Alumna (PhD 2019), Art History
“The resources at U of T for humanities scholars are incredibly rich.”
In my twenties, I spent several years working in various capacities in the publishing industry: I interned at The Walrus and worked as an editor at Hello! Canada; I wrote for magazines like The Walrus, ELLE Canada, and Geist. I also worked briefly as an editor for two online publications, one based in Toronto and the other in Iraqi Kurdistan; and I had fiction published in journals like PRISM and the Dalhousie Review.
In my late twenties I decided to go back to school for an MA in something practical, something that would qualify me for an interesting day job to support me while I wrote in my free time. It didn’t quite turn out that way: instead of a day job as a photo archivist or museum registrar (my MA was in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management), I ended up with a full-time job as a student of photo history.
I had heard wonderful things about my supervisor, who is one of the few 19th-century photography specialists in Canada. I liked that there was a guaranteed funding package, and that the university has experts in all areas that my interdisciplinary research might lead me to.
The Department of Art History was so welcoming. I was immediately made to feel that I belonged in the program, and that my somewhat out-of-the-ordinary prior experiences were valuable. I loved classes in subjects as foreign to me as sculpture of the Northern Renaissance and medieval illuminated manuscripts. I have consistently felt supported and encouraged not only by my supervisor but also by the entire department.
Some of the books you can come across in the library were also a great surprise! The resources at U of T for humanities scholars are incredibly rich. I’ve never been at a loss for books whether looking into the history of minor figures in 19th-century art, publishing in France, natural-history museum display, or for rare bibliographies. I didn’t realize when I applied that the Thomas Fisher is the biggest rare books library in Canada.
I was able to do archival research in France this past winter, a trip that was entirely supported by my department. It was wonderful: I spent a month in Paris, Bordeaux, and Normandy looking at material I had dreamed of from home, getting frustrated looking for material I couldn’t find (a normal part of the research process), and talking to eminent scholars in the field about my topic.
To anyone considering graduate work, I would say: know what you want from a PhD program — and make sure you really want that, and are willing to work for it. Talk to students who have worked with your supervisor before. Think about how well you handle pressure and how much you enjoy high-pressure situations. If you do join the program, apply for everything you can in terms of funding and fellowships. I really benefited from the Office of English Language and Writing Support‘s workshop on writing grant applications — so make sure you take advantage of all the University’s resources!
Kate was a Canada Graduate Scholar SSHRC.