Professor Spotlight: Lai-Tze Fan

Education and Interest in her field

For our Winter 2022 Professor spotlight we would like to bring your attention to Lai -Tze Fan. She began to pursue her career path with a bachelor's degree in English Lliterature at York University, yet was already extremely interested in film theory and media studies. She always knew she wanted to work on Literary studies in the contemporary sense and to focus on the future of literature through digital media. Professor Fan completed her master's at Wilfrid Laurier University and her PhD at York University in Communication and Culture, with a short stint specializing in media theory at the University of Mainz, Germany.

Throughout her time in the fields of English, media, and film theory, Lai-Tze Fan found that other topics calling to her were social bias and social inequality within technological design. She began to think deeply about the designers themselves and what unconscious biases they may have that influence how they create our technological interfaces and interactions. She also thought about who mainstream commercialized devices are designed for, which types of people they’re designed to aid, and importantly, who they leave out in their consideration. In this sense, designers may imagine users to be specific demographics of people, so that even elements of our everyday devices—our computers, our phones—can be modeled after discriminatory practices..

There is a very physical and material aspect of our digital media that is forgotten or overlooked due to the overused “cloud” metaphor of the Internet, which keeps people from focusing on the production these material -devices. Fan has learned that the way material devices are made and who they are catered towards really matters.

Now, she aims to make technological design more transparent in its design, as well as more equal in experience and opportunity for people. 
Storytelling is important in her approach to talking about these issues. The way the story is told, and how information is spread to an audience can affect their reactions as well as their personal investment. Fan emphasizes storytelling in her research and teaching, arguing that how someone learns something is just as important as the information they are learning.

Important Accomplishments and Research

Some of Fan’s most important recent work includes “How to Design Games that Promote Racial Equity.” In this work, Kishonna Grey - an African American woman, Aynur Kadir - an Indigenous Uyghur woman, and Lai-Tze Fan - an Asian woman cover the steps that can be taken or should be taken by designers to promote racial equality when imagining the audiences that will play the games.

Another great accomplishment of Professor Fan’s is her edited special journal collection, Critical Making, Critical Design. This collection of over two dozen works can be found in both the journals electronic book review and the digital review. For this project, Fan hired seven Waterloo students to be Co-Editors!

However special her own accomplishments, the one accomplishment that means most to Fan is seeing her students pursue their dreams. Fan feels the most fulfilled when students are able to work towards successful, meaningful research, especially in collaborative environments. She admits this to be the best part of her career, watching her students blossom.

Advice for Students

Some advice for students that Fan gives is to take care of your mental health alongside your academic responsibilities. Here, she recommends having a look at Jenny Odell’s great book How to do Nothing. Fan is a firm advocate for mental health and a believer in making sure you recharge yourself, since working for hours on end with no breaks is not healthy or efficient. She says that we all need to make sure we give ourselves time to do other things that make us happy and feel centered so that we can avoid burn out. The importance of taking breaks and taking care of yourself is emphasized.

Another piece of advice she has for students and those following a similar path to her own is that when you find mentor figures, nurture these relationships! She reflects on how many incredible mentors and opportunities she has been able to access by communicating with professors, researchers, and experts in their fields, who are often very friendly. Often students avoid asking for references or opportunities for internships because they find a situation intimidating or a person of very high importance. Here, Fan encourages you: if help is available to you, please reach out respectfully and take the initiative!

Recommended Reads

  • Book: How to do Nothing
  • Journal: Making Critical Design
  • Journal: How to Design Games that Promote Racial Equity