Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Grad School Mental Checklist

One of the most challenging experiences as a graduate student is justifying your studies to friends and family. I’m generally met with two reactions when I talk about my M.A. in Public History: disbelief and scepticism (the primary response); and excitement and enthusiasm. Any students entering a Public History program should arm themselves with a solid set of answers to both reactions. Since Public History is intimately connected to the general public, we need to be ready to get people excited about what we learn.

While you’re thinking about applying to a Public History program, or completing your M.A. upon acceptance, be prepared with a mental checklist of the best aspects of a graduate experience. Here are suggestions of the most significant aspects of a Public History education that you should be ready to discuss with anyone who inquires about your studies:

  • Have a firm grasp of what Public History means. Public History is not a generally used term, and much of the scepticism that arises from people outside the field is because they have never encountered the phrase before. Make sure you have a solid definition of Public History to jumpstart your discussion. Not only will this help with friends and family, it will also be important when you are interviewing for jobs after you finish your M.A.
  • Emphasize the guest speakers you meet. I have heard from an array of individuals who currently work in the Public History sector, and anyone asking about your program wants to hear about where you can work after you graduate.
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss your projects. The hands on aspect of Public History has been one of the best experiences of my academic career. You will work on these projects in conjunction with organizations outside the University, and there are amazing opportunities to work in the community. Make sure you emphasize the great, practical projects you will be completing.
  • Talk about Digital History. After completing the course, I realized that even if I didn’t completely understand all the material, I am now ahead of many people in terms of digital interactions. Talk about the website you will be creating, the blog you will be writing, as well as the potential of the Internet as an exciting medium for historical interpretation and interaction.
  • Mention your peers and their experiences. As one of only ten Public History majors at Western, I have had the privilege of being part of a close-knit group. My peers come from a variety of different backgrounds and all have different goals, but each one has a unique story to tell.

If you assemble a mental checklist of the most exciting aspects of your Public History education, you will always be ready to discuss (and defend!) your graduate experience with friends and family. Best of all, you will be an effective ambassador for an important and growing field.

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