Faces of UMSI: Sylvia Darling
The field of information is always expanding. It can change how we think about — and examine — the world around us. This is what persuaded University of Michigan School of Information doctoral candidate Sylvia Darling to study information.
An ethnographer by training, Sylvia’s research pushes the boundaries of information science. Currently in Honduras conducting field work, her fascination with how migrant communities in Central America use technology is both personal and political.
“From a very early age, I’ve always been interested in stories of human mobility and migration,” she says. “I have relatives who are Honduran and have crossed the border and immigrated to the U.S twenty, thirty years ago in their own way.
“Immigration has always been a strong current in my life, and I’m grateful to be able to explore and align my personal interests with the greater research community.”
Before joining the UMSI doctoral program, Sylvia earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Latin American studies from the University of Virginia. After graduating, she came to UMSI and completed her Master of Science in Information in user experience and design.
“I feel so supported by Kentaro,” she says. “That’s probably a big piece of advice I’d give. Choose the right adviser, and someone who respects you as a holistic person.”
For over a year, Sylvia has been living and working in Honduras, where she’s conducting interviews and connecting with migrants who return to Honduras after attempting to leave.
“To me, being an ethnographer means truly listening to the stories of the communities you’re working with,” she says. “Especially if they challenge whatever preconceived notions you have when you arrive.”
Immersing herself in Honduras has been beautiful and challenging, she says. Multiple government crackdowns and gang violence have impacted her experience and the experiences of the people around her.
Despite this, and maybe because of this, Sylvia is excited to continue research in Honduras. She’s also fallen in love with the community and says she’s grateful for the mentors she’s worked with.
“One of the beauties of ethnographic work is absorbing everything,” she says. “There’s so much work to be done, so much research to do.
And I know this sounds cheesy, but what I’ve loved most is the people. It’s very easy for me to fall in love with people and easy for people to fall in love with you.”
Sylvia will soon be returning to Michigan to complete her PhD. She’s expected to graduate within the next year, and is looking forward to returning to Honduras. As this trip comes to an end, Sylvia says she’s grateful she fell into the field of information.
“Information science is a very amorphous field,” she says. "It’s very flexible, and it’s one of the places where I’ve felt interdisciplinary research is treasured and coveted. We live in a world where we’re having to address really complex social problems. The best way to do this is through an interdisciplinary approach.”
Darling’s advice for prospective UMSI students is to embrace complexity and not be afraid of pursuing what you love.
“Once you’re in this program, once you’re in this world, you actively shape the scope of what can be researched,” she says.