did you decide to pursue a degree in Communication, and what did you love most about the program?
Growing up, I was always extremely interested in popular media cultures. An early cinephile, a ravenous consumer of music, hopelessly addicted to the news, and passably competent online, I was always seeking out compelling images, sounds, and stories; new and challenging ways of seeing the world.
When considering possible undergraduate degrees, I wanted to find somewhere I could not only pursue these interests, but develop them in novel and nuanced ways, joining them with questions of politics, history, power, and social change. The School of Communication at SFU seemed like an ideal place to do just that.
As a direct admit to the program, and with only a passing sense of what communication studies actually entailed as a discipline, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Much to my relief, though, I found an exciting and challenging intellectual home at the School, where I was fortunate enough to develop strong, productive, and intellectually generous relationships with several faculty members and students, many of whom I still count as colleagues, mentors, and friends.
How did the Communication program prepare you for life after University?
As someone pursuing a career in research and academia, the idea of “life after university” doesn’t really apply to me! That said, the BA in Communication from SFU has been instrumental in my formation as a scholar.
My own research might be described as critical cultural and media studies, and is concerned primarily with how particular representational and image-making practices can help us understand, map, and challenge broader systems of power and inequality – race, colonialism, imperialism, gender, and so on.
This sense of criticality, I think, derives in large part from my time at the School of Communication, where I was introduced to the fundamentals of critical political economy, globalization theory, ideology critique, and even social movement theory. These fields quickly became and remain major influences on my scholarly work.
Job wise, what have you been up to since graduating in 2012?
Since graduating in 2012, I have spent most of my time in the NGO and non-profit sector. To begin with, a few months after convocation, I took a position with OpenMedia.ca, acting as communications and community outreach coordinator for a project known as Reimagine CBC.
After my time with Reimagine ended, I joined the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) in a full-time role as Program Director, helping to coordinate the organization’s fundraising, communication, public education, and advocacy initiatives.
Around the same time, I was also invited to join OpenMedia.ca’s Board of Directors, a position I proudly held until December, 2014. In the spring of 2013, I accepted an offer to begin an MA in Media Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, and so left my post at FIPA in August of the same year. All the while, I worked sporadically as a freelance writer, focusing on cultural criticism, books, film, and music, and publishing primarily with SAD Mag and ArtThreat.
Do you have any advice for new Communication graduates about job hunting and finding a career?
I’ve chosen to pursue a very particular sort of career, and so can’t speak in overly broad terms about how to navigate the working world. But what I can say is that new graduates – while always remaining humble and open to learning from others! – should do their very best not to forget the value of their work and their time.
It’s very easy these days, particularly in the so-called creative industries, to find oneself in unpaid or underpaid positions on the promise of exposure, future advancement, or networking opportunities. While those opportunities are certainly important in the early stages of a career, it’s also critical to remember that as students, we all work hard to develop the skills and competencies required to succeed in our chosen fields. Learn to stand up for that effort! Creative work is still work, and should be valued and respected as such.
Outside of that: dream bigger and better than bottom lines; make the most of institutional constraints while never accepting that those constraints can’t be changed; seek out the advice and support of friends, mentors, and colleagues whose opinions you trust and value, and when they give you their thoughts, listen closely, always with a great degree of humility.
You were very involved in Media Democracy Days, what prompted you to get involved?
I began my relationship with Media Democracy Days (MDD) back in 2009, when I supported the event as a volunteer with OpenMedia.ca, one of MDD’s long-time community partners. The following year, while completing a co-op term with the School of Communication and FCAT, my supervisor, Dr. Stuart Poyntz, asked if I would be interested in coordinating MDD. I jumped at the opportunity, and over the next three years, I worked closely with an outstanding team of faculty advisors, student volunteers, and community partners on a wide range of events addressing the intersections of politics, policy, activism, and media in Canada.
I was initially drawn to the project simply because its mission – to empower diverse communities to better understand, actively create, and ultimately change our shared media environments – is of vital importance in the contemporary moment. And to pursue that mission while working with and learning from countless community leaders, artists, activists, and academics was nothing short of an honour.
You just completed your MA in Media Studies in April of 2015, what does your research focus on?
My thesis, completed under the supervision (and with the invaluable support) of Dr. Krista Geneviève Lynes, explored how post-9/11 Canadian border governance mechanisms function as representational systems that render Indigenous, racialized, and migratory subjects in particular ways, and how these systems help to uphold forms of migrant-exclusionary and settler-colonial rule.
In the hopes of challenging these systems and imagining not only alternative representational possibilities but also more just ways of being in relation in and across difference, the thesis examines several contemporary works of media and screen art, all produced by Indigenous and racialized artists working in Canada. This research will form the basis of my doctoral work, which I will begin in September, 2015 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I will be pursuing a PhD in Film & Media Studies.
What promoted you to head back into the world of academia to obtain your masters?
I’m not sure I was prompted so much as simply following through on what I always knew I wanted to do. Plainly: I’m passionate about research, learning, and teaching. I greatly enjoyed my time away, and my experiences in the NGO sector were invaluable, but I love working in the university, all its stresses aside. I missed it dearly, and I’m very happy and humbled to be back.