Career Choice: Information Architecture or Public Health Evaluation?
August 26, 2012 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Which field should I pursue--information architecture or public health program evaluation? Two very different directions, and I'm not sure how to decide between them for graduate school and my career path.

After much contemplation, I think I've narrowed down my career interests to two different directions: Information Architecture or Public Health. Each would take me in a very different direction, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on which one would be a better fit for me.

Quick background: Mid-20's, BA in a social science. Since graduating 4 years ago, I've worked in informal education. My current job has provided a wide range of opportunities and time to explore what I do and don't want out of my future working years.

In an ideal world, here are the key qualities that I want in my job:
  • Autonomy and the ability to work on projects independently
  • Lots of opportunities to solve complex problems
  • Logical analysis and application of logical reasoning skills
  • Research/Investigation
  • Experiment Design
  • Program/product evaluation
  • Minimal to zero supervision of other employees. I much prefer to focus my energies on my own projects instead of overseeing subordinates.
  • Provides a positive impact to others. It's hard to imagine not having a job that helps create a greener planet, healthier populations, less poverty, or more educational opportunities.
That said, here's what appeals to me about each field:

Information Architecture: I'm drawn to IA because it seems to involve a lot of logical thinking about how to organize information and how different pieces of knowledge relate to each other. Plus, categorizing different types of information sounds like it would be mentally engaging. I also get the impression that it would fulfill my interest in working independently and evaluating programs or websites from a user experience perspective. There might also be the chance to work on a contract basis or freelance. Sadly, it seems like an IA career wouldn't have much overlap with issues like education, health, income inequality, etc. If I go this route, I would probably decide to apply to an iSchool for an MSIS or MLIS.

Public Health--Program Evaluation: In current and past jobs, I've thoroughly enjoyed any opportunity to do research and evaluation. I love the investigation aspect, designing a logically rigorous study, and interpreting the results. And then there's the chance to improve a program based on actual data and facts instead of hunches. Since the same analytical skills could be applied to different public health programs, I think it could offer a lot of variety. And community/population health has been a steady concern and interest of mine for a few years now. The big downside is that I'd probably have less autonomy in working for the government or a nonprofit. I'm also not sure how many jobs are out there for people who want to evaluate public health initiatives. With this route, I'd apply for an MPH focusing on Health Behavior and Community Health.

Which do you think would be the best option for me? Perhaps there are other avenues that would fulfill my needs that I should consider instead? I feel like this decision should be easier, since the fields are so different, but I can easily talk myself into both of them!
posted by oiseau to Work & Money (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
User research testing might be a good intersection of what you'd like to do, you could even find a niche in the medical field. Medical interfaces for professionals and the public are a hot field right now.
posted by bleep at 7:32 PM on August 26, 2012

Maybe you could do both at once, have your cake and eat it too. Our school (UW) has a MLIS-MPH dual degree thing that I know a few people went through. I think it's a three year program but you get both degrees at the end, and ample opportunities to try both fields.
posted by seattlejeff at 11:34 PM on August 26, 2012

What about a program in medical informatics like this?
posted by pointystick at 6:18 AM on August 27, 2012

MPH programs attract lots of people with good intentions, but without a background in clinical work or policy, who then can't find the type of jobs (and autonomy) they thought they could find.

I would strongly advise you talk to people in the field if you move toward applying for the MPH. I would also advise looking at some of the other types of health masters like Masters of Health Administration, if your interest is more the structure and delivery of health programs. If your interest is in evaluating whether or not a certain public health program has clinical validity and success, that's a hard sell to make if you don't have a strong background in clinical services (MD, RN, MSW, Psychologist), unless you are assisting someone who has that background.
posted by artdesk at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2012

There are absolutely overlaps between IA and public health. Look into the agency, people, and research behind "Health literacy online: A guide to writing and designing easy-to-use health websites". There is a huge need to improve the usability of health websites, especially those that serve disadvantaged populations (think: improving sites for older adults with vision, cognitive, and computer literacy issues).

Feel free to MeMail me if you would like to chat more, I've been working as a usability associate at a health communication company for a few years now, using research techniques like usability testing, card sorting, etc. to evaluate and improve federal health websites... right up your alley!
posted by pants at 8:54 AM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

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