How to get the most out of RISD

one humble senior’s opinion

Hello current/future RISD student!

My name is Ryan and I am a senior at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). As my senior year draws to a close (scary!) I have been trying to think of ways that I can give back to the RISD community. I do not think that I understand everything about RISD — that would take another fifty years. Each department has its own secrets and traditions. Each building its own history. But, I think that it’s within my scope (and sort of my responsibility) to share what I’ve learned in my 3.5 years (in my time at RISD I’ve been a student, an RA, a TA (twice), an OL, and a leader of RISD STEAM and RISD Quickies). Of course, everything below is my opinion, so take it as just one of the many grains of salt you gather.

The #1 thing you are paying for at RISD are your classmates.

You’ll have your fair share of meaningless small talk at RISD, but I’m willing to bet that if you walk into any dining hall at RISD and sit down with a stranger over lunch and talk to them about what they are working on, you’ll walk away looking at the world a little differently.

In my opinion, out of all the many wonderful parts of RISD — Foundation Studies, Wintersession, EHP , the students are the most powerful resource. I can’t count the number of times that a student from another major has helped me out on a project that I was totally unequipped to tackle on my own. I feel like I’ve learned as much from my peers as my professors.

In my junior year, I was tasked with designing a catalogue of the events that we put on for RISD STEAM that year, Catalogue Two. This was quite the tall order for a Junior in ID — I had never designed anything for print before. I couldn’t tell Gill Sans from Avenir if you handed me a magnifying glass. I was really lucky though. Another leader in STEAM, Catherine Schmidt, had the time and patience to help me figure it out. It’s not the most beatiful book to come out of RISD, but it taught me a ton about graphic design, and it gave me the confidence to try out more and learn even more.

Some ideas about how you can incorporate this into your time at RISD? 1) Work in studio! 2) Go to workshops when you have the time 3) Post projects online and ask your friends for critique. Most people like being asked because you’re complimenting them by saying you value their opinion. 4) Talk to people about your work during lunch, coffee, etc.

If you need something, someone on campus is probably being paid to help you with that.

RISD has a ton of resources that people don’t know about, and don’t use enough. Want to throw a huge party? Programming Board can help you. Need help getting used to college hill? You have RAs and OLs. Want to get some exercise? There are club sports, and even one varsity! If you’re having a ton of stress that you don’t know how to deal with, there are professionals in Thompson House that can help.

The list goes on and on. All the resources you could need to succeed at RISD are there, the trouble is finding them, which isn’t always as easy as it could be ( shows some promise, although it is still in early stages). Once you find them, they will be happy to help you. You just have to put in that extra 10% to make it happen. People love to help each other out — it just so happens that the people you are asking for help from are generally very busy, and can only help you if you make it easy for them to do so.

After I finished a recent project, I stopped by Paolo Cardini’s office for a short critique. I asked him to look over the materials, specifically to get advice on how I should document the project in my portfolio/ on the web. Even though Paolo was not my professor for that project, the feedback I got was amazing! Paolo pointed out that the project seemed to want to be ostentatious, but it was missing shock, or a deeper emotional connection. This was something that other professors had started to get at, but it wasn’t quite clear until I heard Paolo say it.

Some ways you can use this: 1) Go to career services early and often 2) Use the writing center 3) Take advantage of CSI’s many opportunities. 4) Talk to your RA!

Take advantage of your freedom. You don’t “have to” do anything.

In my opinion, the most valuable thing you have at RISD is your time. Sometimes, it will feel like you have only enough time to barely finish what is being asked of you — but remember, you’re the one paying to go to RISD! Of course you owe it to your teachers and advisers to trust them and try your hardest to do what’s asked of you — but at the end of the day you have to take responsibility for what you do with your time.

For example, let’s say that you really wanted to take physics as a freshman. Everyone told you it’s impossible to take a Brown class as a freshman, but it’s your passion and you found a class that doesn’t conflict with your studios. In order to take the upper level physics classes, you need to get this class out of the way early. If you explain this to your adviser, and do all of the work to make it easy for them to say yes (this is critical), they will probably help you work it out.

Here’s another example, because it’s kind of an abstract concept. Let’s say you’ve always wanted to start band, but you don’t have time with a 15-credit load. You can take 12 credits instead! Just because you aren’t taking a full load every semester, doesn’t mean that you aren’t getting everything out of RISD. One past RISD student, David Byrne, went on to start The Talking Heads, a world famous band that made history for being edgy and unexpected.

Here’s how you could make use of this in your schedule: 1) Go to Boston for a Saturday after a stressful week to recharge. 2) Don’t spend 20+ hours on an assignment that doesn’t interest you. 3) Spend 40+ hours on an assignment that does. This will give you a great story to talk to potential employers about. 4) Delay taking a required class by a year so you can continue taking a sequence of classes at Brown. 5) See if you can have a Brown class you aways wanted to take substitute for a required class you don’t have any interest in. 6)Get involved in a club, even though no one else does, if you’re passionate about it.

Set some goals.

It’s no secret that at RISD, the advising needs improvement. Most RISD students don’t meet with their adviser any more than they meet with their dentist. This leads to students thinking that their major is responsible for preparing them for a career/future/etc. In my opinion, that responsibility rests on your shoulders alone! There are tons of people at RISD are equipped and willing to help you get there (including your peers), but they can only help you get there if you know where you want to go.

I’m not saying that you need to have a 5 year plan. In fact, I think that planning any further than two years is unhealthy (and probably a waste of time), but setting a goal for where you want to be 1 year from now gives you something to work towards.

Even more powerful than having a 1-year goal is knowing that it will change.

This puts you in a situation where you can feel confident that you are taking steps to get somewhere important to you, but feel comfortable as that changes — and it will!

Ways you could use this to help you: 1)define an industry you are looking for an internship in, so that you can focus your search on a smaller number of companies so you have a better chance of getting a position somewhere 2) Show up to meetings with your adviser with a list of your goals and an up-to-date resumé so that they don’t need to be a mindreader to help you out 3) Write to 2–3 RISD alumni that seem to be living the proverbial dream, get to know them as people and become their friend.

I hope this is helpful to at least some of you! I feel like I could have saved a ton of time and frustration if I knew about these tips.

Enjoy RISD!

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