Monday, February 25, 2013

Finding the Right Fit for Graduate School

Similar to applying to and finding a job, there are many considerations that go into ‘the right fit’ for graduate school.  The right fit is different for everybody; it’s a matter of personal experience meshing with what the school can offer to you.

I was in the “What Graduate Program do I choose?” shoes last year: awaiting admissions decisions and figuring out what school to go to, judging against the values that were important to me and how that aligned with the school’s values.  Some of these values: low financial burden (or at least a good return on investment (ROI)), professional community, practice / project based classes, a school that teaches the ‘hard (tech) skills’ needed, interdisciplinary, in a semi-urban, highly walkable environment, a diverse student body*, a school that focuses on the social implications of technology, and a school that has an international influence.  Suffice to say, I ended up at UMSI for reflecting these values in a way that made sense to me. 
[*diverse student body to me means the presence of various backgrounds, work/study ethics, personalities, intellectual strengths, design ability, etc.]

There are many other values, and perhaps some lay on a spectrum; it helped to imagine my ideal educational environment so that I could generate the questions needed to find out how UMSI offers that.  For instance, some of my UMSI peers have a very strong technology background and perhaps they valued a program that still offers technical training.  I’m not sure, but if that is a question you have, I encourage you to ask!

My background was non-technical but strong with social justice awareness and project management.   My research into graduate school fit at UMSI started with the UMSI Mission Statement and website, including course descriptions.  Whenever I encountered a new word, I would do a Wikipedia search and this would lead to some new questions.  (Data Mining, Human Computer Interaction, Information Professional, oh my!) 

Here are some questions I asked of myself so I could evaluate my goals with the school’s objectives.  I would ask you to tailor these to your needs and expand as you see fit.
  • What do I feel are my strengths and what would I like to improve on?  Does the school have ways to improve my strengths and areas for improvement?

  • What does an ideal collaborative environment look and feel like? What is my preferred work style and how do I work (well) with others?  How does the school promote a conducive learning environment that matches / augments my style?

  •  What does it mean to be a professional or to be in a professional career?  What is it about my professional role models that inspire me and what do I think they value?

  • What does diversity mean to me, how does it or should it look and feel like?  How can I bring my own awareness and strengths to any new environment?  

  • What does it mean to have a school / work culture?  What are some of my values and how do I demonstrate these?  How does the school demonstrate these values?

  • What will the school do to keep me there?  What support and resources does it offer? Any perks?
For me the school culture and its values were important in determining the right fit.  It might be something different for you.  Please feel free to ask us at any time on our Facebook Group for Prospective Students at, send an email to, or visit our website.  Also, for admitted students, we are excited to host you during our Visiting days, more info here!

~Edgar Nuñez
1st year MSI Student

Monday, February 18, 2013

Prospective Students' FAQs

Hi everyone! My name is Alyssa Kata and I am a first-year MSI student.  I also work as an Information Mentor, meaning I get the opportunity to communicate with a lot of prospective and incoming students and answer their questions about what it is like to be a student at UMSI.  I thought it would be helpful to write a blog post to answer a few of the questions I get asked most frequently.  So, here they are:

What's Ann Arbor like?
I should preface this answer by saying there will be another blog post coming on the topic of living in Ann Arbor later in the semester.  But from my prospective, Ann Arbor is a great place to live.  There always seems to be something going on at the University, at UMSI, or in the downtown area and there are many great restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc., as well as other cultural pursuits for students to enjoy.  For those who have never been to Ann Arbor, here is a quick video from the Pure Michigan Campaign ( featuring the city:

