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Graduate Matters

Professional programs deliver a unique graduate school experience

Three academics discuss their experiences completing a postgraduate degree in a professional program.

BY EZRA BRIDGMAN, JANICE KUNG & MONIQUE LAFLAMME | NOV 18 2019

These three academics chose to complete their postgraduate degree in a professional program. Each has their own reason for choosing this unique path and discuss why they chose to pursue this path. Ezra Bridgman did a BA in communications with a focus on human relations at UQAM. He then decided to complete a master’s of science at HEC Montréal. Janice Kung completed a bachelor of commerce degree from the University of Alberta’s school of business with a marketing major and international business minor. She then decided to pursue a master’s in library and information studies (MLIS) degree in the school of library and information studies (SLIS) from the University of Alberta. Monique Laflamme completed a jazz/composition diploma at Grant MacEwan University, as well as a bachelor of psychology, with a minor in music at the University of Alberta. She then went on to complete a graduate certificate in creative arts therapies with a major in music therapy at Concordia University, as well as a master of fine arts.


How did your undergraduate degree prepare you for the graduate degree? And if they were vastly different, what additional work did you do to close the gap?

Ezra: Given the different natures of my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I was given the chance to buttress management foundations by taking a course in this area, which comprised of nine mini courses, each lasting five weeks. Furthermore, I took some organizational development courses (e.g., facilitation and group dynamics) at HEC.

Janice: My bachelor of commerce degree was a practical program in that I learned a lot of technical skills on how to use Microsoft Excel and report writing. This was an asset in learning how to use new programs such as building relational databases in Microsoft Access and using open source software. Group work became essential in the SLIS program and I believe the variety of group projects in business helped prepare me for the myriad of group projects in the graduate program, especially the importance of time management.

One of the significant differences between the undergraduate and graduate programs was the availability of your fellow students. Most students in their undergraduate programs are full-time students so it was not difficult to schedule group meetings. While studying in a graduate program, scheduling for group meetings became much more challenging with students working full-time, part-time, and having personal commitments (e.g. young families and raising children). Since there were several years between my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I needed to re-train myself on how to be a student. There wasn’t a knowledge gap per se but I had to learn how to get back into the regular routine of completing required readings prior to attending classes and writing academic papers.

Monique: Training in music therapy requires a background in psychology or a cognate field, so all of what I learned helped me tremendously. I had all of the required credits when I was accepted into the CATs program at Concordia, although I was required to take an “Introduction to Music therapy” course over the summer months before beginning full time studies in the fall.

What were the application requirements and how did you prepare (e.g., standardized test, portfolio, performance, etc)?

Ezra: I applied to the program in 2015 to start in 2016. At this time, this was the only program of its kind in Quebec. As a prospective student, I attended an information session where the program director made an impression that swayed my decision to apply. My recollection is that he was a great person whose values were clear and demonstrated a desire for growth. Through business anthropology, he wanted to bring entrepreneurs to the curriculum to foster an experimental lab grounded in projects within the program.

Janice: A statement of purpose, reference letters, curriculum vitae, and a minimum 3.0 GPA were required for admissions into the MLIS program. I dedicated a good amount of my time reflecting and writing the statement of purpose that was intended to outline why I was interested in completing an MLIS degree and studying at the library school in the University of Alberta. To ensure I had a strong statement of purpose for my application, I reviewed the SLIS website to have a solid understanding of what the program had to offer and the list of courses that would help me pursue potential future careers. I also reached out to my network of friends and trusted colleagues to read the draft and provide feedback. I find it is always helpful to have extra set of eyes review written documents.

Monique: I needed the correct psychology credits and to have reached a certain level of musical training and background in piano or any other principal instruments.  I geared all of my training before and up to my undergrad to be able to enter the music therapy program. So, I was lucky in that I knew that’s what I wanted to achieve long before applying for the program.  There was also an audition video required for the application, as well as two letters of recommendation from past professors who could speak positively about my efforts.

What attracted you about your graduate program?

Ezra: There were a number of pull factors. First, I had a deep interest in innovation and people who wanted to do good in business. Second, HEC intrigued me as a traditional business school and I was keen to learn how they would run this program.

The courses and supervised project were core learning elements in this program. The most memorable courses were experiential and turned business practices on its head. For example, a course on de-growth looked at how to reduce the economy, armed with great lectures and multimedia. There was the possibility to take courses from other fields, where I enjoyed one on consultation and participatory anthropology. In the latter course, we brought people together through open spaces and pro-action cafés.

