Tag Archives: Master

Oh no, I have to do a practicum!

Written by Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education

If you’re a newly minted grad student or looking to join a program, you’re probably aware that many master’s and certificate programs require students to complete a practicum. What does this mean? Think of a practicum as an independent work-study class where you gain experience in your chosen field. In some ways, it is similar to an internship, but practicums may require classwork, depending on the program. The method of placement varies between disciplines. Since my area of expertise is in Museum Studies, I’m going to focus on this model of practicum.

Looff Carousel, Slater’s Park in Pawtucket, RI – photo by Vicki Francesconi-Sullivan

What do you need? Who do you know? What can you do?

The first step to completing a practicum is finding an institution willing to host you. As I mentioned earlier, the method of placement varies between disciplines. Some departments place students in practicums. In Museum Studies, the student find their host institution on their own. As you can imagine, finding a host institution during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions adds some challenges. Yikes! To make the process easier and less scary, try asking yourself these three questions: “What do I need?”, “Who do I know?”, and “What can I do?”.

Let’s start with the first question: What do you need? What is required for your practicum? Are there any limitations or deadlines to keep in mind? Each practicum lasts a certain number of hours and must be completed at a specific type of organization. For example, my practicum needed to last for at least 125 hours over the Summer 2020 session, and it needed to be held at a cultural institution. Due to the complications surrounding COVID-19, students in the Summer 2020 session could petition for extra time to complete their practicum. I did not need additional time, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are worried about getting your hours completed, especially if you already work a full-time job.

While the requirement to work at a cultural institution might initially seem pretty limiting, a wide range of organizations fall into this category. Working at a museum is an obvious choice, but during the Spring and Summer 2020, most museums were closing and furloughing staff. Visitors centers, university galleries, and museum-related businesses were likewise closed. What was I going to do?

This brings me to the second question: Who do you know? What are your connections to the industry? Who understands your potential? The idea of networking is frequently discussed in any academic setting, whether visiting a fair or workshop held by career services or learning from professors during class time and office hours. During COVID-19, I reached out to my network to find an organization to host my practicum and found a willing organization a few miles from my house: Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC). This opportunity was so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. I had run or driven past the building that housed the BHC offices two or three times a day for most of my life, and had begun volunteering with BHC in January 2020, a mere four months before applying for a practicum there. This short amount of time was enough for them to see my potential and offer me a practicum opportunity.

Finally, we’ve come to the final question: What can I do? What talents make me stand out from other practicum-seeking students? How will I bring a unique skillset to the organization? If you are in the museum program, it’s a given that you know a lot about art, history, and education. Similarly, someone looking for a teaching practicum needs to know a lot about classroom management and pedagogy, while someone seeking a laboratory practicum understands scientific practices and research methods. But there are many skills outside of standard curriculum that are part of daily work and valuable to organizations. Do you design beautiful and engaging presentation slides? Are you great at troubleshooting problems with technology? Are you experienced in photography and video editing? These skills are important for any organization, especially cultural institutions with limited funding and small staffs, and will make you stand out to your potential host.

A Brief Note on Supervisors

A major component of the practicum is the onsite supervisor. This is an employee of the organization who will act as your mentor during your practicum. They make up your practicum “team”, which also includes you and your academic advisor. The supervisor has to fill out paperwork and attend at least one meeting with you and your advisor during your practicum. That being said, while it is not always possible to choose your supervisor, like when your department places you in a practicum, if you are required to find your own practicum, make sure your personality meshes with that of your supervisor. Try to meet them in person ahead of time before making a commitment. During my practicum at BHC, I worked with Suzanne, the Volunteer Coordinator, which was a great match. I had previously met Suzanne through volunteering at BHC, so I knew we would get along well.

Talk to Me, Baby

“Hunt House” – photo by Suzanne Buchanan

A less interesting title for this section might be, “Communication is key.” You’ve heard this throughout undergrad, high school, and even earlier, but this is still a difficult concept for some people, especially because there is such a range of communication methods and styles. On one end are people who view communication as a biweekly, five-minute phone call. On the other end are those who want frequent updates via email, text, and video chat. When these two people work together, chaos ensues.

