Day in the Life: Susan Shaw, Film and Media Art MFA

My name is Susan, and I am a second year in the MFA in Film and Media Art Program.

I find stories in daily life. Then, I reconstruct the story into fiction, inspired by truth.

My process is to look past the obvious, using close observation techniques and engagement of the subjects that inspire my stories. The challenge is to see beyond the distractions and assumptions of society, in order to capture a unique depiction of life and living. Some of my subjects and stories are beautiful, others less so. My goal is to inspire individuals to look carefully, and listen actively to the world around them, so eventually they will discover true beauty in unusual, unexpected places.

I chose Emerson for my degree because it suited my interests in many media. My undergraduate thesis had an installation component, and I wanted the opportunity to merge my film interests with emerging technologies and galleries. Emerson also has a strong track record of producing graduates who are prepared to teach at the university level. Emerson was the best choice for me because I define myself as not only a filmmaker, but as an artist and creative.

A day in my life as a Film and Media Art (MFA) student at Emerson College.

A day in my life is ever changing in terms of school, work and events, but my mornings are very much the same.


Self-portraits in the bathroom.

My alarm clock goes off: I should have gotten up at 6:00 a.m. and headed to yoga, but I did not. I should be hopping out of bed right now at 7:00 a.m., but I hit the snooze button many many more times.

I finally get out of bed. If it is winter I turn on my heating pad and warm up my clothes for the day while I shower. I make a point to occasionally wear lavender because Shonda Rhimes wrote that Mc Dreamy loved that smell on Meredith, and I am of the Grey’s Anatomy generation, so we like to take notes.

If I have time I might make a smoothie before I head out the door as quickly as I can for my 5-minute walk to the train.

My walks to the train in Jamaica Plain are full of DOGS!

My neighborhood, Jamaica Plain, reminds me most of Berkeley California minus the Birkenstocks (I am from California). As I walk to class I usually see my neighbors. For the most part do not know their names, but I certainly know their dog’s name, age and breed.

I catch my train and get to Emerson’s stop within 30 minutes. The trains in Boston are categorized by color. Each train has its own personality and age. I live on on of the oldest line, the Orange line.

When I get off the train I walk down the street to my class or on-campus job, and sometimes I stop at Starbucks to get a coffee. I am lucky to work on campus in Graduate Admission as the VMA (Visual Media Art) graduate assistant. We help the application period run smoothly and we are always here to answer any questions that prospective students may have. We also have a lot of fun meeting students at our outreach events as well as the individualized tours tailored to your program of interest.

On the days that I am not working on campus I am found in class. My classes this semester are: Advanced Directing, Screenwriting the Feature Length, Production Design and MFA Workshop.  Classes meet once or twice a week and students usually take three classes per semester.  

Friends make the year go round.

Classes range from production and practice-based to theory and writing/producing. Practice and Production classes are when students actually create visual work that we can share and submit to film festivals. During production classes, we create short audio pieces or visual films or installations.

Over the weekend, in preparation for my Advanced Directing class, I pulled together a crew and shot something on film (there are cameras for rent that are included in our tuition). Professors each have their own set of projects to complete, but one Advanced Directing project, for example is, “Shoot a character in private doing something that they would not normally do in the presence of others.” From that prompt, students are given creative freedom to structure a three-minute film depicting the scenario.

After Directing I head to my Screenwriting class, where we are developing feature length scripts.

Although I am not taking any theory courses this semester, theoretical courses give students a foundation in the theories that have influenced filmmakers and creative thought. Through my Intro to Theory class, I took a keen interest in Marx. In another class, I explored Orientialism by Edward Said.

On Tuesdays I work as a GA/TA (Graduate Assistant/Teaching Assistant).  If you desire teaching experience and hope to teach one day at the university level, working as a GA/TA helps build your resume. At the start of every semester, the Graduate Program Director will share information about the available positions and how to apply through the Emerson Employment Office. I have a weekly check-in with the professor that I teach with every Tuesday to map out what classes I’ll need to attend or teach that week.


Somewhere during the day I grab lunch if I have not prepared it ahead of time. My favorite type of food is Middle Eastern, and there’s plenty of spots close to Emerson where I can find a good garlic hummus. Some of my go-to places are Black Seed Café, Falafel King, and Halal Guys.

Mondays at 4:00 pm I attend my Second Year MFA Workshop class where we review our current projects and set goals for the semester.  This class teaches us how to approach to critique and how to give constructive feedback.

Set life and projects at my apartment.

As a future student, you will laugh, and have at least one friend who “gets” you, and who will become your cohort version of “my person” (this term was also made famous by Grey’s Anatomy/Shonda Rhimes). Your “my person” will help you emotionally through the ups and downs of MFA life. Make friends so they can help you shoot projects and get equipment from the EDC (Equipment Distribution Center). Getting equipment to your shoots and back will test your patience, but as with anything in the industry, the ability to troubleshoot, persevere, and coordinate projects is imperative to your success.

Each month we have a colloquium meeting that features program-wide highlights, Boston area film-related speakers, and at times, test screenings of Graduate Thesis projects. At any moment one of my friends in my cohort may have an experience and update to share.

Depending on the semester my classes may end in the afternoon or late evening. After class, meetings and a day in my grad life is over I go home, shower again, watch This Is Us on NBC (and cry), and maybe sleep so I can start the next day again.