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Dr. Lesley Willard is a labor scholar focused on the access to and working conditions in the contemporary media industries, especially for those often dismissed as "amateur" creators like fan artists, game modders, gig workers, and media interns. Before coming to Emerson, she was a lecturer and the Internship Director in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin. Her main research and teaching interests include digital platforms, media audiences, and media industries; in all of these fields, she focuses on labor, access, and professionalization. At UT Austin she served as a teaching assistant and assistant instructor for RTF courses. In 2017, she was recognized as UT Austin’s top teaching assistant, receiving the William S. Livingstone Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Assistant award. She has also taught at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and Salt Lake Community College (SLCC).

Her scholarly work has appeared in the journals Transformative Works and Cultures, Critical Studies in Television, The Velvet Light Trap, Flow: A Critical Forum on Television and Media, and In Media Res. She contributed chapters to A Tumblr Book: Platform and Cultures (2020, University of Michigan) and Fan Studies: Methods, Research, Ethics (2021, University of Iowa Press); she will also be contributing to a forthcoming edited collection, the second edition of The Routledge Companion to Media Fandom. She is also currently co-authoring a book for Routledge based on UT Austin's Media Industry Conversations series, entitled Work in Progress: Navigating Work in the Contemporary Media Industries. She is expanding on her dissertation, “From Hobby to Side Hustle: Fan Artist Professionalization in the Post-Network Era,” in a new project. Along with Dr. Wenhong Chen at UT Austin, she is also undertaking a multi-faceted research project on the ethical and equity concerns of internships in the media industries, from the pedagogy of experiential learning with for-credit internships to the longitudinal impacts on the media labor ecosystem.

In addition to teaching, she also served as the Assistant Director of UT Austin's Center for Entertainment and Media Industries (CEMI), where she previously served as a research fellow. She was a co-founder of the annual Fan Studies Network-North America (FSN-NA) conference and recently served as a steering committee member of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS)’s Fan and Audience Studies Scholarly Interest Group. Previously, she coordinated the Flow Conference and UT’s Women & Gender Studies Emerging Scholarship Conference. She served in an editorial capacity with Big Data & Society, The Velvet Light Trap, and Flow: A Critical Forum on Television and Media Culture. In her time at UT, she also served as the Director of UT’s Queer Graduate Student Alliance (QGSA) and an ex-officio member of UT Austin’s LGBTQ+ Access, Equity, and Inclusion (Q+AEI) Faculty Council.


  • Department Visual & Media Arts
  • Since 2023
  • Office Hours
    • Tuesdays, 4:00-5:30pm (online)
    • Wednesdays, 12:00-1:30pm (on campus)


B.A., University of Arizona
M.A., Westminster College
Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin

Areas of Expertise

  • Creative Industry
  • Gaming
  • Hollywood
  • Media Studies
  • New Media
  • Social Media
  • Television & Radio