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Making the Most of Your Low-Res Program

Tips for staying on track in a low-residency graduate program.

May 17, 2018

Charlena plans to begin their Ph.D., in a new program, at SOAS, University of London in fall 2018. Follow them on Twitter at @cmichelleart or visit their website.

For MFAs or MAAEs in creative writing, visual arts, photography, or stage writing, the option of low-residency has become increasingly popular as many non-traditional graduate students juggle other responsibilities. But how can you make the most of a program that may only meet with fellow classmates once or twice a year? Here are several ideas that I've used to make the most of a low-residency arts program. They ensure that you stay on track with your studies and connected to the resources your university offers.

Create a Facebook Group
At the end of our 10-day residency, my cohort and I wanted to continue discussing readings from our critical theory course. We knew that we would be required to turn in biweekly response papers, so we created a Facebook group that would allow us to share articles, pose questions,
support one another, and continue to stay connected during our time away from one another. In her GradHacker article on creating cohort camaraderie, Anjali Gopal wrote about creating a Facebook group, which I think is a great way to stay connected during a low-residency program.

Form a Weekly Schedule
Time management is always key regardless of the structure of your program. But structuring time in your schedule for your low-residency work is critical when you’re not meeting with your professor weekly. I’ve found that carving out time to work on my studies and art can keep me motivated. Marking out the same time each day on my calendar ensures I continue to stay involved with my program and develop a schedule similar to a traditional program. Creating deadlines for yourself is a great way to stay on task and reach your semester goals.

Work with a Mentor
One of the great features about my low-residency program was that we are required to have a local
mentor (in addition to our advisor) to work with us on producing art and thinking about our studio practice. This was a wonderful way to stay involved and on task. Having someone help guide me during studio work days, make suggestions about literature I should read, and listen to my struggles as a graduate student keeps me accountable. With my mentor, I feel more in control of my education and overall sense of self as an academic and artist. “There are a lot of ways that mentorship benefits undergraduates and even first-year graduate students. People with mentors, for example, are more likely to matriculate, have higher grades, and feel more included in their university, which are all markers for academic success,” wrote GradHacker Heather VanMouwerik. Selecting a mentor is no easy task, but it has been proven to have great benefits for students especially those looking to stay connected in a low-residency or non-traditional program.

Check in With Your Advisor/Program Director
​Checking in with someone from your program like an advisor or program director periodically is key to success. An advisor can be different than your mentor or one in the same. During my first graduate program, for example, my advisor became my mentor. Currently, I have an advisor and mentor due to the non-traditional structure of my program and my mentor having no connection with the university. Having a
mentor has been great for talking about personal crises (
like my dad getting cancer) and finding methods to stay on task while my advisor is wonderful for my educational and professional goals and helping me set a master plan for graduating that checks all the graduate school’s requirements. Maintaining contact with key figures of the program has helped me stay connected to my program, learn its ins and outs, and build a sense of community regardless of the distance.

Connect with Local Alumni and Current Students In Your Area
LinkedIn is a great resource to connect with local alumni and current students. Reach out and introduce yourself after connecting on the platform. If your school doesn’t have a group or resources for local students and alumni, create one! Speaking with the local alumni chapter about connecting local students is always a good idea, and many alumni would be happy to meet current students. Being an
active participant is important. I have met with a few alumni and we have attended gallery openings together, gotten lunch and gone out for a drink. It’s been a good way to feel a part of a group and make wonderful networking connections.

What are some tips you’ve learned along the way in a non-traditional program?

[Image by Unsplash user, Kinga Cichewicz, under a Creative Commons License.]

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Charlena Michelle Wynn

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