fbpx En Route #15 — PCA

En Route #15



We knew this was coming. We awaited its arrival and swore off sleep until it passed. Finals week is when things at last click into place. Projects are finished, deadlines are met, and with a heavy sigh of relief we can now rest easy. It’s no small feat what we’ve accomplished, against a seemingly insurmountable pile of projects and homework we have come out the other side having completed another semester. After weeks of non-stop work, it feels almost unreal being done for the moment. We measure our lives in projects and semesters, so it’s startling when we run out of either. The way I really know the semester is ending is the fact that I can see the end of the to-do list in my notes app for the first time since week 6.

By the time this is published we will have survived the worst, and only Final Critiques will lay ahead. A (forgive me) final test of our perseverance. Unlike other universities, art school is unique in the sense that our tests don’t come in the form of multiple choice questions or written exams but rather a presentation of our work in front of a jury of our professors and peers. I know, yikes. Before we can declare the semester well and truly over, we must first display our heart on a platter and smile pretty as we’re asked questions about our artistic intentions, only half of which we can boast an answer to. Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating. Despite the stress of preparation, final critiques are usually quite fun and more for the student’s benefit than anything else if I’m being honest.

As much as critique can feel like a trial by fire, they’re actually a great opportunity to show off all your hard work and get constructive feedback from people you trust. Personally, I think it would almost be a waste to work so hard during the semester only to be denied the chance for a proper look at the work you’ve done. Final critique is your time. 15 minutes where you get to explain work you’re proud of and get some advice on how you can improve for next time. I can really only speak for my department, but they’re often pretty gentle. For us seniors, there’s a bit more on the line as we introduce our thesis work and look ahead to where we might want to go with it in the spring. But even then, we’re playing to a home crowd. No one is here for blood, and everyone wants you to do well. For most, Fall semester final critiques aren’t even for a grade.

I know it’s hard to ignore the feeling of many pairs of eyes on you and not break out in a cold sweat, but trust me, the less you panic, the better things will go. Now this isn’t to say you should wing it. On the contrary, if midterms taught me anything, it’s that practice makes presentations infinitely less stressful as you really nail down what you want to say. My only sure fire tip for staying cool, calm, and collected, really comes down to one word: Confidence. In Thesis class this week we were given the chance to do a dry run of our presentation for our professor and a former student. It was slightly nerve wracking as I had put together the rough draft the night before, but I walked right up and really just tried to speak calmly and make the essential points.

Even if you don’t feel confident, it doesn’t really matter. As long as everyone else believes you know what you’re talking about, you’re golden. It’s not all just faking it though. For seniors presenting thesis topics, we are the experts in the room. Very few are going to be intimately familiar with the specific topic we’ve just spent the entire semester researching, much less written a 15-page document on it. We have the knowledge, all we need to do is practice how best to present it so others understand. The hardest part is honestly keeping things under 15 minutes and distilling a semester’s worth of work and decisions into an easily digestible presentation. I myself have survived a number of these critiques, but am unfortunately out of practice since going on exchange as visiting students are usually exempt from departmental critiques. At the end of the day, view this as a learning experience. It probably won’t go perfectly, but you almost surely won’t go down in flames if you do a bit of practice and muster a bit of confidence, real or imagined.

Fall semester teaches us the lessons we need for Spring. It’s a bit shorter than the semester that we finish on, but nevertheless the backbone of our academic year as we establish ourselves in the academic year. We shake off the haze of summer and relearn what it is to be a student in college. I can’t say it’s been easy, but I can say that it’s absolutely been worth it. I think the way you know you’ve done well is if the week 1 version of you wouldn’t believe the work you were able to accomplish at week 15. While not every project can be a standing ovation, it’s important to celebrate your victories and enjoy how far you have come. 3 months can feel like forever, but they’re gone in the blink of an eye. Don’t forget how this feels, and enjoy it while it lasts.


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