Monday, January 24, 2011

The Creative Writing PhD and the Job Market

At Ohio University we had a professional development meeting recently and I asked the panel (CW, lit and rhet-comp profs who had all sat on various hiring committees) if the CW Phd was, truthfully, any kind of factor on the university job market.

The first answer was that schools such as Iowa or Michigan only hire writers with an established presence. "A book" isn't enough, and the PhD isn't the criteria either. That NYU hired Jonathan Safran Foer, who doesn't even have an MFA, comes to mind.

But---if the goal is a job at a smaller, liberal arts school then a PhD is a plus, because it gives you flexibility in teaching. (And yes, the CW PhD counts here). OU has placed people in this kind of tenure track job. It was also noted that if quality of life is a consideration, a smaller school might be a happier landing than a shark tank program.

Interesting to me, was how the three English Department fields have different criteria for an attractive resume.

For Rhet-Comp, teaching is critical, and demonstrated ability of administrative experience (by this I mean running a conference, not typing and filing. Althooooo. How else does one run a conference?)

For Lit, an established presence as a scholar is the thing. Too many committees, etc. might even count against an applicant, because he/she might be seen as not being serious about their research.

For us, the ability to help out with the lit mag or run the reading series makes everyone perk up. Because nobody wants to do this stuff. Grant writing ability is also a plus. Because writers never have any money.

The final tip was that grads who want a university job can’t leave the ivory tower. Not after the PhD. Grads have to adjunct or post-doc or whatever to remain in the pool.

Except the rules are always different in the arts, because there aren’t rules. Write a best-selling book that’s also a critical darling---and that NYU gig is yours. And who wouldn't rather be the sexy hire than the paper slave?


V. Wetlaufer said...

I try to avoid thinking about the job market for now, because it's depressing and I'm 2-3 years out from it anyway, but I wonder what specifically you mean about the CW PhD. My PhD from Utah will be in Literature, and though my dissertation will be creative, that's the only difference between "CW" and Lit for me. I wonder if that matters at all.

I have only ever wanted to teach at a small school so hopefully this bodes well for me.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

I've heard the argument made that the Lit PhD is more attractive than the CW PhD because it proves serious specialization in a scholarly field (which requires a dissertation). But...then you might get hired based on serious specialization in the scholarly field. And maybe I'm crazy, but I want to be hired as a writer.

Travis Fortney said...

This is pretty funny:

V. Wetlaufer said...

Kelly, I totally agree. I want to be hired as a writer as well, but at the same time, I want to be allowed to teach literature. I think I just have to console myself about my prospects whenever possible. :)

At my undergrad alma mater, the lit professors were 80% creative writers, and the classes I took there were some of the best I've ever taken, but at most schools, it doesn't seem to be the case that CW folks are allowed to teach lit.