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  • Writer's pictureKendra Oliver

Why an M.P.S. in UX design? Looking for the golden egg...

Five years ago, I would have no idea what someone would be referring to if they mentioned UX design. I was up to my eyeball in pipet tips trying to work my way towards earning a Ph.D. But I have found that my aptitude for figure making was a skill that would lead to an exciting and rewarding career. My scientific training would also allow me to ask new questions to drive my career further. Finally, I did not expect to find that an entire community was also interested in exploring these topics further, including UX design. I did not expect to find my golden egg.

Since then, I have explored visual science communication to support online education and science "marketing." Although classically trained as a research scientist in pharmacology, I consider myself a science communication designer with skills ranging from project management and pedagogical approaches to online learning, video production, instructional design, and web design. With a foundation as a cross-disciplinary team member, I have been interested in developing and utilizing these skills to produce content for scientists to help communicate their work, think through engagement strategies, and leverage the intersection of art, science, and technology.

The people for whom I am designing include many different users types. The largest of these groups are the scientists like myself, who are utterly human. Humans want to be engaged. People who pursue scientific careers are enthusiastically interested in learning and engaging in the practice of science. Yet the training system for scientists is based on an apprenticeship model that is long and drawn out. This process has a nack for ensuing configuring to the norm rather than embracing people's humanity and the need for concepts accessibility.

Because I had no formal training in design principles, I began looking for programs where I could gain a foundation in art, communication, or design principles. I decided to pursue the Master of Professional Studies Program in UX Design program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I decided on this program for a few reasons. First, it is a Master's program with 30-credit hours. The program is online and designed to be completed in 15 months while working full time. As a student, I would be able to explore both the design and computer science sides of the user experience.

Additionally, with my cohort, all of whom have unique backgrounds from graphics design to psychology, we would gain mastery of the analytical, problem-solving, and design thinking skills that are highly sought after (and essential) for communication. I was not excited about more classes and the cost of the program. Additionally, I was concerned about how others would interoperate my choice to pursue yet another degree. However, I decided to pursue the program because all my research on the subject showed me how impactful the work of a UX designer could be, particularly in something like science communication. Furthermore, the program has enabled me to develop a great network of peers that challenge and inspire me beyond my work environment.

In my current role, I am working to develop and support digital resources for the Basic Science School of Medicine. The primary goal of this effort is to develop novel online programs and courses in drug discovery, a leading discipline at Vanderbilt University. I have developed Drug Discovery Online, a core of sorts that assists faculty with instructional design, video and audio editing services, website design, and course assessment strategies. But during the last two semesters, I have used the UX design courses and principles to elevate the design and implementation of this program, producing a product that is undoubted of higher quality than it would have been otherwise. Through the MPS UX Design program, I have learned UX research, UX design, prototyping, and human factor analysis principles that I have leveraged to produce the current iteration of DDO, with more exciting and impactful alterations to come. UX design, and the flexibility to gain credential in this area through the MICA M.P.S. program, has been a golden egg for my career. Inside, I hope to find an equally golden ticket to future success.

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