What are some ways students can get involved outside of the classroom in student organizations/extracurricular events?
There are many ways UMSI students can get involved and pursue their interests outside of the classroom, including joining student organizations, seeing guest speakers, and attending and/or helping to plan special events.  For example, an annual event that I participated in this past January was the UMSI Day of Service, where students, staff, and faculty all volunteered to help local organizations either by using some of their “information skills” or by doing things like painting, sorting food, or helping clean up a park.  The group I volunteered with went to the Ann Arbor Ecology Center and we helped their staff with several tasks like performing heuristics evaluations of their websites, improving their database, and updating their YouTube page. Some of the other popular events that UMSI students have participated in and helped organize recently include the A2 Data Dive (, World Information Architecture Day (, and Quasi-Con (   On a personal note, I attended World IA Day and this is an event that is held in several cities around the world, so it was very cool to see UMSI’s involvement in a larger global community of information professionals, as well as meet some of them on our campus in Ann Arbor.
If you are interested in the types of talks or presentations held at UMSI on a weekly basis, I would recommend checking out the UMSI Events calendar, a resource I find helpful:  On another note, you will notice that many of these events are scheduled around lunchtime, which I have found to be very convenient when I have some time to spare between classes.

What are your favorite things about UMSI?
My favorite thing about UMSI and one of the biggest reasons I chose to come to school here is the people.  I mention this to a lot of the prospective students I speak with but I have found the faculty, staff, and even other students to be very helpful, welcoming, and engaged in the issues that are important to us as future information professionals.  There is definitely a sense of community surrounding UMSI.  I have also appreciated the resources available to MSI students within the larger university and at the School of Information itself.  UMSI has its own Career Development Office, academic advisor, meeting rooms that students can book for group project work, a student lounge, and even an information studies librarian who holds weekly office hours for students.  The building where the School of Information is located, North Quad, in itself is a pretty great advantage of being an UMSI student.  If you haven’t had the chance to visit it yet, I would recommend checking out this page:

What is the typical class size?
Another question that comes up a lot is how many students are in typically enrolled in each course.  From my experience, the classes required for all first-year students are the largest.  There are usually two parts to those classes- a large lecture section and smaller discussion sections.  So while my lecture sections have had 100+ students in them, my discussion sections have had about 20 students each, meaning you are able to have much more personalized interaction with the teaching staff.  Other classes I have been in have had anywhere from 25-60 students in them, depending on many factors, including if the course is required for a certain specialization, what time and day it is held, if students from other departments or schools are interested in taking it, etc. Overall, I feel like even in my larger classes there are opportunities for asking questions and for active student participation in discussion of class topics.

What's the MSI student population like?
I was really worried about coming to grad school with only one year of work experience and a limited programming background.  I felt like I might not be able to keep up with some of my more experienced classmates.  However, this fear dissipated quickly as soon as I arrived and began meeting my classmates at orientation.  I realized that there were people with all different levels of experience and from many different backgrounds and undergraduate majors.  You will do a lot of group work in your classes at UMSI and the great part of this diversity is that everyone has something unique to bring to the table.

How is the workload for a full-time student?
In my experience, being a full-time student is basically like having a full-time job.  Most full-time students will take about 12 credit hours each semester (some semesters possibly less if you earn credits through an internship). I think the general rule is that for every credit hour a class is, you should expect to spend 3 hours working on it outside of class and this rule seems pretty accurate in my experience.  Of course, this is just an estimate so some classes may be more and some may be less time-consuming.  My group project classes seem to be the most time-consuming, especially those that involve real-world clients because of the effort it takes to coordinate everyone’s schedules. However, these classes have been especially rewarding to me once I was able to reflect on all of the experience and skills I gained.  Also, even with a full-time course load most students, myself included, are able to hold a part-time job to make some extra money and gain relevant skills. Although all of this sounds a little daunting, there is no need to fear, I have still had time to enjoy the awesome city of Ann Arbor!

