My dissertation research explores the meaning of work and the formation of career trajectories in the creative economy. The project is primarily qualitative, based on more than 100 in-depth interviews I conducted with students, teachers, and alumni of one West Coast art school.

The first substantive chapter looks at the early careers of creative professionals, including graphic designers and animators. As they experience work in different settings, these workers address the tension between creative freedom and bureaucratic constraint through boundary work. They either: (1) integrate the competing motivations of their work, becoming corporate managers or entrepreneurs; (2) reinforce their segregation, such as by finding creatively rewarding alternatives to unfulfilling day jobs; or (3) remain ambivalent, advancing professionally in firms or freelance labor markets while remaining flexible to opportunities and life’s demands.

The dissertation’s next chapter looks inward, examining how the same group of creative professionals experience careers as a process of self-transformation. They learn to address the affective challenges of work, becoming emotionally detached from the commercial products to which their work contributes. They also learn how to “brand” the self in labor markets where reputation is paramount, such as by maintaining distinct forms of professional identification online.

The third substantive chapter looks at the experience of art students seeking a B.F.A. in applied arts fields. Within the same school, two departments practice similar training methods but infuse these with different meanings, resulting in two pedagogical cultures. Whereas one department, Media Arts, trains workers for occupational roles in specific industries, the other, Visual Design, trains them in the discipline of graphic design. While the less specific mode of career preparation makes room for diverse pathways open to designers, it prevents students from having clearly formed aspirations as they approach graduation and the need for economic self-sufficiency. The chapter has implications for the sociology of higher education broadly, as the majority of U.S. bachelor’s degrees are in applied majors.

Other empirical and theoretical projects

My previous work looked at identity narratives and community attachment with a focus on LGBT community health. In an article published in Sociological Perspectives, I find strikingly similar use of the “coming out” story among gay men of two age-based cohorts, suggesting the enduring power of this narrative form. In a co-authored piece in Culture, Health & Sexuality, I discuss the complexity of community attachment and the challenge this poses for community-based interventions such as HIV prevention. And I contributed to a series of studies at the HIV Center, Columbia University, including one co-authored article in the Journal of Sex Research that examines race-based stereotypes, online hook-ups, and HIV risk among gay men.

I have presented my work on both research and theory at the American Sociological Association and other professional conferences in sociology and public health.

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