This story is one in a continuing series of C&IS graduate student spotlights. These spotlights give insight into the academic and professional lives of master’s and Ph.D. students as they advance knowledge in their respective fields of communication and information sciences. The questions serve to highlight the many aspects of the graduate student experience as well provide guidance for prospective students. To nominate a current C&IS student or graduate for a spotlight, email Cole Lanier at email@example.com.
Jillian Sico, a current graduate student in the MFA Book Arts program, discusses switching careers at age 34, her proudest moments and greatest challenges. When not studying in Gorgas Library, Sico can be found outside: hiking, camping and collecting plants. With the help of another graduate student, Sico started a community garden plot in Tuscaloosa where they grow papermaking and dye plants. Here is what she has to say about her experience in C&IS:
Tell us about your experience in graduate school.
I came to the MFA Book Arts program after earning an MA in Anthropology at UGA and working for several years in the non profit world. Being in the Book Arts program at UA has allowed me to pursue my dream of a second career in art, while also doing academic research on papermaking and book arts traditions. I feel very privileged to be here learning new creative skills, including letterpress printing, papermaking and bookbinding.
What are some of the highlights during your time in graduate school?
I was excited to be supported by SLIS, the Graduate School, and Capstone International Center to do research on papermaking and book arts in Mexico last summer. Last fall, I made an artist book edition about amate, a traditional type of bark paper from Mexico, using paper made from mulberry bark I harvested here in Tuscaloosa. I was incredibly honored (and surprised!) to receive the C&IS and University-wide award for Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student this spring, as well as the SLIS Faculty Scholar Award and the Raymond F. McLain Book Arts Award.
What are your plans after graduation? How does this degree fit into your life plans?
I hope to teach university-level and workshop classes in book arts and papermaking, continue to research papermaking, and make artist books. I would also like to do some community outreach, especially related to papermaking. I really feel I have found my calling in book arts, so I hope I can make a successful career out of it.
What has been your greatest challenge?
The creative process is always inherently challenging, especially after being removed from it for so many years.
What is your favorite part about the program?
I love making artist book editions, especially ones that involve handmade paper, writing and some form of research. The Book Arts faculty, Anna Embree and Sarah Bryant, are also amazing artists and people who have been incredibly supportive; I feel lucky to know them.
What advice do you have to students about to enter graduate school?
Try not to overbook yourself, but be very proactive about finding opportunities both within and outside the University. Be open to new ideas, but make sure to keep to your ideals, values and vision.
Why did you choose UA for your graduate studies?
UA has one of the best, most well-regarded and oldest Book Arts programs in the country. I was already living in the Southeast and glad I could stay in this region while studying what I love.
If you would like to learn more about Jillian’s graduate experience, you can follow her on Instagram at @jillianmarys.