How To Do Grad School Well
There are lots of ways to approach your time as a graduate student with us. Every artist is different, and we thrive on that diversity. That being said, here are a few thoughts about how you might structure your three years:
Try everything you can during your first year - it's a great opportunity for exploration, and you'll have significantly less pressure than later on. In year two, try to evaluate what worked well and what didn't during your first year. Critically assess your efforts, and narrow your focus to a few ideas and techniques worthy of deep studio time. Year three needs to be full-tilt focussed effort toward your MFA show. You should know what your work is about, how to make it well, and be able to execute a museum quality solo exhibition by spring semester.
2. Look Around You for Answers:
You will be surrounded by close to 100 other Studio and Art History graduates at any given time during your tenure here, as well as some 40-odd faculty members, lab supervisors, and other support staff. No one person has all the answers you need, and you should cast as wide a net as possible as you search for advice, feedback, and friendship with your colleagues.
Find ways to interact with these people - ask for studio visits as much as possible, and collaborate with your peers. Every area in the Art school has it's own graduate level workshop course, which is generally a time for loosely structured group critique. Take as many other areas' workshops as possible - particularly those in 2D, if you're a 3D person. You'll be amazed at the suggestions they offer.
Start keeping an eye out for committee members early. If you like a faculty member's work, or hear good things about them, find a way to meet them and get to know them - early. The more input you can get from your committee members, the better. They will all be willing to meet with you as much as is helpful - but it's your job to initiate those interactions. We're all quite busy of course, but we want to make time for you. We aren't likely to always seek you out, so make sure you take the initiative to get as much from your faculty as possible. We expect that of you.
Give and get from your direct peers. The people around you most will be your friends and colleagues for the rest of your life. Treat them with respect, and help them when they need it. Talk about your work, and theirs, with honesty and curiosity. You have a responsibility to them, and they have the same to you - each of you only gets so many people to be in grad school with. Don't be dead weight - someone not working, not striving, and not focussed not only lets down themselves, but also their peers. If someone around you is slacking, call them out - tell them you expect more of them, and that you're here to help them get back on track.
3. Use Your Summers Wisely:
Just going home and hanging out at your parents' house is a waste of valuable time. Treat each summer like a residency opportunity. Go somewhere where you can get input from others outside of this place. If you don't have luck applying to residency programs, make one for yourself. Travel with friends, see art, make art anywhere you can. If you treat the summers like extra studio time away from courses, you'll be even more productive when you come back. Places that have been great for students have been Watershed, Haystack, The Archie Bray Foundation, Anderson Ranch, Penland, The Vermont Studio Center, Grin City Collective, The Norther Clay Center, The Clay Studio of Philadelphia, Harvard Ceramics, Arrowmont, Taos Clay, Greenwich House Pottery, Medalta, AIR Vallauris, CRETA Rome, The European Ceramic Work Centre, The International Ceramic Studio at Keskamet, Guldagergaard in Denmark, Red Lodge Clay Center, The Clay Studio of Missoula, Ox-Bow, etc, etc, etc... There are grants, particularly through the graduate college, for summer travel, and in many cases you can get these opportunities completely funded if you work hard enough in advance.
4. Take Advantage of The University:
This is an incredible community of scholars from all over the world. There are resources available to you as a student at this university that you'll never have access to again in your life - make them count! Any peripheral interest you have, such that it informs your work, can be researched, informed, and investigated with the help of experts. Your elective course options in the curriculum are excellent ways to capitalize on these resources, but even if you don't have room to take a course in an area, find out what's available on campus and figure out a way to make use of it.
The University library and special collections are also tremendous resources, containing many priceless artifacts and archives of art related materials. A visit to the special collections area of the main library is well worth your time. Furthermore, the University of Iowa Museum of Art will soon have a new building, and contains one of the premier university art collections in the country. Visit the temporary exhibits and exhibition spaces in the mean time, and get to know museum staff members if you can. It's worth it to ask to take your class to see ancient african ceramic artifacts in the collection, or to arrange a special visit to the university ceramics collection to handle works by many 20th century masters.
5. Find Ways to Build an Exhibition Record While You're Here:
Many people might tell you not to spend your time exhibiting work externally in graduate school so as not to be distracted from your work. Without some external exhibitions on your CV however, you'll feel deficient when you leave, and you'll spend extra time then building up your resume to be considered for jobs and opportunities. It's fine to exhibit work that winds up looking outdated later - no one will remember. If they do, then you've made enough of an impact to net you opportunities, and that's a great thing. International juried exhibitions are surprisingly easy to get into as an artist from the US - give them a shot in particular. Rarely does anyone look to see where you exhibited work in Rome... it could be a closet in a bakery, and it would still sound impressive on your CV.