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Do you have any tips/suggestions for someone starting an art history masters program in the fall? Maybe how to manage imposter syndrome (which I'm already feeling...)?

At the time I am writing this, you have probably just begun your Master’s program. My sincere apologies that I wasn’t able to reply sooner, but I hope the advice below will still be useful to you. 

Part One: The MA Program

When starting your MA program, make a list of all important department due dates or deadlines for things like financial aid, enrollment deadlines, and degree requirements (e.g., language exam date, comprehensive exam date, thesis due date). Ensure you understand the degree requirements: the number of courses you have to take (and in what areas), whether or not your program requires a comprehensive examination, how many languages you will be required to test in to receive your degree, how many readers your thesis should have, and if there are any special requirements for your thesis. Also take note of financial opportunities available to new or repeat graduate students including tuition or stipends, travel grants, or photography grants. Some funding will only be open to second-year students, some will only be open to doctoral students, some to ABD, and so on. If you have a teaching or TA assignment, make sure you’re aware of any training sessions you are required to go to and introduce yourself to your faculty supervisor, if you have one.

Once you’ve figured out the red tape, get a layout of your campus, if you aren’t familiar with it already. Get to know the staples of your department (who processes the paperwork? is there an image library? where is the Chair’s office and your advisor’s office? etc.) and find out whether or not your program has a dedicated graduate student lounge. Figure out where the library is, what resources the library offers, and what databases your school subscribes to. Also see if your library offers individual study corrals for graduate use, lockers, or conference rooms. (This probably seems like common sense, but I’m including it here just in case.) If you like coffee, tea, or beer, try local coffeeshops and bars for environments you like and could potentially study/work in. (Because working in an Irish bar is definitely something I have never done …) Figure out what local eateries are fast, cheap, and do not have a throng of undergrads, since sometimes you will only have a few minutes between classes and will need to grab something quick. (More common sense, but every campus town is different – there were some marked differences between certain places on campus at my alma mater that took way too long to figure out.) Next, see if your school has discounted transportation tickets, museum/theater/movie tickets, gym discounts (or a gym on campus!), restaurant discounts, and so on. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, familiarize yourself with physical and mental health services available to graduate students.

So, by now you’re comfortable with your new institution and department – onto academics.

In my experience, there are three key factors to success in graduate school:

1.     Time management. Start papers early and finish them early; leave time for revision.

2.     Selfcare & maintaining extra-curricular relationships. Make sure you have people you can confide in, whether they are friends, family, or professionals. Don’t get lost in your work; nurture your relationships. Part of selfcare involves keeping your academics in check: striving for excellence in your work, rather than perfection, is mentally more manageable. Take some time each day to completely relax and take your mind off academe.

3.     Continual improvement of your skillset and knowledge. You were already awesome when you entered graduate school, but you need to work on improving your weaknesses and honing your strengths. You also need to learn as much as possible about your area of specialty, so read, read, read. Lastly, keep your career in mind: watch for CFPs, fellowship, internship, and teaching opportunities.

As far as what to expect with regard to coursework, you will likely be expected to take courses across a variety of time periods and cultures. Thus, you might encounter art from a culture or period you aren’t familiar. A little intimidating, right? Maybe, maybe not. If this happens, read as much as you can about the subject before the first day of class to try to get up to speed, and try to draw connections between the unfamiliar subject and what you do know. On another note, remember that you will be expected to know how to read at least 1 language other than English. You will be tested on this in your official language exam(s), but you will also be unofficially tested during coursework when do the weekly readings, participate in discussion, or write papers (i.e. doing research in X language related to your area of specialty). Be prepared to receive constructive criticism on your papers from your peers if your program requires students read their term work aloud; in the same vein, be prepared to provide constructive criticism to your peers.

I’m sure there are other aspects of coursework I’m not mentioning here, but this is what I can think of at this late hour.

Keep in mind that graduate school is what you make it. You get what you put in. These statements are cliché, but they’re true.

Part Two: Imposter Syndrome

With regard to how to overcome imposter syndrome, I was going to type my advice, but I honestly couldn’t say it better than the author of this article, which I hope you find valuable. Before you click through to the link, though, please know that if you are experiencing imposter syndrome, or if you experience it in the future, you aren’t alone. I have experienced it, as have most graduate students. The hallmark of imposter syndrome is that a person feels like a fraud and will be found out and exposed as such. He or she thinks they don’t actually know anything about their field, don’t deserve to be where they are, that they didn’t earn it, and they’re just going through the motions. 


If this sounds like something you are feeling, take a breath. Allow reality to set in: You got where you are because you earned it. You are accomplished and will continue to accomplish things. Your department believes in you and recognizes your potential, or else you wouldn’t be there. If your cohort has more accomplishments than you (publications, fellowships, scholarships, etc), that’s fine – we all work at our own pace, to the timing that is meant to be. Be aware of your role in your success, but stay humble at the same time. There is only so much you can achieve in a day, month, or year, and you need to balance your ambition with your physical and mental ability and stamina. 

Imposter syndrome manifested alongside severe panic attacks for me, and at the time, I was too stubborn to take the hour or so to visit a professional for help. If you find that you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks, I strongly recommend visiting a therapist or doctor for coping strategies and/or medication, depending on your personal situation.  (For more advice, again, see this article.)

I hope this helps! I didn’t do enough affirming of your accomplishments in the above text – trust me, anon, you are where you are because you deserve to be there. Go do great things!

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So last Thursday I met with a professor from UCF after she found out I had filed to discontinue my program. I met with her more as a personal meeting because she had been my professor when I was 18 as an undergrad, my advisor through extra-curricular activities, and overall one of my biggest supporters up until I basically went into “thesis mode” and was no longer actively on campus.

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Hello! My name is Sierra and I am currently working on my MA project, a 26 page research endeavor (ha, it sounds fancier now) that I want to write, focusing on the invisibility of “liminal” MOGAI/ queer folks** in Gay and Lesbian YA (trans, bi, intersex). If you would like to help me out, please keep reading! 

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this essay on the curriculum is starting to sound like those profound revelations you suddenly have about life whenever you’re shitfaced

except im not shitfaced (shitfaced on coffee yeah) it’s 11 in the evening and im desperate to finish this by saturday.

the first of four papers

it’s entirely my fault really, ive been dicking around all day. i am A+ grad student

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