Communicating with your supervisor is a major aspect of the practicum, especially when many practicums must happen remotely during COVID-19 restrictions. What helped me to communicate during my practicum was setting up a schedule of the entire practicum and sharing it with Suzanne. The schedule showed when we needed to have face-to-face meetings, whether they were over Zoom or in person, and what projects I needed to work on. I also sent regular updates on my projects and asked questions via email. Because we had agreed upon a schedule ahead of time, I never felt confused through lack of communication, even when the schedule inevitably changed.

Finally, Paperwork

The main difference that I found between a practicum and an internship was the classwork. The Museum Studies practicum comes with its own course on Tufts’ online course management site, Canvas, where students answer questions, complete self-evaluations, and submit a final paper. During my practicum, this component happened asynchronously, and I had no trouble completing the work, but it is one more thing to remember. Also, time spent completing classwork does not count toward your practicum hours, so you need to figure that into your schedule.

Your practicum supervisor also has to fill out a small amount of paperwork, mainly to verify that you are indeed working at the organization. This is where having a personality match with your supervisor is especially helpful: someone who enjoys working with you is much more likely to leave a glowing review than someone who dislikes you or is ambivalent about your existence.

Wrap It All Up

Ultimately, your practicum is intended to be an experience in the “real world” of your industry under the guidance of seasoned professionals and your academic advisor. It’s a great way to learn your likes and dislikes in the field, along with gaining new skills and making connections. Good luck finding the practicum that is perfect for you!

Why Attend Graduate School?

Written by Alia Wulff, Psychology Ph.D. student

I was fairly young when I discovered that getting a doctorate meant something other than becoming a medical doctor, which meant that I was fairly young when I decided that I was going to get a doctorate. I’ve been working towards this since I was five, and even though the path to get here was hard and full of unexpected gap years and tough situations, I am very happy to finally be here.

But my story isn’t everyone’s story. Not everyone learns about doctoral programs when they are five years old and decides to get their Ph.D. before they even start going to full-time kindergarten. Some people might be considering this fresh out of undergrad, wondering if they need graduate school or even if they made the right decision to apply. So I asked some friends for their stories, gathered up ideas, and wrote a list of common reasons why people should (or shouldn’t) go to grad school.

You have a dream job that needs a graduate degree

This one is very common. If your dream job is to become a professor at a university and mentor undergraduates or graduates while working on your own research, it is almost guaranteed that you need a Ph.D. Similarly, there are many lab manager, industry professional, and administrative positions that require a master’s degree, at minimum. Research what you need in order to succeed in your field and go for that. 

You need to advance in your career

On a related note, sometimes getting that master’s or Ph.D. will help you go further in a career you already have. That is awesome! I know many people, especially teachers, who go this route. Getting a graduate degree can help advance your knowledge of the field, increase your salary, or even land you a promotion.

Side note: don’t get more than you need if the previous two reasons are why you are attending graduate school. If you need a master’s, don’t go to a Ph.D. program. It will take at least twice as long, is much more likely to be full-time, and may even make you overqualified for your desired position.

You want the opportunity to improve your research capabilities

While there are plenty of industry jobs that require you to do research, they generally don’t give you the same educational support that grad school does. If you’re working on Project X for a company, you might learn exactly how to complete the necessary tasks A, B, and C. If you’re working on Project X in grad school, you might learn the theoretical backgrounds of tasks A and B, the reasons why task C is so important to the project, and how to do related tasks D, E, and F, along with the research another professor is doing regarding Project Y. And, maybe you work with them for a bit to see if that is interesting, and if it will help you develop Project Z for your dissertation. The breadth of knowledge and understanding you develop for your work is built into the graduate program. You might get this depth of experience in industry depending on your field, so it’s up to you to decide if a graduate degree will get you an education your field cannot provide you with.

You love to learn

This does not mean the same thing as “you like school.” Graduate school isn’t set up to be the same school experience as high school or even undergrad. It is more challenging, more demanding, and designed to expand your mind more than it is designed to teach you things. If you have a passion for learning and growing, and love what you are learning, grad school is likely worth it. This is the reason I decided to go to graduate school when I was five, and it is still one of my most important reasons for staying. I love being here, I love learning, researching, and growing every day. It’s hard, but I don’t regret it.

