About Taylor McDade: Taylor McDade serves as CG and Design Scheduler at The Mill, a visual effects and post-production studio located in Chicago. In this role, she is responsible for staffing projects that come through the studio with the proper creative team. This involves communicating with artists and producers to determine each project’s scope and the amount of work it entails, as well as finding and booking freelance talent when necessary. Prior to joining The Mill, Ms. McDade freelanced for Paskal Rudnicke Casting, one of the major casting companies in Chicago.
Ms. McDade holds an associate degree in Communication from College of Lake County, and a bachelor’s in Communication and Media from DePaul University. She completed her master’s degree at DePaul as well, graduating from their Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts (DCMA) program in 2017.
[MastersinCommunications.com] May we please have a brief description of your educational and professional background?
[Taylor McDade] I have a Bachelor’s in Communication and Media, and a Master’s in Digital Communication and Media Arts. I earned both of my degrees at DePaul, where I was fortunate enough to have started my graduate classes during my last year in undergrad, thanks to a combined BA/MA program that I applied for during my junior year. It was tough at first, but it helped to smooth over the transition into grad school.
I am currently working for a visual effects and post-production studio in the West Loop called The Mill, as their CG and Design Scheduler. I am tasked with making certain that each project that comes through the studio is staffed with the proper creative team. A big part of my job is making sure that the amount of work we’re asking our teams for is reasonable in the amount of time that we’ve been asked to turn a project around. All of this requires a great deal of communication both with the artists and the producers that run each project. Quite often, the scope of any given project requires a larger team than we can provide, at which point I’m responsible for looking into and booking freelance talent.
Prior to working at The Mill, I interned and eventually freelanced for Paskal Rudnicke Casting, one of the major casting companies in Chicago who are responsible for auditioning and booking actors for the commercial and film industry here. I continued to freelance as a Casting Director throughout grad school, until I eventually found myself at The Mill and on the opposite end of the production pipeline, just before graduation.
[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?
[Taylor McDade] I chose to study communication in general because I found myself anxious at the idea of choosing one role, one industry. I was interested in film, but wasn’t certain I wanted to commit to it. I ultimately decided on a communication degree because it’s so versatile, and you can really mold it into whatever your interests are. I was able to fill my schedule with film courses while backing that knowledge up with theory and practice, and really fell in love with the way my education started to lend itself so well to so many different areas. I wasn’t interested in committing to one role ‒ and I still feel that way now.
When I decided to continue onto grad school, it was more out of a desire to continue learning than anything else. When the opportunity to apply for the combined BA/MA program presented itself, I jumped at it without hesitation. I wanted to learn and experience more, and hopefully better prepare myself for a professional career.
The DCMA program appealed to me because it felt like an extension of what I was already learning, digital communication theory, ethics, and practice, with the added benefit of experience with PR/Advertising and Digital Media Production ‒ subjects that I hadn’t spent much time on in undergrad. Ultimately, it seemed like a solid way to help round myself out professionally and give myself the tools to continue to adapt to a field that is growing faster than any of us can keep up with.
[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?
[Taylor McDade] The DCMA program is broken up into two concentrations, which are what you might expect them to be ‒ Digital Communication and Media Arts. I want to make sure to point out that admission is different if you are applying to the combined BA/MA program within DePaul versus applying to the program in general. If you are an undergrad student of the College of Communication at DePaul and you’re interested in the combined BA/MA in DCMA, you can only be admitted to the Digital Communication concentration. Likewise, undergrad students of the College of Computing and Digital Media can only be admitted to the BA/MA program with a concentration in Media Arts. These restrictions are based on the differences in course backgrounds of the undergrad programs available to you within that college. Because I chose the combined program, I am not as familiar with the admission process for grads from other schools or DePaul students who came back to study after undergrad.
