October 25th, 2010 / 2:05 pm

MFA, SchMemFAy. The real scam is the fucking Creative Writing Ph.D. The MFA is a revenue stream. The Ph.D. is the teaching equivalent of indentured servitude.


  1. Matthew Simmons

      I will be applying this winter.

  2. Amber

      Wait–you can actually get a Creative Writing Ph.D? Why would you? Can’t you teach with an MFA? (Which I assume is the only point of getting a Ph.D vs MFA or MA…) I don’t get it.

  3. Matthew Simmons

      The MFA was supposed to be the terminal degree. But in a world with more and more people getting MFAs, the Ph.D. has become the nuclear option for those interested in standing out.

  4. Marc

      Be careful. The CW PhD is not a guarantee. I know folks with CW PhDs and several published books on university and small presses that still cannot find jobs.

      The job market changed radically with the recession. A CW PhD and many publications or a university book used to be enough to get an interview to teach CW at the University level, but now that the market tanked the competition for the remaining jobs is much higher.

  5. Amber

      Aha. Just like the MA instead of the BA for pretty much all college grads now.

  6. Christopher Higgs

      Can’t deduce if you’re serious about applying this winter, but if so — come to FSU!!! The city is god-fucking-awful, but the program is stellar. I will put in a good word, for what it’s worth. Also, our cats could become lovers — something tells me Emmett would be keen on my Beatrice.

  7. Matthew Simmons

      Post-PhD, then, one must get the:

      Zelator in Creative Writing
      Adeptus Major in Creative Writing
      Magister Templi in Creative Writing

      and finally

      Ipsissimus in Creative Writing

      A post explaining all the post-PhD degrees in Creative Writing will follow in the next couple of days.

  8. Jordan Gillespie

      Still don’t understand why anyone would go to college to learn how to write.

  9. Matthew Simmons

      You should read some first year comp essays.

  10. efferny jomes

      first year ANYthing

  11. Matt K

      No degree is a guarantee of anything, obviously but most of the CW PhDs I know have found teaching jobs, many of them without books, but I think a large part of getting a university teaching job has to do with the degree, yes, publications, yes, but also all sorts of nebulous factors like how good you are at writing a job letter, how well you interview, etc. Also, the job market (for creative writers who want to teach at a college) seems to be recovering, somewhat, this year, if the number of advertised jobs is a factor in deciding the health of the job market. It’s not great, but certainly better than last year and the year before.

      As for indentured servitude, I can agree with that, but no more than a funded MFA. At least tuition’s paid for, and I have lots of teaching experience.

  12. Matt K

      A creative writing PhD isn’t really about learning to write so much as qualifying you to teach college (like most other PhDs) – an MFA is also good for this, but a CW PhD (at least where I am) is more of a literature PhD with some CW workshops and pedagogy thrown in, and a creative dissertation. The degree is certainly open to criticism, but for me it was a great way to have four years of full-time reading, writing, and teaching. Granted I am a lot poorer than I would have been if I’d kept my full time job, but I did it because I felt like it was the best way for me to do nothing for four years but read and write. I also want to teach college.

  13. Sean

      I have several friends who have spent their entire adult lives in various graduate programs and this is their right to “pursuit of happiness” and please leave them alone, no don’t leave them alone, GIVE them a loan.

      But it’s sort of cool. They found a loophole. A rift in the continuum. They are never, ever never, going to enter the “real world.”

      It could have been a cook at Chili’s or even the Army, or maybe a cop in BFE Tennessee, but, no, it’s grad school.

      Salut to hermit crabs all over. Beers in them curly shells.

  14. Marc

      I see your point regarding the interview, HOWEVER, my point was just about how hard it is just getting to the interview stage in this market. Most jobs want a published fiction writer who also does nonfiction or a published poet with a secondary interest in nonfiction/ or fiction.

      Here’s the number of advertised CW jobs for last year and this year:

      Fiction: 28
      Poetry: 19
      Nonfiction: 12
      Open: 18

      Fiction: 31
      Poetry: 22
      Nonfiction: 12
      Open: 13

      Is this your idea of a recovery?

  15. davis

      If you get a CW Ph.D.–there are only 20-some programs that offer this–do not use it to specialize in the short story or some other stupid shit. Take serious theory-driven courses and also the writing workshops (until you realize they often suck).

      The value of that degree is in the hardcore lit study, which allows you to teach writing
      from more than a position of helping students to “express themselves.”

      The degree can also lead to a job not only as a cw prof, but also in a liberal arts environment–where you may teach half-time in lit, half-time in cw.

      You won’t necessarily stand out with a Ph.D, but I can tell you that most MFA’s I’ve interviewed for jobs at my institution are usually horrible teachers. Not always, but often. Thus, the Ph.D often gives you more real-world teaching experience

      Yet, beware, the job market is shit now and was ten years ago when I was lucky (and I do mean lucky) enough to land mine.

  16. Matt K

      Ha, yes! A 10% increase is certainly a recovery (at least in fiction and poetry.) Those numbers only tell part of the story, though – while most of the jobs will have been announced already, I’m guessing the 2009-2010 jobs reflect all of the tenure-track jobs for that year, while the 2010-2011 job numbers don’t yet reflect the jobs that will continue to be announced between now and April – granted, most of the jobs have already been announced, but my guess is that the numbers, while not stunningly better than last year, will still be better as jobs continue to slowly be announced between now and the spring. Also, I’m not saying things are great shakes, but that things are slightly better.

  17. Tim Horvath

      Which is the one where they actually sign the deed on the ivory tower over to you?

      Also, is there any school with an actual ivory tower? Just curious.

  18. Salvatore Pane

      The University of Pittsburgh has most of its classes in THE CATHEDRAL OF LEARNING. It’s great. I get to make jokes about the ivory tower all the time to my students.

  19. Kate Magoc

      A) I can’t believe a Creative Writing PhD exists, B) word-up Salvatore Pane reppin’ Pitt! I’m an English Lit student who essentially lives in our Ivory Tower. For those who’ve never been, It totally feels like Hogwarts, except the stairwells don’t move.

  20. Matt K

      For what it’s worth, I’ve never had a workshop that sucked in my CW Ph.D., but I agree the value for most is in the lit and theory classes.

  21. Guest

      As others have said (or implied), it’s misleading to refer to the degree as a “CW PhD.” I’m currently in such a program and it’s really a generalist lit PhD where you are allowed to take a few workshops and write a creative dissertation. That’s where the “CW”-part ends.

      It is in no way comparable to an MFA–not even close. Even the MFA’s that have heavy lit req’s don’t compare to a the rigor of a “CW PhD” (on the lit side) that requires students to take qualifying exams in 2-3 lit areas and take doctoral-level seminars right alongside the PhD Lit students.

      Don’t attend such a program if you think it’ll be “just another four years to write fiction or poetry.”

  22. davis

      Matt–you are luckier than I was, and are in a program much more attuned to your writing interests as well. I sort of stumbled into mine–and had a good experience–but an idiosyncratic one at that.