Dr. Randy Nichols is a well-respected and well-known communications professor, with his field of expertise being in clinical economy of communications with a focus in media policy and the videogame industry.
WHERE DID YOU ATTEND COLLEGE AS AN UNDERGRAD AND GRADUATE STUDENT?
I did my undergrad at Texas A&M University, and both my master’s and Ph.D. are from the University of Oregon — go Ducks!
HOW DID YOU DECIDED TO STUDY YOUR FIELD OF EXPERTISE? WHAT DREW YOU TO THE SUBJECT?
My undergraduate degree was in journalism, and when I graduated from A&M, it was a really hard time to get a journalism job. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and a big focus of my undergraduate degree was to be working on radio. At the time I had graduated, there was a company in San Antonio that was to buy up radio stations in Texas, and they ultimately became the biggest radio ownership in the country called Clear Channel Communications. When I came out from my undergrad, there was suddenly this glut of people working in radio for years who were all applying for the same job I was. There were essentially no jobs. So I actually left communications entirely and started working in banking. As I got far into the banking world, I figured out that who I was as a customer for the bank I was working for, even though I worked for them, I could never be a customer that they cared about. I never made the money I would be happy with and I was never going to make the money that made me valued to them. So, I went back to graduate school to find the economics of my previous skills and passions, and that’s what drove me there.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A PROFESSOR?
I don’t think I ever knew until I applied for my first job. I got a Ph.D. because I wanted to see if I could get a Ph.D. It was something to push myself, and I really enjoyed my master’s program. I loved my classes and my peers, so I just wanted to see what it was like. When I finished, most of the jobs that I was qualifying for were teaching positions. What I discovered was that I really liked being in the classroom. I loved how teaching was like a back and forth discussion, and it is a moment of communication between the professor and the students.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART OF THE ENTIRETY OF YOUR HIGHER EDUCATION EXPERIENCE?
There’s a different challenge for each one. For my undergrad, since I was a first generation student, the challenge was how financial aid worked and how to navigate going to a university. Every semester I was at Texas A&M, there was a problem with my financial aid, from fall semester of freshman year to the last semester I was there. Trying to find balance of working a full-time job with going to classes was hard, along with paying rent. In the master’s and Ph.D. program, [the challenge] was wanting to stay in school. Sitting down to write my dissertation, this 200 page thing, was tough.
SINCE YOU HAVE A FASCINATION WITH VIDEO GAMES, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ONE?
I actually don’t like them as much as it sounds! What I like is the curiosity of the people working these games in this modern information era. Like, what the actual experience is working in these jobs. I do play them occasionally, but I don’t get to play them very much. My go-to video game would be “Portal,” because it’s fun and innovative. I like ones that do weird things and play with the genre a little bit.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING HERE AT UWT?
I love the student population here. It reminds me a lot of my experiences as a student, and there’s a lot of first generation students here — and everyone here is busy and working, trying to balance these things. I still vividly remember these things, and I love working with this diverse population of students. What you discover [is] that the students actually want to be here, and they appreciate and [are] working for it. It’s just awesome!
WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING A PROFESSOR?
It’s not a bad life! The hardest part for me is that I’m still in student loan debt. The other hardest part, really, is wanting to sit down and grade. I love reading student papers, but trying to grade them is tough because what I like is the conversation and talking through a paper. Rather than them getting discouraged from a grade, I want them to use it to improve and motivate themselves. But yeah, actually sitting down and grading is tough.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR HOBBIES THAT YOU DO OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL?
I like to play with my camera. Photography was a job during my undergraduate years, but now it’s just sort of a hobby. I have a dog, Book, and we go and wander around the city, exploring. I read a lot, and as I am a media professor, I watch and listen to a lot of media. I go to a lot of concerts, but I try to find a lot of media that are interesting.
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU OFFER TO UNDERGRAD STUDENTS?
When things get tough, look for resources available, and talk to your teachers. It’s helps that your professor knows your name rather than if they don’t, so go to office hours and speak to them. More generally, I will tell you that you’ll only ever get as much of your education that you put in, so you want to come to classes and make connections.
Fun Facts About Professor Randy Nichols:
•Nichols has traveled abroad. He’s involved in an international communications organization, which has conferences all around the world.
•Despite traveling, he is horrible with foreign languages. Instead, he learns how to communicate without actually speaking the language.
•He did improv comedy during his undergraduate years.