How to plan for your masters

Brooke Boland

Your guide to what goes into preparing for a master’s degree in the arts at NIDA.
How to plan for your masters

Students from NIDA’s MFA and BFA courses collaborate for the annual June and October student productions seasons, The Changeling. Photo: Patrick Boland.

Starting a postgraduate degree can be quite daunting, especially for anyone unfamiliar with the expectations and commitment that these courses entail. 

To help you start planning for your future studies, ArtsHub asked a NIDA student for their advice on preparing for a Master of Fine Arts.

1. Ask yourself, what career opportunities will the course lead to?

Madeleine Barlow, who is currently studying a Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance) at NIDA, returned to study to update her artistic practice as a designer and to develop a network with the next generation of creatives in her field. 

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‘As much as we sometimes dream of being part of a large company, some of the most exciting work I’ve seen is being devised by artists; artists creating for themselves and artists creating their own companies. I wanted to come and meet the next generation of directors, writers, and designers so I have a network to move forward with and hopefully create some great work in the future.’

That’s why Barlow’s big consideration was the culture of where she was going to study. ‘I was looking at the networking opportunities as well as a history of working alumni,’ she said.

2. The interview is for both of you

The interview and audition process for a Master’s at NIDA includes a conversation with the head of faculty. For Barlow, this meant meeting with Acting Head of Design for Performance Julie Lynch. 

‘There were three Master’s I had been interested in, but for me it really came down to the interview. Julie Lynch really sealed it for me because she made me feel empowered and also respected in that interview. It was the one that excited me the most and made me feel like this was potentially going to be an environment that was going to make me the best artist I could possibly be.’ 

Barlow said you need to use the interview as an opportunity to feel out whether the course is right for you, not just as a moment to impress the interviewer.

‘I think a lot of people, especially younger people, get very stressed out when they approach interviews, feeling that they need to impress. That is true in a sense because it is an audition, but I always think you should go in with some questions about things that are important to you. It is also about making sure that you feel comfortable with those people because as much as you are trying to show your skills and how you are a good candidate, they should also be showing you what they’re going to do and give you an indication of what your time there will be like.’

3. Prepare financially 

Barlow said preparing yourself financially is crucial. The time students spend on campus developing their practice and research skills means less time is available for part-time work.

For Barlow, the logistics of her move from Queensland to New South Wales added to the need to save beforehand.

‘I worked for a couple of years to make sure it was something that I really wanted to do, as well as to give myself a bit of a financial safety net.’

Fortunately, if that means working for a year or two in the industry before starting your masters, that experience will be a boon moving forward as it will prepare you creatively.

For students who need financial support, the National Institute of Dramatic Arts has been approved by the Commonwealth Government to offer FEE-HELP – a loan scheme that assists eligible fee-paying students to pay all or part of their tuition fees.

4. Read up beforehand

Because the dynamic of postgraduate studies is very different to undergraduate, students need to be prepared to be treated as a peer and colleague rather than a student. 

‘They really endeavour to treat the master’s students as practitioners of the future. They don’t talk down to you,’ explained Barlow.

Her advice is to go to as many shows and read as many scripts as you can before starting the course. ‘The more you can talk to people about shows that you’re liked or haven’t liked and why, same with books and scripts, is such a valuable tool for building rapport.’ 

To find out more about graduate courses at NIDA, visit nida.edu.au/courses/graduate

About the author

Brooke Boland is a Melbourne-based freelance writer.