Friday, 9 June 2017




Welcome to the second installment of Summer 2017’s The Grad School Guide! Please join me in my conversation with Bretton, Jenny, Kendra, and Shauna on the ups and downs of an academic year at the iSchool.*

Step 1: Get accepted into the MMSt program. 

Celebrate and feel extremely proud! Buy new pens and notepads and begin one of the final steps of achieving your childhood dreams of becoming a museum professional. 

A page from Aurora's grade 3 activity book. Photo courtesy of Aurora Cacioppo.

Step 2: Show up to your first day of class. Question your abilities and wonder if you really belong. Panic for a moment. Make a game plan to counter your negative thoughts.

Bretton: Tackling self-doubt was a big challenge during my first year. I was often worried I would fall behind, I feared my ideas and perspective would be wrong, and I was constantly struggling to get a grip with my to-do list. With a year under my belt, I know that I should proceed with more confidence in my ideas and in myself.

Jenny: I came to U of T from a program with no participation marks, so I struggled with the pressure to contribute to discussions in every class! It took a long time to feel like I could formulate a comment on the spot that was both relevant and coherent - I’m still working on it.

Shauna: Overcome the “impostor syndrome”! When you graduate from your undergrad you feel like the bee’s knees, and then you come into your grad program and see that everyone else is equally accomplished, if not more so! You might feel like a fraud and like you don’t belong in the program, or like you’re not as smart and awesome as you thought you were. But once you start talking to people about it, you realize that a lot of other people are also struggling with the same things and feeling the exact same way.

Step 3: Find your groove

Jenny: I took some time at the beginning of the year to figure out where and when I work best (Knox College Library, noon to 5 on weekday afternoons), and I work under those conditions as often as possible. Work tends to expand to fill the time you allot to it – I try to fit the readings and assignments in around my life, rather than the other way around.

Shauna: In my undergrad, I always kept an agenda with all my jobs and classes assigned a different colour. I fell off the wagon a bit this year and didn’t keep up with my agenda and I paid for it when I missed an assignment due date! I recommend investing in some coloured pens and an academic agenda/planner or calendar.

Bretton: Write things down! I have every piece of Apple technology that helps with scheduling and organizing; however, nothing is more effective than using my physical Moleskine agenda and making lists.

MMSt student Tabitha Chan's beautiful bullet journal!

Step 4: Grasp onto a museological theory or practice and drive it home

Bretton: Cheryl Meszaros' Ethical Interpretation will forever be an influence in my professional and academic practice. There is something so tangible and progressive about the theory and I see it as an influencer in the future of museological practice. Secondly, I am much more aware of the convergence of libraries, archives, and museums in the information field - while there is extensive theory and literature, it is something that is a reality in our business and poses a series of both benefits and challenges we as information professionals will have to face.

Jenny: It’s not a discrete piece of information, but once you start thinking about the relationship between museums and power – social, political, financial – it’s virtually impossible to stop looking through that lens, and it changes everything.

Kendra: Cheryl Meszaros’ writings on “Whatever Interpretation” and “Modelling Ethical Thinking” have been useful frameworks to look critically at museum discourses and understand how museums communicate or represent ideas. Another theory I often use to unpack inclusion of diverse audiences in museums is John Falk and Lynn Dierking’s Contextual Model of Learning. I’m glad that attention is increasingly being paid to the personal and sociocultural context of the visitor within the context of the museum.

Step 5: Fall in love with a course and give it your all! (For these three, Judy Koke & Keri Ryan’s Interpretation and Meaning Making took the cake)

Kendra: I appreciated that this course delved into the value and the complexity involved in an interpretative plan, as well as examined new trends in interpretative strategies and vehicles. It intersects with so many other areas of museology (ex: curation, collections, digital, and visitor research) with emphasis on effective communication and cross-collaboration in an institution.

Bretton: The content was exactly what I see myself doing in my future and Keri and Judy's professional insight into the industry was invaluable.

Jenny: It’s a great blend of theory and practice – you get to think and talk about what works in museum exhibitions and why, and the assignments are genuinely very fun.

Step 6: Reflect on your year and set goals for what’s to come 

Bretton: I hope to get more involved with the student body and engage in other campus activities!

Shauna: I volunteered and worked in museums last year but next year I would like to become more involved in the museum community and contribute more by attending (and maybe speaking at) symposiums and conferences, and possibly publishing something.

Kendra: It’s my personal goal to take advantage of the academic and professional resources that are available at the iSchool. I am hoping some of my work on inclusion provides a basis for a future conference presentation. I’ll also be closely following the workshops and research series because they really do expand and enrich in-class learning with topical examples.


After reaching out to my peers, I learned that we were experiencing similar anxieties. My final tip is to be open about the challenges you are facing with your classmates. The bond students form over the demands of grad school is unparalleled!


*Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

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