I know this likely doesn’t cover all of your burning questions, so please feel free to e-mail me at with any others you may have.  As always, I would also encourage you to check out our website at - there really is a lot of helpful information there as well.  And continue to use the Facebook group for prospective students (or join if you haven’t already): to ask questions of current students and staff.  Chances are if you have a question, someone else is thinking about it too!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coming to UMSI as a Non-Traditional Student

Has it been awhile since your undergraduate degree? Do you have kids or other family responsibilities? Will you be attending part-time while working full-time? Are you commuting to campus?  If so, you might consider yourself a non-traditional student. You might be nervous about starting grad school, but as someone who was in your shoes two years ago, I am here to help put your mind at ease.

I came to UMSI for a mid-career change and it had been many years since I was last a student. I also had two small children and I wondered if I could handle the work and the time commitment. The program has been challenging, for sure, but it has been the best possible decision I could have made for my career and has already opened up numerous doors and future possibilities.

Becoming a student again
If you’re worried about how it might feel to be in a classroom again, you might be surprised to learn just how valuable your “real world” experience will be. Many classes at UMSI require group project work, sometimes with an actual client. I found my professional experience enhanced these projects and also helped my team. While younger students can learn from your experience, I have also been amazed by the great peers at UMSI of all ages and backgrounds and have learned so much from them in my time here. One of the strengths of the program is its diversity, and you will find other students from all walks of life.

Fitting in all in
One of the greatest challenges for a non-traditional student can be balancing in all the opportunities afforded by UMSI with your home life. While it is not possible to do it all, I think choosing a few outside activities that you care about and will help your outside professional development will be a vital part of your success in the program. UMSI offers a wide variety of student organizations, service opportunities, and networking events.  In my first term, I started out slow, and mainly focused on my schoolwork. Once I felt I had my footing, I started adding more outside activities and projects to my already busy schedule.

If you’re concerned about handling the workload, keep in mind the MSI degree does offer a fair amount of flexibility. If you are attending full-time, you could start with 3 classes instead of 4 in your first term. Many students also take 3 classes in their final term to make time for job searching. You can still graduate within 2 years as you will likely earn extra credit from your summer internship.  

I have found that having a support system in place has been my greatest help in going back to school. In addition to support at home, the UMSI community is a great place to receive help and advice. The UMSI staff and faculty genuinely want you to succeed here and are always available. Your fellow students at UMSI are also a terrific resource and I often receive advice from everything from technical problems to where to get a haircut. UMSI is wonderful community and is welcoming to students from a wide range of backgrounds.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Career Development: Part of Student Success at UMSI

UMSI places a high priority on your career success. The UMSI Career Development Office will work to foster a positive career development experience for you, from your first day at SI through graduation, and beyond. Our goal is to guide you in building a career development skill set that will help you succeed for a lifetime.

Our Careers team works closely with you in assessing your career interests, exploring career options, and developing effective job search strategies for securing internships and full-time positions through individual career counseling sessions, professional development workshops, employer/alumni panels and networking events. It is our goal to not only help you secure internships and jobs, but to help direct you to the career pathway that is the best fit in terms of your values, beliefs, strengths and goals.  We will help you connect with a broad range of employers through job postings, arranging resume collections and on-campus recruiting, connecting  with alumni across fields, and actively engaging in outreach to employers in the U.S. and abroad!

As a UMSI graduate you will find awesome and diverse career opportunities available to you.  Our graduates are in high demand with top organizations across the U.S. and abroad.  From major software firms such as Microsoft, Apple, and IBM; to national libraries and archives such as the National Library of Medicine and the National Archives and Records Administration; to eBusiness  firms such as Google, Amazon and EBay; to social media companies such as Facebook and LinkedIn; our graduates are recruited by companies and corporations from small to large in a wide range of industries.

UMSI graduates are working as digital media archivists for some of the world's leading creators of entertainment content; as a chief information officer for an international nonprofit organization; as an associate fellow for the world's largest medical library; as an information protection advisor for one of the largest professional services companies in the world;  as an emerging technologies librarian for one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, to a user experience designer for the world's largest search engine.  For a more comprehensive look into the careers of UMSI graduates, check out our most recent employment report. 

Joanna Kroll
Director of Career Development
University of Michigan School of Information