The Master’s Portfolio is intended as a representation of the diverse work and capabilities students have developed during their graduate program. It must be crafted carefully to persuade the targeted audience, namely students’ committee members, of what students have learned during their time in the program — in particular that they are able to situate this work in their chosen area of specialization. Students should think critically about what sample work they select for inclusion and how they organize it for readers.
Perhaps more important than the sample materials contained in the portfolio is the written reflection students do on that work. Reflection means being able to look back at the work and articulate what was learned through the process of developing that work. This reflection is a significant part of the overall argument of students’ portfolios. It is a demonstration of students’ understanding of the role individual projects played in their development as a writer, thinker, and practitioner, as well as how their programmatic experiences as a whole shaped their preparation for future work. For the introductory reflective essay and written introductions to individual sections, students should apply rhetorical approaches to shape materials in purposeful, informative and persuasive ways.
Additionally, students should employ principles of visual, document, and information design to facilitate usability and aesthetic appeal. Students must consider the layout of their materials, their choice of folder/binder and paper, their use of images, and the overall design of their materials. Students also should include a table of contents to orient readers to the portfolio’s materials, as well as a curriculum vita (CV) or resume.
Finally, students may choose to create either a print or an online version of their portfolio depending on their familiarity with needed technology and their professional or academic interests beyond the M.A program. No matter which format students choose, they will need to prepare four copies of their materials (one for each committee member and one for the English department library).
Some Suggestions for Structure and Materials to Include
Students should keep in mind that the portfolio is a representative sample of their work, not a catalog of everything they have done. They will need to select the best 5 to 8 examples of their work, make a case to their readers about why these are of value, and demonstrate that they understand how what they learned and produced is situated in the areas they have studied.
Perhaps the most important document in students’ portfolios is the introductory reflective essay. This document has several crucial functions. It should:
- Give readers a sense of how students got to this point, what they got out of the program, and where they plan to go from here using what they have learned.
- Provide an overview of the material in the portfolio and a rationale for what they selected and how they organized it.
- Reflect on the specific work included in the portfolio and how it demonstrates their academic and/or professional development.
Students should develop some type of organizational structure for presenting their work. Not only does this make it easier for readers to maneuver through the material, it also demonstrates students’ ability to contextualize their work and to illustrate connections between different courses, projects, and subject areas. Each sub-section (or individual item) within their portfolio should have a short (1 to 3 page) introduction that ties each piece together and helps to convince readers of its value.
There are any number of ways to arrange your materials, but some examples of how previous students have structured their portfolios include:
- by disciplinary or subject areas: rhetoric, design, technical communication, composition, cultural studies, literacy, etc.
- by type of document: seminar papers, electronic documents, document design and multimedia (on CD or DVD), technical materials, reports, proposals, short responses, etc.
- by programmatic experiences: coursework papers, internship projects and reports, teaching materials (including teaching philosophies, syllabi, sample assignments), etc.
- by type of project or approach: client-based projects, academic papers (possibly including sections for courses inside and outside of the department), multimodal projects, etc.
Although not required, including a section with some of the following components may assist students in adapting their portfolio for application to Ph.D. programs or professional positions:
- curriculum vita (CV) or resume
- teaching philosophy
- non-academic, practice-based work samples (i.e., materials created for internships, client-based work, or non-duty hour assignments such as creating handbooks for the Writing Program, working as a Writing Center Coordinator, developing projects for the Design Center, etc.)
- an organized list of courses taken to fulfill the M.A. program requirements
Students who develop a portfolio take an oral exam after obtaining approval on the portfolio. The oral examination covers coursework as well as the portfolio. The exam committee consists of the director, one other member of the graduate English faculty, and one member of the graduate faculty from outside the department (who generally serves as the representative of the graduate school).