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Log 10 - Making a decision

I had to make a big decision at the beginning of this month: where I would go to school for my Master’s.

This is a work-in-progress post. I’d like to come back and tend to this as I go. In the meantime, you’re welcome to explore whatever is here so far. 🌱


The first application

As I alluded to, a big project that I did over the Christmas break was to put together my application materials for Masters applications. It was a long time coming: back at the end of 2018, I had been working full-time for three years and really wanted a change. I had a great job, but it was limited creatively in terms of what we were making (apps/toys) and who it was for (toddlers). Someone suggested I might enjoy a Masters and I went ahead and applied– but just to one school’s Masters of Fine Arts program, at OCADU. I was late to the game, rushing to do my research in November and December. In the process of which I realized just how different a Masters is from a Bachelor’s.

masters vs bachelors

I had been pretty ignorant of what the differences were, and while I don’t know I can come up with a comprehensive comparison, trust that the amount of research I did for this compared to my Bachelor’s was very different. I also think my bachelor’s (in Illustration) wasn’t ever really intended to set up students to go to grad school– and with good reason, it is arguably an applied art and still very much based in trade and focused on preparing students for a career (and not an academic one, necessarily). If there’s any students, or interested parties considering a Masters reading this, hopefully some of this can help! (But also bear in mind that I haven’t actually done the Masters yet, so this may be different from future experiences)

I did look into some Masters of Design, Interaction Design, and other adjacent programs, but ended up mostly looking at MFAs. I think some of the biggest differences I found, and that appealed to me, are that MFAs generally:

  • are a fairly small cohort (the smallest are around 6 people per year, there are larger ones with 25+ but I didn’t want that), which means getting to know and grow and learn alongside a core group of people– many of whom will be from different backgrounds and at different points in their careers. This building of a community is something I value, and am crossing-my-fingers that it turns into a positive one in the future!
  • are shaped by their faculty, which are often a smaller number and work closely with students as ‘thesis advisors’ or otherwise. I heard of applicants travelling cross-country and turning down multiple other offers to work with faculty that they really thought would have a great impact on them (intense!).
  • spend a large portion of time and focus around creating a body of work (the thesis), in a rigorous critical and self-directed environment. The student is the one to lead and make decisions about the direction of their research and work, with the advisement and help of others. Which is quite different from a bachelor’s, where there’s projects and timelines and specific skills/goals that the syllabus/curriculum dictates.

There’s lots of other differences, like the inclusion of pedagogy (learning about teaching) commonly, critical theory, TA-ing and financial aid, and duration (generally 2-3 years). But these things appealed to me because I felt (and still do), that I wanted the time and space to really focus on creating work, full time, that would have better contextual and critical concepts or under-pinnings, and to make new, rich relationships with people who knew stuff that I didn’t. I’m also seemingly transitioning from illustration into a ‘fine art’ practise, and felt the MFA might help legitimize my work to a degree (which is problematic, I know), and hopefully fill in some gaps in my knowledge.

We’ll see if that happens!

Researching - where do you start?

Both back in 2018 and more recently, I researched through:

  • checking out school’s websites and reading everything
  • looking at where artists I admired had gone to school
  • talking to everyone I knew that had done a Masters in Fine Art or Design
  • asking everyone I knew if they knew anyone who had done a Masters, and getting in touch
  • articles about schools
  • looking for lists of schools that had free/partially-covered tuition

When I began to narrow my list, I started going more in depth through:

  • checking out the program’s marketing materials, like if they had an Instagram page
  • looking at recent grad’s work
  • contacting current/past students and asking them about their experience
  • attending info sessions or requesting one
  • visiting and talking to professors (I visited NSCAD in Halifax, Concordia in Montreal, and later Waterloo)
  • researching faculty backgrounds and work

a rejection

The first time I applied I did get an acceptance from OCADU, but after having continued to do more research, the less convinced I felt that this was the right move for me. What sealed the deal was: getting an email from the School for Poetic Computation that they were opening applications– and I was so excited. It was a ‘hell yeah!’ moment, which I hadn’t got when opening the letter from OCADU. So I turned them down.

I ended up attending SFPC in the fall of 2019, and I’m so glad I did.

Without going too much into detail, SFPC is an artist-run, non-accredited ‘school’ that focuses on art, tech, and now community and social learning. It’s firmly in the ‘alternative education’ space– and was my first experience with learning at a place that was so different from other institutions I’ve attended. We were a small, diverse cohort that occupied an old, and for a brief but exciting time rat-infested, building in Manhattan, taking classes in the morning and DIY-ing projects together in the evenings. We ate together, cooked meals together, went on field trips and self-organized outings together. It was really special. And it showed me that learning could look very different.

  • going to SFPC
  • chickening out in 2020-21
  • my application materials
  • student request for a letter
  • the offers
  • making the decision, tools + references
  • value compass; student manifestos
  • the come down, coping
  • what’s next

https://untools.co/decision-making

Up next Log 9 - A trip to the gallery Log 11 - Manifesto
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