Because I studied communication in undergrad, I was admitted to the Digital Communication (DC) concentration in DCMA. The main difference between the concentrations is the amount of practical experience you gain in actually producing media. The DC track is more focused on theory and ethics, whereas the Media Arts track is more focused on developing media, anywhere from producing digital art to coding. That’s not to say that neither of them has the flexibility to accommodate both ‒ your concentration only dictates your main focus.
The program focuses on facilitating a deep understanding of the history, practice, and ethics of digital communication, as well as its reaches in the modern world. Digital communication permeates and influences our day-to-day lives in more ways than we know. The idea of combining theory and practice is what appealed to me most. I was excited to put what I would continue to learn conceptually into actual practice in the hopes of gaining a more holistic understanding of the field as a whole. Collaborating with grads from other backgrounds was immensely helpful to me in doing so. I would say that most importantly, I learned how to collaborate and work within a team, as well as identify the skills of others and myself in order to determine how we could best work together.
[MastersinCommunications.com] Could you please describe your experience completing your thesis? What was your primary research inquiry, and how did you decide upon it? Could you describe the process you undertook to research your topic and form your final conclusions? 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.)?
[Taylor McDade] The idea of completing a thesis was perhaps the most daunting thing of all. Because I was so overwhelmed at the idea, I decided early on that it would have to revolve around something I knew well and was passionate about. Because I was working in casting, I began consulting and casting for a couple thesis films and indies at DePaul. During that process, and after reflecting on my own experience in film classes, it dawned on me that the casting resources at DePaul for its students and faculty were seriously lacking. I elected to find a way to use the platform of a thesis project to somehow solve that problem.
After many conversations with my committee and program director, and after a few iterations, we came to the conclusion that I would complete a hybrid thesis project, one which involved developing a business plan for a casting company that adapts to the needs of its clientele, whether that be a student, a film exec, or an agency. Alongside my business plan (which involved both qualitative and quantitative research), I was to provide an extended rationale as well as a defense. The execution of my project involved a series of interviews, a bit of anecdotal reference from my own experience, and plenty of research on the field of casting as a whole; I was also responsible for developing a visual brand identity for the theoretical company. It was really quite the amalgamation of everything I had learned in the program.
I was lucky to have had the support I had from my mentors and my committee, as well as the flexibility within the program to build my own idea of what a thesis project could be. I know this is something that the program continues to aspire to, and I was excited to help explore new territory with that in mind.
My advice to students who are tasked with completing a thesis is to first choose something you are passionate about, because in doing so the rest will come easily. Maybe you’re looking to solve some kind of problem, or maybe you simply want to investigate a topic related to your field that excites you. Either way, be sure to push boundaries. Often times we’re limited by the restraints of a program, but it never hurts to question those restraints and test their limits. If you’re up against a guideline that you feel is limiting you, reach out to your program director or grad counselor to see what kind of flexibility there is. More often than not, they will want to support you in your autonomy and your ability to succeed.
[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?
[Taylor McDade] Most of the classes in the DCMA program were very group-focused. The idea was something I wasn’t crazy about early on due to lackluster experience with my peers in undergrad, but I soon learned how rewarding it can be to work with others with a work ethic and drive to match yours. The group-focused curriculum proved immensely useful to me in helping me build my confidence in a group setting and hold my own.
More than anything, the people I encountered on my way through the program made the longest lasting impression. Each and every person I encountered was insightful and eager to learn and support others ‒ peers and faculty alike. I am eternally grateful for that.
[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?
[Taylor McDade] Whether you’re starting out in DCMA, or considering grad school elsewhere, do everything you can to connect with the people around you ‒ your peers, your teachers, even guest lecturers, because they each have a unique perspective to share with you. Each and every person you work with adds another dimension to your education that will prove invaluable down the road. The more compassion, understanding, and communication skills you develop, the better off you’ll be.
Thank you, Ms. McDade, for your excellent insights on DePaul University’s Master of Arts in Digital Communication and Media Arts (DCMA) program!