Towards the end of the program, there were two options to choose from, a memoire (thesis) or a supervised project. I chose the latter. Prior to finding a suitable organization, I invested $3,000 on a summer course on creativity. Although this proactive step was not necessary for the program, it was through this opportunity and making new connections that led me to a paid internship at Cirque du Soleil.

I was very fortunate to have been part of Cirque du Soleil as a consultant. I was trusted to lead a project that measured the impacts and challenges of their social innovation training. As the main consultant, I was required to step up another level. This final project was wrapped up in an 80-page report that included recommendations going forward. This supervised project led to another five months of full-time work.

Janice: The University of Alberta’s SLIS program was a logical choice because I was already based in Edmonton. The strong list of faculty members and the diversity of courses in the program were also considerable advantages for me. Each student was assigned to a faculty supervisor who provided mentorship and guidance throughout the program and I found this to be a fantastic model to prepare students for careers in the future. There was also an option to complete a directed study where students were able to design their own course with a faculty supervisor to dive deeper into a special topic or area of study. Since I was unable to complete a thesis-based program due to my full-time work schedule, having the option to complete a directed study was an incredible opportunity to conduct my own research on a smaller scale.

Monique: The internship component of the program was most attractive to me. I was interested in developing my clinical skills in as many different types of settings as possible, with all types of populations. The connections developed from my internships allowed me to begin working while I was in school, and afforded me the opportunity to build the essential skills I use in my every day work now (e.g., promoting my business).

What aspects of the program prepared you for professional work?

Ezra: The opportunities that pushed me the most were the ones outside of the classroom. I gained confidence and autonomy in my own learning through interviews and doing projects with organizations. In a sense, the experiential projects in this program laid the path for learning in a workplace.

Janice: Group work in the program prepared me for the myriad of committee work that exists in the workplace. Teamwork and good communication skills are critical in any environment and I felt that there were many opportunities in the SLIS program to work on that. As a graduate student, I also made an effort to be involved in non-curricular activities such as organizing Partners’ Week, a job-shadowing program for students to meet with librarians and other information specialists working in the field. I learned how to search effectively and to keep up with current literature.

Monique: I work with clients that range vastly in age: children, teens and adults in school settings; mothers and babies in private groups; young children in daycare centres; individuals in their homes. The internship experience was instrumental to working comfortably in diverse settings and becoming adaptable in different professional environments. This adaptability has helped me create positions for myself. For example, I was able to approach organizations and potential private clients to assess and discuss the need for music therapy.

What advice would you offer prospective students interested in your degree program?

Ezra: It is important to think clearly about what you want from a graduate program because it is an investment of money, time and energy. My clarity in doing this master’s degree, rather than simply doing a degree for the sake of doing one, paid off.

Janice: The career opportunities for students completing an MLIS degree (or equivalent) are diverse! Typically, people think about traditional libraries when they hear about a library program (e.g. school libraries, public libraries, academic libraries) but there are many exciting new career prospects in the digital age including data science, knowledge management, competitive intelligence, and many more! I would suggest talking to librarians and other information professionals working in the field to learn about what they do. We are very friendly people!

Monique: If you are passionate about helping people and playing music, this is the job for you.  It is a field that requires your best in terms of professionalism and drive, so, it is up to you to create your path once you’ve finished the formal education and apply the skills you’ve built in the program. Take advantage of every opportunity while in school!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Ezra: This graduate program brought me closer to being comfortable with research, pushing me further than the undergraduate degree. I gained tools and knowledge to collect information from databases and bibliographic software.

Janice: Find your passion! I’ve been privileged to be able to land my dream job and I wasn’t able to be where I am today without help. If you are interested in pursuing a graduate program, be fully committed to the experience and keep an eye out for mentors. Mentors have been critical in my professional and personal growth and they do exist! There are many opportunities to get the most out of a program that cannot be found in a classroom. Be courageous and try new things even if it scares you. The rewards are well worth it.

Monique: For more information on music therapy and my practice, you can visit www.flowmusictherapy.com.

Note: The answers for Ezra Bridgman were adapted from an interview with him.

ABOUT EZRA BRIDGMAN, JANICE KUNG & MONIQUE LAFLAMME
Ezra Bridgman is a learning experience designer, facilitator and coach fascinated by the transformative potential of humans and groups. Janice Kung is a public services librarian at the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library, University of Alberta. Monique Laflamme is a music therapist whose private practice, 'Flow Music Therapy', serves adults with disabilities in schools, supports mothers and babies, and engages children in daycares and community centres.
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