Vitals: Associate Professor,
UT Degrees: Bachelor of Journalism, 1992
M.A., Mass Communications, 1994
Ph.D., University of Iowa
Doing research she considers
important and meaningful
Interviewed by Angie Morris, M.A., Advertising (2012)
Fabienne Darling-Wolf graduated from Senior Fellows in 1992. Inspired by teachers like Julie Newton, Bob Jensen and James Tankard, she went on to earn a Ph.D. in Mass Communications. For the past 12 years, she has worked at Temple University, where she is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism.
Why did you remain at UT for your master's studies?
My partner was finishing up his bachelor's degree in Architecture at UT, so it seemed like a logical choice for me. I also wanted to continue to work with some of the faculty I had met through the Senior Fellows Program (Julie Newton and Bob Jenson ended up being my master's thesis readers). I eventually applied and got accepted into the Ph.D. program at UT as well. But even though I was tempted to stay, I decided it was probably better not to get all of my degrees from the same institution.
What do you do as a professor?
I currently teach undergraduate courses — mostly juniors and seniors — in international news, gender issues in the media, ethical issues in journalism, journalism history, and publication design. I also teach qualitative research methods and communication theory at the graduate level. I spend a lot of my time supervising doctoral students. I am currently chairing seven doctoral committees and serving on an additional six. I enjoy working with graduate students and that is one reason I chose to come to Temple. I liked the fact that it had a strong doctoral program. I also do research on global media, and that is why I have been traveling to Japan and France so much — I conduct ethnographic research with media consumers in two different field sites, one in Japan, one in France. I typically go there in the summers. I am finishing up a book on transnational media and global popular culture to be published with the University of Michigan Press. Then, of course, I do all the other stuff — administration, conferences — that academics do.
What has been the most challenging thing about being a professor?
I would say finding the right balance between my personal and professional lives. My oldest daughter was born just a few months before I started the position and I had a second one while on tenure track, so it was a bit intense there for a few years. My colleagues were extremely supportive, but I was the only woman with small children in the department and it was a little lonely at times. Things have changed somewhat now (including in my department) and it makes me happy that more of our graduate students choose to have children while in grad school or as junior faculty and figure out how to manage it. Even now, though, I find it difficult not to get over-involved in my work -- it’s just not the kind of job that you can leave at the door when leaving the building.
Are there other experiences – professional or otherwise – you’ve had since leaving UT that you’re proud of?
Professionally, I am proud of the book that I’m about to publish and, more generally, of my ability to publish research that I enjoy doing and that allows me to create really meaningful relationships with people in different places. Actually, I’m probably most proud of the fact that I have always done the kind of research that I thought was important and meaningful, even if it was difficult at times — fieldwork is expensive, it takes time — and regardless of whether or not I felt it was the kind of thing that would bring me the most recognition. That’s not easy to do in the “publish or perish” world of academia where there is a lot of pressure to crank out articles that will count toward tenure and/or promotion. Ultimately, I found that if I really care about the research I’m doing, it will get published, so in the end publishing was never a problem. I think I’m a pretty good mentor, too.
What were some of your favorite Senior Fellows classes and teachers?
I don’t know where to start. For me, it was the first time being in a “grad-school-like” environment and I just loved it. Even though this is now more than 20 years ago, I remember every detail of Julie Newton’s “People and their images” and of Jim Tankard’s “New Journalism” classes (I still have the book on my shelf). I also often think of a class on orality. I can’t remember the name of the teacher because we all had nicknames in the class — his nickname was “white rabbit” and I don’t think he’s at UT any more. It really made me think about how the ability to write things down changes the way we think and the way societies function. It was my first exposure to the idea of technological determinism. I also remember that the teacher analyzed conversations (including his children’s) and one day his kids asked him whether “everything had to be a study.” I often think of that because I find myself drawing research inspirations from my kids all the time and I know they have the same kind of reaction.
What was your favorite Senior Fellows memory or assignment?
There was a guest lecture one day by Herb Simon that I though was fascinating and I took all these notes and was so inspired. That was my first introduction to Temple University where Herb taught for many years (he retired in 2007). Later, he would become my colleague but I never told him that he lectured in one of my undergrad classes!
How has the Senior Fellows program helped you or your career?
I never stopped doing this stuff. I guess my senior fellows teachers inspired me to become one of them.
How have you seen your communications field change since you began your career?
Well, the whole digital communication revolution happened. But in many respects, the core elements of what it means to be a good communicator haven’t changed that much. You still need to be able to write. You still need to be able to think critically and assess whether or not your can trust your sources (online and otherwise). You still need to be sensitive to cultural issues. From a technological point of view there is more to learn, but the core skills still have to be there.