The Beginning of Learning What You Came Here For
And so you've been accepted
It has began. Your personal journey into academia. Whatever field you have chosen, first and foremost, I congratulate you.
Going through the application process of at least 4 different universities for the same course, their priorities are like a job application. The process is one of selling oneself with your experience, your achievements and written recommendations. And then they wish for a personal project, with a relevant bibliography (well mine did anyway). Some of them want more, some of them like less. It's dependant on their staff and their priorities. However, after months of figuring it all out and writing it all down and researching that one course that would make it all come true, you are here. Welcome.
And so, they have given you a few weeks to settle in before the big guns are coming out with full metal flying bullets of written essays and research etc.
Now, for a course like mine, I chose part time for the same reason everyone wishes to be still alive; I still need to earn some money. And so a part time job and a part time course seemed like the perfect combination.
Each course will be different in their part time criteria, mine suggested a mandatory day of coming in once a week. That was it. And I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Once a week?! The amount of things I could get done, not to mention the amount of free time to take care of myself etc...I could totally do that thin--
Wait hold up.
I had chosen a research MFA, and research is what I had to do, throughout, no questions, no excuses.
It seemed that it was not to be. My MFA is about re-evaluating what I have already done, using their facilities (e.g. ceramics, printing, dark room etc) and spending time 'networking' with a public audience whilst understanding that, a sustainable practice is a practice of making something last longer than a Degree. I had chosen a research MFA, and research is what I had to do, throughout, no questions, no excuses.
Take a deep breath and dive in
I was worried, let's be honest. I had read the brief, and I had the general gist of various dates of submission etc, but I still feeling lost.
And this is the moment, which I might add, where I strongly suggest you do these few things to help keep your head up out of the water.
- Ask questions. Ask the stupid ones, the obvious ones. If you don't have the answer, how are you to complete your work?
- Ask questions to many people in power e.g. lecturers of different mediums, even those that are not teaching you directly. The more you ask, the more you will know
- Talk to people. Let your presence be known by the lecturers, the receptionist, the undergraduates in the room next door. It is always good to let people get used to your presence. And yes, this is still tricky for a part timer, but the more people you know, the better chances of collaboration and the 'networking' module that might come up in the future...
- Be curious and try things out. Go do all of the inductions that you might need, and even those you don't. I did, and now I have free reign over the ceramics department. It's great, I can get free clay.
- Establish a space. And if you don't have one, ask for one. If your course doesn't supply one/you don't need one, then make a space at home specifically for your university antics. I bought a weird desk specifically.
- Use your walls/your journal/your blog for your thoughts. Being an artist on a course, I have too many thoughts sometimes, and unfortunately on a few rare occasions I had told myself I will remember that amazing idea and then do it. It never happened. Whether it be post-it notes, white paper, packing paper, old newspaper, toilet paper(!), with the worst leaky pen in the world, get those thoughts down and out of your head. Seriously.
- Figure out what the course is. Research on the online website for the uni and understand your course from beginning to end. It might be scary to look at all of the deadline dates, but for me, it gives me a better clarity of my timescale. Also read the fine print of what they want you to do. You could perhaps highlight key words like you used to in middle school (I know I did). What worked in the past doesn't mean it's past it's sell-by-date. If it works, it works, so use it again.
- Look at the reading list. Is this relevant to your practice? Don't be obligated to buy all of the books they suggest to you. Remember it's only a suggestion. I read mine, and because Fine Art is a minefield, the whole Reading List was unfortunately not relevant to me. But hey, I can't say the same for you.
- If it's not on the Reading List, look elsewhere. Don't expect the uni you are at to have everything under their big/small roof. They have what works for those before you. And if it is relevant and you can write your whole dissertation in the library walls, then great, I'm slightly jealous; but if you are like me, then hit the stores. Online and in store. Start there. It's all about the relevant words you use in your search.
- Don't forget online articles. They do come in handy!
- Explore your university and the area around it. This might be tricky for part timers again, but networking can take place here. I got a hot chocolate one time, struck up a conversation with the Manager and suggested a collaboration for the fun of it (their walls were looking a bit bare). You never know who you will talk to, or what you will find.
- If you are an artist/designer/creative, this one is for you. Make business cards and always have them ready. Look at the point above.
- Buy things that you need in your course. Rulers, binders etc. This is an obvious one, but sometimes overlooked.
- This might sound slightly weird, but I would also suggest making a playlist on Spotify or YouTube. You know those times when you are researching/reading/writing for hours at a time? Do you play music in the background? For those who do, I would strongly suggest making a few playlists (in those spare moments) for those longer moments of study; I, for one, do not like having to break my concentration to find a better song.
It had gotten to the point where, on my course, I was already figuring things out quite quickly behind the scenes
I'm not an expert in this aspect of academia, but I had thought why not suggest things that could help others? Because it had gotten to the point where, on my course, I was already figuring things out quite quickly behind the scenes, talking to relevant people and discovering things, and then having to explain this to my fellow MA-ians. I love the opportunity to help, because I would love to have it back when the time came. Karma, I hope, is on my side.
MFA is a difficult one
Now, on a more personal note, I'm almost a term in, and I still feel rushed. However, those of you out there, who are like me, self-critical and a somewhat perfectionist, there are things that had to be done right.
Coming from a Bachelors Degree where it was a Taught practice to a MFA where it is Research based practice was a hard pill to swallow. I was given help through suggestions . I was encouraged to read about this new artist, or go to that particular art exhibition. And I had thought, the whole thing is on me; isn't it? I have to find my own pace, my own space, figure out things on my own and use their facilities and knowledge to my own advantage. And so (and I'm not kidding, this could take all day), I would research things that were relevant to my course. An example I can give, is that I took 5 hours to figure out what exhibitions were on where, when and whether they were anything to do with what I was doing. I had found four, out of about 50. But I felt better, knowing that I could book for these events, gaining more 'networking' points in my practice (and placing more 'primary' research under my belt). I had to find out what lectures were on and if I wanted to go.
It's weird to consider the fact that in a Bachelor's Degree the help was there all of the time, where there were scheduled tutorials etc, whereas on a MFA, I had to find my lecturer for a squeezed in 10 minute tutorial, go to my studio and use my time wisely with only suggestions as a basis of what I was doing.
Let's just say, as far as I can tell, MFA's are not for the faint of heart.