Friday, 15 July 2016

THE GRAD SCHOOL GUIDE: KNIGHTS OF THE VIRTUAL ROUND TABLE

THE GRAD SCHOOL GUIDE

BY: EMMA HOFFMAN

Dearly beloved, we gather here to say our goodbyes, here she lies: the third, and final edition for Summer ‘16 of the Grad School Guide *sheds a single tear*. If you can even see your computer/phone/tablet screen through what I’m sure is now a fountain of salty eye water, you should know that three fabulous MMSt-ers from the class of 2017 helped me write this article by generously sharing their experiences, dilemmas, successes, and realizations looking back on the first year of the program. Thanks so much to Alyssa Trudeau, Brenna Pladsen, and Kelly MacKenzie for making this “round-table discussion” happen, and for providing their insight into the program, that I think and hope will be helpful for all of you first-year’s reading this article. As I say, and will say again, “Let’s do this!” 

Emma 
Let's do this! I'm gonna start off with an ice cold icebreaker question: are you guys familiar with the "starter pack" meme?

Kelly 
No

Alyssa 
Generally yes, like the "College Starter Pack" or what have you

Kelly 
Oh that, yes

Source.
Emma 
What would you guys say is in the MMSt starter pack?

Alyssa 
Caffeine.

Kelly 
Chocolate covered coffee beans.

Emma 
My answer would be a key fob, Starbucks from Robarts, and a million tabs open on my laptop.

Brenna
Seconding fob! Cliff notes on British colonialism?

Alyssa 
I feel like everyone has a Swell water bottle also haha, can they be intangible? Patience? 

Emma 
Yes, patience is definitely a key one. Moving on since the ice has been broken: What is your area of interest in the program thus far? What advice would you give to someone who wants to go into this area? Or if you don't have an area of interest, what advice would you give to someone who is figuring their career path out?

Kelly 
My area of interest has been programs and education. My advice would be to not worry if your classes don't seem to focus on this area very much in your first year because you can get an internship with that as your focus and you learn so much. More than a class could teach you because you are learning it through real-life experience.

Alyssa 
I think volunteering and networking is key. I think that most people assume they know fully what each 'museum worker' does...curator, collections manager, etc. But most of the time it's an idealised or uninformed list of tasks. I'm looking forward to getting to know more about Interpretive Planning - something that I had initially assumed was done by a curator. Since reading more about interpretive planning I've met with several professionals in the field for informational interviews to learn more and get my facts right. So if you have an idea of what you may want to pursue I would say research it, network with those in the field and see if you can get yourself a volunteering gig to check it out. I guess by 'field' I mean someone with that job and/or title - field may be confusing as we are all in the same field. Haha, sorry.

Brenna 
Networking yes, also making sure the people you network with know what skills you have and want to do in case something comes up. Advice wise: it’s amazing how essentially any field or area of interest can be applicable in museums. Museums are multifaceted and we need all sorts.

Emma 
Thanks guys, that advice really resonates with my experiences as well. I think connecting with professionals and trying to gain experiences are crucial to being able to discern what you like or don't like, and a little research goes a long way.

Kelly 
I would also recommend getting to know the professors. They can give you contacts you may not have had access to and they are a great way to begin growing your network, especially if you are nervous about approaching people

Emma 
Yes, totally Kelly!
Let's get into discussing the program: within the program, what's the one course/experience/reading/realization that has been the most valuable to you so far?

Alyssa 
I can see why Museums and Cultural Heritage: Context and Critical Issues [MSL 2370H]  is a mandatory course for students. It provided me with a thorough introduction to cultural heritage which is irrevocably linked to museums and museum studies. Most arts kids (and others I'm sure) are introduced to the agonising question of, "yes, but what IS culture?" Unanswerable, I swear. But I loved this class, most of the questions brought up in this course fully confronted the touchy topic of early collecting and the fundamentals of museums which I enjoyed a lot.

