Hacking the Master’s Program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS) recently had an event for its students to “hack” its graduate program. The hour-long event, titled “Managing Expectations,” was set up as a gallery-walk, intended as an opportunity to increase communication and support between graduate students regardless of their LIS focus. In order to include a pizza lunch for all attendees, it was sponsored by two SILS student organizations as well as the university’s librarian organization LAUNC-CH.

Preparing for the Event

Prior to the event’s creation, a few of us had gotten to talking about what we wished we had known before starting our second year so that we wouldn’t be so panicked our final year. Though the school does provide a voluntary one-on-one mentor/mentee program between first and second year students, not everyone remembers to partake, and also not everyone is good at mentoring. We started mapping out all the themes of topics we’d have liked to know as first years (and still want to know as second years), including what professional development aspects we could do to set us up for success in our future. We then thought about how we could relay our experience to others, and in what forum would best work: which is how we came up with a short lunchtime gallery walk.

We also wanted to start thinking about how to be more involved as a community with the professional library organizations in our area. Sam reached out to the UNC libraries and they were more than happy to help. As Monica Figueroa, president of the Library Association at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (LAUNC-CH), said, “LAUNC-CH is devoted to nurturing and enriching the future generation of library workers through professional development activities and mentoring opportunities, and we couldn’t have thought of a better way to show our support than by sponsoring the “Managing Expectations Gallery Walk” for SILS graduate students.

During the Event

The topics we chose to include in our gallery walk included:

  • Masters Paper
  • Classes
  • Extracurriculars
  • Conferences
  • Job Search

Besides pizza and snacks, we laid out sticky notes, markers and pens, and taped large poster board to the walls around the room. This enabled people to post questions or answers to the themed poster boards so others who visited the board later could still glean advice or encourage discussion from the original question. The vibe during the event felt very comfortable – a first year mentioned: “The most important parts were being able to chat with second years about tips for the upcoming semesters, and being able to talk to other first year students who are going through the same thing as new SILS students.” And as second years, we personally really enjoyed realizing we had useful experiences to share.

After the Event

We told everyone at the event to post anything to a hashtag we’d created, #hackuncsils. Generic enough to be applicable for use at future “hacking” events, UNC SILS students could then refer to this hashtag if they wanted to share and learn tips about succeeding at SILS. Including pictures especially could encourage student attendance at events to show how fun and helpful the events could be.

Having had only a week of marketing of the event via the SILS listserv, a decent number of students attended. It’s possible many more students could have learned about the event had we posted more traditional hallway flyers and we may have discouraged some attendance by choosing to host the event in a semi-hidden room within the university’s library rather than in SILS itself. However, providing pizza at the event was a huge incentive and really helped to make the event feel relaxed and supportive.

What we would like to do in the future is post the sticky note papers up somewhere at SILS. This could give others the opportunity to interact and read answers and realize they’re not alone in their curiosity (or frustration) about various topics. We’d like the school to arrange more events like these – be it occasional informal events or a more formal “second year orientation” during the spring semester of first year – but whether they’re run by the student organizations or the school administration would involve some collaboration. Since everyone goes through the program, this would be a great way to build relationships, talk seriously or theoretically about the hard stuff, and succeed within the specific requirements at SILS.

Lynnee Argabright (@lynneelue) is a second year MSIS student at UNC-CH, and works as a graduate student Research Assistant in UNC’s Scholarly Communications department of the library. With a background in academic publishing, she is interested in supporting faculty awareness of publishing processes, encouraging open access research, and exploring bibliometric impact.

Sam Mandani (@1smandani) is a second year MSIS student at UNC-CH and works as a research and design assistant at UNC Libraries’ Undergraduate Library. She has a background in high school instruction and is interested in a variety of user-centered initiatives including a focus on EDI and user experience design in library and learning spaces.

Featured photo has been provided by the guest authors.

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