Last month, I wrote a Hack Your Program post about McGill University’s School of Information Studies. This month, I wanted to give a bit more of a personal recounting of my experiences at the school, and some of the elements that led to my decision to move to another country for two (plus?) years. Maybe it’s the summer I spent working in my college’s admissions office, but I find stories of how people end up at their academic institutions fascinating. (Which is why I loved this post by fellow HLS writer.) I also like to make the grad school choice as transparent as possible, because it’s not a decision to be taken lightly and hearing someone else’s experience can often be helpful.
Why did I leave?
I am proud to be born and raised in Minnesota and I lived there all through undergrad. While I love my Midwest roots, I was in desperate need of a change. After I graduated, I moved to France to teach English for a year, and I thought that might get the travel bug out of my system. It did the exact opposite. I wanted to continue speaking French (my major in college) and go somewhere entirely new. Being unattached (no partner or children) also made this choice much more feasible than for most.
I applied for only two library school programs: McGill and the University of Wisconsin Madison. I looked and considered almost every single one, but a few factors led to me not applying, all of which had to do with money.
- GRE. Some schools require the GRE, while others did not. I didn’t see the value in taking the time and effort to study, take the test, and spend the exorbitant fee if other schools did not require it. Schools like iSchool at University of Michigan were immediately ruled out, even though they seemed like a great option.
- Application cost. $80 per application adds up quickly, so I had to limit where I was applying.
Some of the librarians I worked with in my undergrad went to Madison, so I spoke with them about their experiences. They had nothing but positive things to say, however, cost was again an issue. Simply put, it is cheaper to pay international Canadian student tuition and live in Montreal, than to live in Madison, Wisconsin. I knew grad school would be expensive no matter where I went, since I am paying for it entirely on my own, so it was a matter of trying to find the least expensive option.
Money wasn’t the only reason; as I mentioned, I wanted to keep using my French, and Montreal seemed perfect for this. Also as I mentioned, I wanted something new and exciting, and Madison, for all its college-town perks, was just a little too similar to Minnesota.
What is it like?
To be honest, I consider myself very lucky with my experience at library school. I have a few issues with some elements of my program, like the lack of course options, the lack of focus on diversity and social justice in the field, and the lack library job opportunities through the program. However, I had heard from a few librarians that grad school could sometimes be a less than ideal experience, so I decided to make the most of my situation.
I quickly got a job at a hospital library, then a second job at a public library; for both of these my French was essential. It’s incredibly difficult to find a job in Montreal without knowing French and English. It’s possible but there just aren’t as many options available. I currently also work at the Teaching and Learning Services Office at McGill. In terms of my financial situation (for transparency’s sake) these jobs have helped make me through the last year, and will help me graduate with less debt than I anticipated.
I also feel lucky in the community I have found and created at McGill. I am in several student organizations with events that allow me great networking opportunities. My peers in my program are interested in similar issues as myself. I have found an encouraging and collaborative environment that has allowed me to grow and explore new interests.
As I am past the half-way point of my degree, I like to reflect on how I arrived at where I am. I also love hearing these details about other students’ lives, so I figured at least one person out there might be intrigued by this. While I am still occasionally baffled at my choice to move to another country for grad school, my community and experiences help me know it was the right decision.
Why did you choose your program? What were some of the most important elements in your decision?
Cover photo by Scott Webb from Pexels