Kelly 
Dr. Barbara Soren's Museums and their Publics [MSL 1350H]. It connects theory and experience in a very useful way through conducting a visitor study. You assign group roles, meet with your client, do a walk-through of the area you will be studying, conduct the study, analyze your results, and your final report is sent to your client/institution. The class really lets you see how much work goes into a visitor study and how you have to be flexible and able to change your observation tools and methodology. We had to change our tracking map in some way about five or six times before it was the most useful.

Brenna 
See above. Also good safe exposure to working in the field. 

Alyssa 
I like that Kelly and I picked very different courses! Kelly's covers the very practical and hands-on 'lived' aspect of working within the museum sector and mine was more theory-based.

Kelly 
As much as I was not a fan of the Ethics course [MSL 1230H], it was useful in understanding the different governing structures we could encounter. I am stronger in hands-on learning, that may be why. :)

Emma 
Yeah I also like how there is the option for hands-on learning in an academic setting where one might not necessarily think that would be the case.

Kelly 
Exactly, it was one of the parts I liked about Collections Management [MSL 1150H]. 

Emma 
I also really enjoyed Museums and Their Publics and have tested as a kinesthetic learner so I think we're on to something here, Kelly. And same. I definitely still can't quite answer the question of what culture IS, Alyssa, but I have at least some insight after taking 2370.

Kelly 
Completely unanswerable, at least definitively.

Brenna 
I had a prof in undergrad say “culture is power” and then mic dropped and ended class. Just as a post-script: I don’t know if this reading is only relevant after Alan Stanbridge’s Theories of Art and Culture, but Raymond William’s structure of feeling (The Analysis of Culture) kind of is the summary of the conceptual heavy lifting I did this year. 

Emma 
Penultimate question. Did you guys work or volunteer this year? If so, did you find it difficult to balance work/volunteering with the demands/hours of school and homework? Also what tips would you give to students who want to stay organized and have a work/life balance?

Alyssa 
I worked part-time in retail and also held a volunteer position at the ROM. I also tried to secure a work-study. For me having a little income was necessary and the break from school work and studying was refreshing. Some weeks were more difficult than others and my time was thin at times but it was doable. That being said, I think you need to be organized and really have it together in order for it to work.

Kelly
I was involved with a short-term contract project last year. I plan to work this year, and I know I'll need to be very organized.

Brenna 
I was able to land a work-study at the Inforum, which was amazing peek into the MI side of the program. I’m also a docent at the Bata Shoe Museum. Both are great because they’re flexible and really accommodating of the weird hours of student life and well… can’t complain about the commute.

Alyssa 
Like anything, I would tell first-years to have some balance! A job, evening activity or even visiting the gym. Something that removes you from that classroom setting and mindset.

Kelly 
I agree, you need something that takes your mind of school every so often

Brenna 
Gym, gym gym gym. With someone not in the program, then you have a date for First Thursdays! (because those and FNL tix are “starter pack” material).

Emma 
I had a part-time job first semester working for the Distillery's event company and I was also working on a project with Irina [Professor Mihalache]. Let's just say I had NO WORK LIFE BALANCE first semester, but I learned my lesson the hard way and made sure to indulge in a lot of self-care and time with friends and fam during second semester.

Alyssa 
Yes! Weekly Wednesday night trivia at Sneaky Dee's kept me sane!

Kelly 
The gym and baking :)

Emma
Would y'all agree that the first semester of courses was much busier than the second?

Kelly 
I did find that

Alyssa 
I would say so.

Emma
I think there might be a consensus here. 

Kelly 
I think it could also be because the first half was mostly required courses. 

Brenna
And at terrible times. M: 6:30-9:30, T: 9-12. WHO DOES THAT!

Emma 
Yes that could be it as well.
Last question: if you could give three words that sum up your experience during first year, what would they be?

Alyssa 
Caffeine, Determination, Exploration.

Kelly 
Busy, growth (personal, educational, and professional), chocolate

Brenna 
Nap when possible. 

Emma 
Mine are: read, write, and repeat.

Alyssa
Hah!! yessssss

That’s all folks! Shalom, sayonara, and au revoir! Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened, etc. Should you have any further questions or just want to chat, please comment below! Emma Hoffman - signing off of the Grad School Guide - but be I’ll be back with a hot new byline in the Fall. See you in September and stay cool, first year friends. 

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