Mar 4, 2010, 4:04 PM
Post #1599 of 2092
Re: [Coconut Joe] Where Did You Apply?
[In reply to]
LOL. I appreciate your candor. Sort of. But as I always tell people: I author rankings, I don't live by them -- nor should anyone. To explain (and I say all this as a way to promote my program and issue a warning to other writers, not merely as autobiography): UW-Madison is the only Ph.D. program of its kind in the United States. It is the model for the Ph.D. program (I believe) of the future in CW: a traditional Ph.D. that takes numerous steps to integrate a CW component without becoming a less marketable CW Ph.D. (to be clear, I applied to CW Ph.D. programs and got into many; I support the idea; I think they offer lots of time for writing and that's invaluable; their marketability for those who already have an MFA is suspect, but that's a different question and in no way devalues the attractions of getting one). Try to send a creative portfolio in your application to Chicago's traditional Ph.D. program -- once they're done crying with laughter, they'll take turns putting a zippo beneath it to see who's willing to put their fingers closest to the flame (you know, a version of adcom "hot potato"). Or try taking an MFA workshop for doctoral credit in Chicago's traditio -- oh, wait, UC doesn't have an MFA. You see my point. But I think the more important thing is this: creative writers generally don't do very well in applying to traditional Ph.D. programs because they often lack the training to make their application portfolio (i.e. critical writing sample) compelling, and may not (e.g. if you're coming from the IWW) have any grades to show adcoms either. A very strong writer who was in my class at IWW, and who was later awarded a major fellowship by the Workshop, applied to 16 critical Ph.D. programs and (as I understand it) was rejected by 15 and wait-listed at Rutgers. That's a pretty typical story; those who had success applying to English Ph.D. programs out of the IWW either had contacts (Jorie Graham makes sure a few IWW poets get into the Harvard Ph.D. every few years) or switched to the less-marketable Comp. Lit. degree (where admissions is less competitive), or applied to one of the third- and fourth-tier programs know for a commitment to poetry (SUNY-Buffalo, UC-Santa Cruz, &c) or, like me, got into one of the largest Ph.D. programs that are in the top 20 (while I didn't apply to Berkeley, I know a couple poets who did and got in; Berkeley accepts 45 people a year, compared to perhaps 7 or 8 at a poetry-friendly place like Johns Hopkins -- and many years many of the top programs won't take even a single contemporary poetry studies applicant).
In any case, CJ, I imagine you were trying to insult me -- you usually don't tell someone you don't know, who's in a 6-year program with a 9.5-year time-to-degree, "I think you could have done much better" -- but I'm using this instead as a chance to point out that most traditional Ph.D. programs erect a thousand-foot high wall between creative writers and scholars, and to attend there is to spend nearly a decade going entirely unrecognized as a creative writer. With all due respect to those people, many of them were willing to take that chance because they've done nothing yet in their field to make it seem likely they would ever be able to teach creative writing, so expanding their professional oeuvre to a non-creative pursuit is in fact a necessity. I applied to Ph.D. programs with a law degree, a book, 150 national print publications, a competitive national award for poets (awarded only 13 times, 6 of them to Pulitzer Prize winners or U.S. Poet Laureates), and guess what -- the only traditional Ph.D. program I applied to likely to care about any of that stuff was Wisconsin. I wouldn't have gotten into Cornell, had I applied, because my law school GPA was 3.33 (I went largely so I could practice as a public defender, I had little academic interest in the law at that time), I had no grades to offer from Iowa, no adcom but Wisconsin's would read my creative writing sample or consider my prior publications, I never did an Honor Thesis in college, my English major (and last critical paper) was a dozen years in the past at the time of my application, most schools don't want to support someone getting their third terminal degree (because it makes you look like a dilettante and unlikely to finish), and most traditional Ph.D. programs have virtually no one doing contemporary Poetry Studies and so the "fit" would be a dealbreaker even if everything else was in place. My point is: Writers have to get creative about their advanced degrees in this competitive atmosphere, but anyone who thinks the non-CW Ph.D. application system isn't an entirely different ballgame has no clue what they're talking about.
Madison is Tier 1 (ahead of Brown, for instance) in my specialization -- post-1845 American Lit -- is #16 nationally in placement at top national colleges and universities (about 0.1% data-wise behind Duke, Michigan, and NYU) and top 20 overall. A creative writer looking for a traditional Ph.D. with a major creative component is going to see USC's CW Ph.D. at #30 or so nationally and that's about it. As I mentioned above, Madison has more grads working at the top 50 colleges and national universities than every single university with a CW Ph.D. combined -- and not just CW grads, but the entire English Department at all of these schools combined. And I absolutely am in love with Madison -- I can't see living in, say, Baltimore for 6+ years. Or New Haven. Or Princeton (a town I personally detest). And I hate (literally can't abide) warm weather, so no interest in UCLA, Duke, UNC, or (frankly) Berkeley or Stanford. And for personal reasons it was not a good idea for me to apply to either Columbia or Cornell (a different reason for each). So these things are complicated.
I really hope other young writers will not throw away their identity as writers by trying to swing into a school -- like University of Chicago -- whose commitment to CW is so light that there's not even an MFA program there, let alone a top program like the one at UW. People need to really think these things through -- when UGA offered me $26K/yr. for six years I was floored and honored, but that wasn't the degree (a CW Ph.D.) I wanted. IMHO creative writers either need to wholly hang onto their identity as writers and do a CW Ph.D., or find a hybrid program (of which there's only 1 nationally), or hit the adjunct circuit or whatever -- but if you dive into academia for a decade at a place with no on-site CW community, in many instances it's as good as a recognition of defeat in the area you're most interested in.
Be well, all,
P.S. I wouldn't say me "hitting the job market" at 40 is the same as some others -- by the time I was 30 I'd practiced law for 7 years, CJ!
(This post was edited by umass76 on Mar 4, 2010, 4:09 PM)