Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Three Ps Advice Center

Hello Kelly:

My very close friend has been recently accepted into the Montana MFA program and I am so excited for him.

At the same time, I am worried about the prospects of relocating (from the east coast) and the prospects of finding jobs both during and after the program. Can you discuss your experiences?

Dear Worried,

Those of us who teach Freshman Comp know that the argument from authority is an argumentative fallacy, but for what it’s worth, here’s my story:

My life is divided by 1) before Montana 2) after Montana. I made friends I will keep forever, my writing transformed, and I lived in one of the most amazing places in the world. Montana is the place I learned I could be a writer when I grow up, a question that had haunted me my entire life.

Moving across the country was a pain in the ass. Of course. But I applied to programs out west on purpose. I WANTED to see the other half of the country. I live in Ohio now, and I’m still homesick for the jaw dropping, slap-you-up-the-face beauty of Montana. Probably a part of me will be forever scheming a way back there.

Re: jobs. Missoula isn’t exactly a captain of industry. But people do find work. Retail. Admin jobs. For me, a teaching assistantship was crucial, but that didn’t pay for the summer. I freelanced some. I landscaped. Even so, I emerged with about 5K of student loan debt. Then again, I wanted to do things. I took trips to Seattle, Glacier National Park etc. I treated myself to espresso drinks when I felt like it and drank call brand liquor.

I knew many people who didn’t have assistantships. Some of them had parents who helped them out. Some emerged with 40K of debt. Some worked out deals where they went for three years and finagled in-state tuition. The words “money” and “afford” are so subjective they are difficult to measure. I do know that those paying felt a great deal more strain. (I welcome comments from anyone following this blog on this situation below).

The MFA is not a career gateway. The year after transition was pretty rough on most of us. (Hence: this blog). But I don’t think the MFA is the total dead end everyone claims either. There are Montana MFAs with book deals and tenure track jobs. A few. A higher percentage of us have landed jobs that involve writing and/or teaching in some form or another.

The bottom line is I went to Montana to write. I did write. I am writing. And my writing life would not be the same if I hadn’t taken that risk.


R.T. said...

I think that is really solid advice. The MFA is primarily for writing (workshop, reading time, writing, and instruction if you're lucky).

I went Johns Hopkins and they offer full rides for all those accepted, which was a blessing. Even still, I tutored online, in-person, read to a blind man, and did a short stint of care-taking for an Alzheimer's patient.

Out of the MFA, I landed a job at a for-profit university, but it was an office job (with a good salary), and quit because I hated it. Now I adjunct teaching humanities and composition and teach workshops downtown in San Diego.

I think you have to be versatile in what you're willing to do when you graduate. And it helps not to accumulate debt.

Now I'm waiting to hear back from a couple FT tenure-track community college jobs. And I'm taking time to finish my book.

Good luck to your friend. MFA programs are no piece of cake, from moving, to settling, to living and surviving. And that doesn't even count the writing and growing pains while in the program!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!

Sam said...

I will (almost certainly) be attending Montana, and TAing, next year. I've enjoyed your blog, and couldn't be more excited about going. I only hope I can manage these composition classes.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your uplifting and beautifully written advice, Kelly. I have to ask this question, though since it gets so much attention on blogs and here too. Does tiered funding create a problem in the workshops? Various handbooks and popular blogs out there say it does. The "advice" tells prospective students that it creates a situation which negatively influences the dynamic in the workshop. (Like a war between the "haves" and the "have-nots."The "advice" tells students to attend only if funding is offered. Can you and others weigh in on this. Obviously, I know from your comments that you were funded, but how were the experiences and opportunities of unfunded candidates? Do they come into the program with the stigma by other students and staff that their talents are less? Thanks in advance for your honest and open advice.