About Monika Sziron: Monika Sziron is a Ph.D. student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where she is currently pursuing her doctorate in Technology and Humanities. She conducts the majority of her research in Illinois Tech’s Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions, studying the interaction between humans and robots, and the ethics of robotics and artificial intelligence.
Ms. Sziron holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. She earned her master’s degree in 2017, through the Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts program at DePaul University.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Monika Sziron] I have a B.A. in communicating arts from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, an M.A. from DePaul University in digital communication and media arts, and I am currently a Ph.D. student at Illinois Tech in technology and humanities. As a Ph.D. student, I work in the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Tech. This position has played an important role in establishing and developing my research.
You may be wondering how my communicating arts degrees led me to such a position. Ultimately, my research interests have always been in relation to communication technologies, technologies in general, and their influence on our daily lives. One of the technologies that impresses me the most is robotics. My research takes into consideration how we have historically and how we presently communicate and interact with robots. This has resulted in me focusing on robot ethics and ethics of artificial intelligence, landing me at the ethics center.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Why did you decide to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and why did you ultimately choose the Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts (DCMA) program at DePaul University?
[Monika Sziron] Inspired by the communication faculty at UW-Superior, I realized as an undergrad that I wanted to be a professor. This was the sole reason I sought a master’s degree in communication. I originally wanted to focus on more theory-based master’s programs. However, a professor of mine encouraged me to find a program that not only focused on theory but also included media arts (the techy stuff). While I searched nationwide for programs that blended theory and practice, I knew I wanted to move to the Chicagoland area. The DCMA program at DePaul was fairly new at the time but everything about the program appealed to me.
The blend of theory and practice in the DCMA program was exactly what I wanted. The program allowed me to take classes in computer science and digital media, and theory classes in the college of communication. I was learning to develop and use the technologies I had been theorizing about for years. This led to newfound perspectives and the ability to better understand the realities of our modern technology.
[MastersinCommunications.com] How is DePaul’s DCMA program structured, and what concepts did the program emphasize? What skills and strategies did you learn in your classes, and how did you apply them to course assignments?
[Monika Sziron] The DCMA program is flexible and allows you to learn from a variety of disciplines. Depending on your interests, you are able to choose your focus: digital communication or media art. With my main interests being theory based, I chose digital communication.
The program stresses thinking from a variety of perspectives. It encourages students from different domains to work together, preparing them for real-world organizations and businesses. It is normal to be in a class that has students from journalism, public relations, media studies, and computing. This allows students to hear from other disciplines and realize the variety of goals coming from each field. This has proven very useful for me now as a humanities scholar at a tech school working alongside computer scientists and engineers.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What advice do you have for students in terms of completing their thesis (i.e. determining a research topic of appropriate scope, conducting thorough research and analysis, and crafting a strong presentation, etc.)?
[Monika Sziron] With the goal to apply to Ph.D. programs, I chose to write a thesis (I believe it is now called a master’s project in DCMA). When my advisor, Paul Booth, and I sat down to talk about writing a thesis, he simply asked me, “What are you interested in?” My answer was “Dogs, technology, and people.” He encouraged me to refine these ideas, read what literature was already published, and see how those three things could come together. After some thinking and reading, my thesis formed into an exploration of animals, robots, and people. With help from various scholars’ literature and ideas, I explored the shared histories and shared presents of these three entities and their potential futures. The focus became an analysis of animal ethics, robot ethics, and morality throughout history.
My thesis advisors helped me develop a writing and research schedule, and would make edits on chapters/sections as I completed them. After writing, I had to defend my thesis in front of my thesis advisors. I found the actual presentation of my work less nerve-racking than the questions that followed. It can be hard to think on your feet, but take your time and go with what you know to be true. It’s always better to be honest that you don’t know the answer to a question, than trying to ramble toward an answer.
My advice when writing a thesis is to write about what you care about and the things that interest you. Start thinking about the topics or problems that really inspire you in your classes each quarter/semester and the things that have always been curiosities to you. Don’t be afraid to find help from scholars who have come before you. Don’t be discouraged when you find an article or work that has already been published about your ideas. If this happens, try approaching the topic in a different way, or try asking different questions. Don’t give up on your curiosities because someone has already written about them.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What key takeaways, experiences, or connections from DePaul’s Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts program have you found to be the most helpful for you in your career path?
[Monika Sziron] The key highlights that I think of in regards to my time at DePaul include the faculty and my peers. The faculty at DePaul were a huge asset for me and my education. My professors were thoughtful, caring, and inspiring, and their courses were pleasantly challenging. My peers were also great. I found that a majority of the students with me in the program were supportive, hard-working, and genuine.
Technologically, the rate at which our technologies develop and adapt is increasing. This makes it difficult to keep up with every new upgrade in software and/or change in hardware, no matter which university you attend. However, the DCMA program does a good job of reflecting upon the history and basis of why we have these technologies, why technology adapts, and how we can play a role in our digital world.
[MastersinCommunications.com] What advice would you give students just starting the DCMA program at DePaul University? More broadly, what advice would you give students who are either considering or starting a master’s in communication program, whether it be at DePaul or another university?
[Monika Sziron] New students in the DCMA program should take advantage of the ability to take courses across a wide range of disciplines. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself in different disciplines.
I’ll end by saying that going to graduate school is the best decision I ever made for myself. Yet, I will be honest and say that there will be a point during graduate school that you doubt everything and question why you got yourself into this. It has happened to everyone I know in graduate school, including me. You are challenged intellectually, personally, socially, and monetarily, to name a few, but keep going, you can do it. Remember why you started in the first place. So ultimately, make sure you know exactly why you are going to go to graduate school, don’t forget why, and make sure it’s a reason that will still inspire you when times are tough.
Thank you, Ms. Sziron, for your excellent insights on DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts program!