Of course, these are not all of the reasons to attend grad school. There are many, many, many more. And there are just as many reasons to not attend grad school. What matters is that you make the decision for yourself, based on your own desires and goals. You can talk to your advisor, your friends, current graduate students, potential schools, or your employer, but when it comes down to it, the decision is yours to make. Make sure that you know you are doing what is best for you, so that you are as prepared as possible should you decide to pursue applying to graduate school.

Looking back: one year after graduation

It’s already the end of May, which means that we got to watch our graduates take the stage at Commencement this past weekend! While graduation might mean the end of their time as a student at Tufts, it also signifies the beginning of many exciting things to come. Two of our alumni bloggers, Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017, and Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017, look back at their first year out of graduate school. 

How you were feeling this time last year?

Michelle Connor: This time last year, I was feeling a little bit nervous about beginning my search on the job market, especially since I had planned a trip to Italy during the summer months after graduation.  I wanted to stay in Boston due to my love for the city as well as my relationship; however, I felt overwhelmed with all of the opportunities and job descriptions. I spoke with some of the faculty members closest to me as well as former supervisors and they suggested that I continue my work in Admissions. I applied for a position in the Graduate Admissions Office, and I was super excited to be hired for the position and continue my service to the university, especially as an alum. Everything worked out for me!

Lennon Wolcott: This time last year, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to finish and install my master’s thesis show centered on decolonization and the rebuilding of community after a loss of culture through sculpture/paper-arts/craft/performance. While at the same time interviewing for AICAD art school faculty printmaking jobs and deciding what kinds of choices I could afford to make after graduation with the cost of living and student loans to pay back.

How would you describe your first year after your graduate program?

MC: During the first year after my graduate program, I realized that there is more to experience than what is found in the classroom. I have grown so much as an individual and coworker over this past year. I am starting to realize where my strengths and passions lie as well as the tasks that I feel the most comfortable with. I learned what matters most to me, where I am meant to be, and how I want to build my avenue to career growth and success. Not be cliché, but life is what you make it. Use your skillset, take advantage of opportunities, and do not be afraid to explore outside of your comfort zone.

LW: It was hard, after 2+ years of immersive art making, to find myself in a space where I had to juggle full time work responsibilities and find time to keep up a practice as an artist. After graduation my instinct was to jump back into art making immediately. However, I needed time to decompress and think through what I learned during grad school. It took time for me to find how my process and work needed to evolve outside of the academic institution. Re-learning how to adapt and create a life for two full time jobs (art and another) have been my primary goal over the year.  It has taken about a year for me to add art into my full-time work/life routine, and I hope by next year I will be on more solid footing.

How have you been using your graduate degree?

MC: Although I have not been using my graduate degree in the field of research, I use my graduate experience and degree on a daily basis. One of the most beneficial aspects of a Master of Arts is the chance to focus on your writing while writing about a favorite topic. Moreover, in the humanities and arts, you have the many opportunities to explore your potential as a communicator, presenter, and professional. In the Admissions Office, I spend most of my day constructing concise, clear e-mails and communicating with my co-workers, supervisor, and potential applicants. I do my best to write well and in a style that reflects conversational, yet professional, communication. I credit Tufts to my success as a member of the Admissions team. Writing is one of the most important takeaways from the M.A. degree.

LW: This year I’ve worked on smaller art pieces, while looking at residencies, gallery shows and trying to incorporate art into my daily practice. I have been fortunate enough to get to work in a full-time position with artists coming into graduate programs. I speak to prospective students about what it’s like to enter a graduate program, look at work, and have conversations about pursuing a terminal degree in fine art.

What advice do you have for graduate students who are graduating this year?

MC: I encourage graduate students to truly take the time to explore the many opportunities on the job market. I’m not directly using my primary degree in the context of teaching or research; however, I am using the skillset that I have learned over the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. There are so many jobs available, especially in the Boston area. Take the time to apply to the ones that strike your interest and continue to build confidence to pave your own route to success. Keep in my mind: success is defined by you, yourself.

LW: As graduate students, you have spent two years treating art as an important full-time position in your life. As a Master of Fine Arts, you have gained the skills in the SMFA at Tufts program to further your practice and find the artist who you need to be. It will not be easy, but you have the ability through research, skill, and conceptual based creativity to succeed if you are willing to continue the work.