Decisions, Decisions: Choosing a Thesis Committee

[flickr id=”7982880796″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

One of the main reasons I chose the Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts MFA program here at Columbia College Chicago was that it was small. Super small. At any point in time, we have about ten graduate students per class (first, second, and third years) bringing our grand tally to usually no more than thirty students. We also only have three full-time faculty members, plus a group of regular adjunct faculty. What this provides is an intensive environment in which my professors get to know my work really, really well. So for the past two years, I’ve been having regular conversations with these lovely folk (Melissa Potter in papermaking, Clif Meador in printing, Miriam Schaer in book). Their feedback has been invaluable and has pushed me to grow in totally unexpected ways. But here comes thesis, and one of the duties of a thesis year student is to assemble a thesis committee.

The committee consists of one full-time faculty and one adjunct faculty member. Throughout the course of this year, I will go primarily to them for feedback and critique, and they will be the two people helping guide me through this final large, creative, and intellectual endeavor.

I thought it would be easy to choose! But, it turns out that picking two people for such an important role is really difficult. It got me thinking about the purpose of thesis. From the beginning of graduate school, thesis is this big, looming thing that’s coming…one day. And now, all of a sudden, it’s here. But here’s what I’ve been telling myself: I will still be making things after thesis. I’ve been reminding myself that this is just one more step in my existence as a maker, not the last chance I’ll ever have to make the most awesome thing ever. Telling myself these things has been really helpful in reducing the ball of stress that keeps forming in my gut. But it’s also been really crucial in how I approach choosing my thesis committee.

[flickr id=”7983298135″ thumbnail=”medium” overlay=”true” size=”original” group=”” align=”none”]

Thesis is a big chance for growth. For this whole year, I will be focusing on one project. One project for a whole year. For me, that’s a lot of time. I usually work quickly and get things done. So, for an entire year, I will have the chance to revise, change, and make stuff better. And I’ve been thinking — maybe the best thing to do is to choose folks for my committee that I’m not totally familiar and comfortable with. Maybe the best thing to do is to use this opportunity to shake things up.

I really think that graduate school is about changing and growing and getting better. From minute one until the very end. Like I’ve said in other places — my bio and such — my concentration in undergrad was book and paper. So, I came to graduate school with a lot of ideas and practices firmly in place. But the best thing I have done for myself in school is to work to let go of all that and, in many ways, allow myself to start from scratch. With my thesis committee, I think I’m going to do the same thing. I’m going to pick people who will force me to grow, who will be able to look at my work with fresh eyes, who will question and inspire and make this last effort another great adventure.

Taking chances has only led to good things so far in graduate school, so here’s to taking some more!