How Alumna Angie Waller, an Artist and Designer, Landed Her New Role Supporting Data-Driven Journalism

Angie Waller (Photo courtesy of Waller)

This past year, Graduate Center alumna Angie Waller (M.A. ’20, Linguistics) earned a new degree, landed a new job, and won an award for her research. Substantial accomplishments in any year, hers are even more notable against the backdrop of a pandemic and recession.

A conceptual artist and graphic designer who has an M.F.A. from UCLA, Waller specialized in computational linguistics during her Graduate Center master’s program. Her thesis investigated the website RateMyProfesssors.com to understand objectifying comments and gender bias and analyzed over 350,000 reviews posted both before and after the #MeToo movement. 

Waller explained that her research has applications beyond teacher reviews. 

“As the gig economy becomes a more widespread way that people are employed, employment is based on reviews by customers,” she said. “How can a web interface introduce bias in how people are rated for their jobs?” 

Her research earned the Dean’s Thesis Prize from her department, and the paper she co-authored with her adviser, Professor Kyle Gorman (Linguistics), based on her thesis received the Best Paper Award at the 6th Workshop on Noisy User-generated Text.

In November, she started a new role as a tech coordinator at The Markup, a nonprofit news outlet that investigates how large technology companies like Facebook and Google are changing society. 

She spoke to us about her new role and her research, how The Graduate Center helped her merge her interests in art and technology, and how computational linguistics applies to careers and everyday situations. 

The Graduate Center: What led you to study computational linguistics at The Graduate Center?

Waller: My professional work and my art projects were taking me in that direction. I started publishing books and I was experimenting with language and doing computational manipulation of language. At the same time, I was working for a small open-source software company that was focused on art archives. I felt like, I'm ready to try a new challenge. It just seemed to make sense and it would be a way to support two things, my professional career and my art-publishing career.

I came to The Graduate Center because I was interested in being able to not only learn data analysis skills, but also thinking about data in terms of language and linguistics. I like that the department is housed in linguistics, rather than in a data program or in data science or computer science. That was inviting to me. It seemed to be a way to be very focused in a certain area of text data analysis.

GC: Tell us about your new job at The Markup and its new initiative Citizen Browser, which measures “how disinformation travels across social media platforms over time.” 

Waller: The Markup is a data journalism newsroom. They build data sets to show how big tech is affecting society. Their work explores Google, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms. They not only are publishing stories based on the evidence they collect, but they're also showing how these datasets are built. They are dedicated to transparency and show readers how the data behind their stories is collected and analyzed and are open about limitations in data.

In my role, I'm supporting the journalists’ work. I'm analyzing data to make sure that it is coming in consistently. And also, through direct support, I'm making sure that the tool that was made for people to share their data, called Citizen Browser, is working and that people understand how to install and connect it. When they do have problems, I troubleshoot for them or work with developers to make improvements. So, it's been a nice balance of my new data analysis skills, and also my past work in user experience research. 

GC: How was job hunting during a pandemic?

Waller: This is a really difficult time to look for a job, but I think in the tech sector we're really fortunate that these jobs are still opening and people are still hiring. And luckily, it's a job that can be remote. At the same time, we're competing against really talented people all over the country. I would say it was challenging, but there are more possibilities for people working in tech compared to other areas at this time.

GC: Has the M.A. program helped you advance your career?

Waller: In so many ways. There's not an article you read in the news, especially now, that doesn't talk about data analysis in some way. And on the linguistics side of things, all of our interfaces are using language. Everything is using computational linguistics. When you're writing a document, it's suggesting what you should write, or helping you with spelling, or suggesting your search, or you're speaking to a device to get what you need. Having the background at The Graduate Center has helped me to see the other side of all of these tools that are out in the world around us. There are infinite ways that what I learned can be applied. 

My cohort of alumni has gone in different directions with their degrees. My direction has been in ways grounded more in my art and design background. I really appreciate that at The Graduate Center I was allowed to be interdisciplinary and could pull from what I knew before coming to the program and build on that experience. We all had our unique directions on how we applied the things we learned.

GC: Do you have advice for students who might be considering the program?

Waller: I highly recommend the program. What's also great about it is that it's here in New York, and there are so many amazing organizations and other programs at CUNY to get inspired by. There are so many ways that the linguistics program could complement the other interests you have, and that was what I found was so rich in my time there.

More About Angie Waller

Her publications, Unknown Unknowns, focus on how language is influenced by technology and can be found in the libraries of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

In February, she will exhibit her works at Printed Matter’s Virtual Art Book Fair.

Submitted on: JAN 6, 2021

Category: Alumni News | GCstories | General GC News | Linguistics | Voices of the GC