Stacie Woolsey
Founder, Make Your Own Masters

Pursuing a Masters degree is not uncommon. But what set Stacie Woolsey apart was choosing to do it on her own terms. Instead of paying to attend school, she decided to create her own programme by reaching out to designers she looked up to to set creative briefs for her. 

Challenging the set linear path and pushing the boundaries of “working with what you have”, she candidly shares about her self-created briefers/mentors/peers system and the best year of education she’d ever had.

Hi Stacie, tell us who you are and what you do.

Hello, I’m Stacie and I’m a designer of some sort. I’m not too sure on the specifics just yet - which is the main reason I decided to do an MA, to specialise and figure out what ‘designer’ I want to be. The work I love is interactive, scientific and human, so I want to end up in the middle of all three eventually.
You started Make Your Own Masters (MYOM) in October 2017. What is it and why did you start it?

I had this idea last October, but it all really started in January. I left university with a degree in Graphic Design but I’m definitely not a graphic designer. Actually, I’m really bad at graphic design. I had a portfolio full of mini inventions and ‘what if?’ projects which I really enjoyed doing but realised this work was not that easy to place in the real world.

After a year of interning and not having a real clue what I was doing I decided to do an MA. The reality that I was never going to be able to afford a real course anytime soon quickly set in, so I had this idea that I might just take a year and try to make my own. I started contacting designers in the industry whose work I loved. I asked them to set me a brief and help to mentor me through this year of education I had designed for myself.

Then I realised these busy people don’t want to deal with every little issue I have along the way... so I started to ask for help from a range of mentors with different skill sets.

Lastly I roped in a group of peers, all at similar ages and career stages to me. Through these three networks I have tried to provide myself with the best learning environment possible.
What have you learnt from reaching out to industry practitioners whom you admire and having a community of peers?

People are generous with their time if you are genuine about wanting to learn.
Were you always comfortable with putting yourself out there?  

No not at all, I’m really bad at all that sort of stuff. Once I get to know someone I’m far from quiet, but I’m still terrible with the first steps. A lot of my initial meetings are over email, so by the time I meet someone I kind of already know them a bit, and having this project in common and the subjects it tackles means we’re off to a good start.
If you had to summarise your experience thus far in one sentence, what would it be?

The scariest, stupidest, best year of education I have ever had.

Has anything surprised you?

People are great. The support I have received from a few individuals has been greater than I ever anticipated, and if nothing else really comes from this year, just learning with and from them has been incredibly valuable.
What does a day in your life look like?

I now work twice a week for one of my briefers, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg. On projects that I could never imagine being a part of. The rest of the week is mine to chip away at my ever mounting briefs. I currently have a residency in Makerversity, a maker space in the basement of Somerset House so this is where I’m based. Daisy’s studio is upstairs in the artist studios too, so Somerset House is pretty much my home. I never leave here.
That sounds like a wonderful place to be in. Let’s go back to the beginning. What were you most afraid of before or when you first started, and how has that been since?

Money. And it still is my biggest fear. This project started because I don’t have any, and that’s only getting worse. I work two days a week and have to pay London rent, travel, food and buy materials on top so I’m constantly in a state of panic. Somehow though - I’m not entirely sure how - I’m getting by.
Tell us about an unexpected lesson you learnt.

Think in stories. It’s probably not an unexpected lesson but it’s a lesson I learnt this year and I now kind of depend on it.
Would you change anything about MYOM?

Right now no, but in the future yes. This entire year has been an experiment and if I don’t make the mistakes then I’ll only leave gaps for someone else to. Plus, every hiccup has proven crucial in understanding this as a process. If I was to recommend this year to others there would definitely be things I would put in place and do differently. The list is pretty big, the deadlines, the workload, the peer meetings and figuring out a better source of income sooner would be my starting points.
Looking ahead, where do you see yourself in three months, one year, and five years?

In three months I see myself as panicked - running around like a mad man trying to get all these projects done. One year… I actually don’t have a clue, I really want to go travelling a bit after all this so I’ll hopefully be somewhere warm. Five years, who knows I hope I’ll still be working in a similar way to how I am now on projects I love. Maybe in some sort of team, after this solo year I think I’m ready for some exciting collaborations.
Instagram: @makeyourownmasters

Images courtesy of Stacie Woolsey
(Interviewed in 2018)