Friday, 20 May 2016



BY: EMMA HOFFMAN (and MMSt classmates)

Dear future classmates,

Congratulations on getting in to grad school and welcome to the first edition of the 2016 Grad School Guide! I’m Emma Hoffman: your host and resource for all things MMSt, and I’m ready to usher you through the ups, downs, “need-to-knows”, “don’t-knows,” and “we’ll-never-knows” of life as a graduate student at the University of Toronto.

On our first journey down the proverbial rabbit hole of grad school-related wisdom, some of your future classmates, faculty alumni, and future colleagues in the museum world (!) have been generous enough to share the one piece of advice that they wish they had known before entering their first year of the MMSt program. Of course, the grad school experience can be quite subjective: depending on a student’s extracurricular commitments, learning style, study habits, goals, and other related factors. However, upon reading the seriously awesome responses to my objectively annoying call-outs to recruit contributors for this column, I found myself wishing that I had known some of these things myself before pushing open the unnecessarily heavy doors to the iSchool for the first time last September.

So, without further ado, I’ll let these smart and fabulous people speak for themselves, and we'll meet up at the end of this article.

On tackling first-year classes…

Be honest when it comes to your study and work habits—it will make group work much more manageable! And don’t be afraid of group projects—you get what you put into them and they can turn into wonderful opportunities outside the classroom." 
Dana Murray

“Doesn’t matter if you are the best researcher on campus and have your semester planned down to a T, your personal librarian and faculty advisor are there to help you, so let them. They can offer tips and tricks, direct you down new avenues and contribute to your overall success.” 
Alyssa Trudeau

On working, volunteering, and internships…

“Work, volunteer, take up professional development opportunities available to you. When you graduate and are applying to jobs your degree looks the same on paper to an employer as anyone else with the same skills. Show them what else you've been doing and took extra time for. Be sure to always to keep time for something you love that isn't school related to keep your sanity *smile emoticon*.”
- Haleigh Fox

“Use this [volunteer] time to explore roles that might not interest you (or that you haven't given a second thought). So many people have found their 'true' calling somewhat accidentally.”
- Anonymous

“Definitely take advantage of the internship program, that is my biggest regret—and consider jobs that are close to the field even if they are not exact, it’s a good way to build connections.”
- Amber Roberts

“If you are not enjoying volunteering or extracurricular you are doing, leave it. Don't try to fit yourself into a box that doesn't feel right. Now is the time to find your passion—don’t settle for less.”
- Stephanie Peryton

Don’t wait for internships to open up to you through the portal or any other school source. Go get it yourself.”
- Maya Donkers

“A lot of museums start hiring for internships early! Start researching as early as possible.”
- Taryn Foss

On grad school life (socializing, eating, and staying caffeinated)…

“If you want free snacks and food, check out the 7th floor everyday. The bathrooms in the basement are the cleanest and most spacious on campus. Have fun!”
- Sean Li

“Don’t be scared of second years!”
- Taryn Foss

“Coffee will be your best friend.”
 Bridget Collings

“For obvious reasons (because I have the best group of Mastermates ever!) I definitely advise that new students take-part in the many socials and events that are planned by the iSchool committees. Not only are the events fun and informative, they are excellent ways to meet new people, including classmates and the faculty. A two-year MA program is no joke, creating a support system of great friends/classmates is essential. Also, there is often free food.”
Alyssa Trudeau

On taking care of yourself…
An uplifting statement from the very inspirational Elle Woods. Source.
“The piece of advice I would have given myself is to trust in my abilities and to not let any feelings of doubt grow big enough to distract me from opportunities to really enjoy starting my Master's. A bit of apprehension and stress is good because it can motivate you to work harder, but don't let your first semester in the MMSt program be all work and no fun!”
- Madeline Smolarz

“Take the time to make yourself happy. At the end of the day you (and your health) matter more than anything." 
- Hayley Mae Jones

On concluding this edition of the Grad School Guide...

I shall conclude by touching upon the one piece of advice I wish someone had told me before beginning the MMSt program: GET A KEY FOB!!! What is this magical and mystical appliance, you might ask? The fob is none other than an electronic keychain attachment providing 24/7 access to the iSchool. Many of my fellow classmates know that I was the last person in the class to get a fob so, as my gift to you, I am attaching a link to the iSchool Access Fob request form. May the fob be with you.

I know the thought of starting grad school in September might seem scary and overwhelming right now, and all of the sage advice included above might be a lot of information to take in, but don't worry, I've got you people covered. Stay tuned for the next edition of the Grad School Guide on June 17th and stay cool, first-year friends.


  1. What a great post Emma! I can't believe it's been a year since I read the guide last year, anticipating starting the program, no idea what to expect. Another important piece of advice, I'd say, is not to aim for A+ all around. It won't happen and it's better to designate perfectionist energy into getting to know how to talk to people in the business. Also, you will not have the time but VISIT AS MANY MUSEUMS AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. This might sound obvious but it's only now, a year in, that I'm visiting the churches, historic houses and sites of Toronto and it's a world I have fallen in love with.
    Oh... and write for Musings, next year's cohort! :) ;)

    1. Thanks Stephanie! So happy you enjoyed the Guide and those are all great pieces of advice! Incoming students, take note - visiting museums is a great way to flex those critical thinking muscles that you will be gaining throughout your first semester. You will also be so much more aware of what goes into everything you see in a museum or gallery setting!