MFA FAQ by Mary Ann Samyn



What kind of job can I get with an MFA?


All kinds. I’ve known new MFAs who have taught (usually adjunct or high school), who have worked for non-profits (ex. 92 St. Y in NYC, Poetry Society of America), who have done editing (ex. Seventeen Magazine, Poetry), who have won fellowships, and who have decided to do other kinds of work outside the field that still allowed time for writing. If you are seeking non-teaching employment, remember the strategy of English majors everywhere: you are someone who knows how to read and write, to do research, to listen, etc.: these skills are not as common as you might think! And take hope from what our very own recent grads have accomplished: they’re teaching, running writers’ conferences, working in writing centers, publishing. It is possible.




If I get an adjunct teaching job, will I be able to afford to eat?


That depends. Adjunct pay varies widely, depending on the school, the region of the country, your teaching experience, and good old-fashioned luck. Here, though, are some sample per class pay rate based on my experience/info:

· Oakland University: $3000-3300 c. 1996-1999 (This was for a “special lecturer” teaching six classes per year—all composition--, pretty much guaranteed with a possible summer course.They pay “special lecturers” more now and even have a few “instructors” who make more and have a higher status and teach some upper division composition classes. There are also some “lecturers” who make less b/c they don’t commit to six classes per year.Benefits available. I’m quite sure this pay is even better now.)

· St. Mary’s College: $1800 c. 1998(This is a very small private school.Enough said.)

· College for Creative Studies: $1800 c. 1997 (An art school. Interesting students.)

· Oakland Community College: $1100-1200 c. 2000 (A community college in a metropolitan area: lots of potential teachers, no reason to “overpay” them.)

· Kirtland Community College: $1200-1500 c. 1999-2001 (A community college in a rural area—hence slightly higher pay---and a greater variety of classes.)

· University of Michigan: $30000 for the year for a 3-3 load w/benefits c. 2000. (I applied for but never got one of these very good jobs. Or, I got one but it involved a lot of tutoring in the writing center, and by that point I had already taught cw and really wasn’t interested in remedial composition. Some of these positions do include cw, though. This kind of school—big, with its own MFA program—does tend to hire its own, fyi.)

· West Virginia University: $2205 ($1827, summer) c. 2004. (School year: 4/4 = $17640. Senior Lecturers: $29000)

Now of course most of these schools are in Michigan since that’s where I’m from and what I know.But I know enough other people around the country to say that these pay rates, especially the ones on the low end, are, unfortunately, pretty typical. I know someone who taught adjunct at Yale and was paid $6000/class. But, then again, you have to afford life in Connecticut. Also, she has a PhD.

How do I find out about teaching jobs?

The best sources: the MLA job list, the AWP job list, the Chronicle. AWP also includes non-teaching jobs and many of these are quite good (editing at major NY houses, for example, or doing speechwriting for Senators: interesting stuff).Adjunct jobs are generally not as well advertised.If there’s a school where you want to teach, send them a letter. Remember that although you need to express interest early (and maybe more than once), adjunct hiring is often done at the last minute (August).






How can I prepare for a tenure-track job (or even a visiting professorship) that really does let me teach cw?

The first answer: publish.Creative writing is wickedly competitive. You’ve really got to get your work out there and it’s very hard to be a viable job candidate without major publications (a book or lots of stuff in journals). It’s not all that unusual to hear about someone getting a great job w/o an MFA or teaching experience (for example, poet Bob Hickok at Virginia Tech). It’s very unusual to hear about someone getting a tenure-track job w/o publications.


So, get your work out there.Do readings (at this point, think bookstores and coffeehouses). Think about chapbook contests if you’re not ready for book contests. Find ways to teach cw even if you’re not doing so full-time: offer a community workshop, teach in summer programs (especially those for high school writers), apply for a state arts grant that includes writer-in-the-schools work.


The idea, of course, is to build up the various parts of your c.v.: education (check), teaching experience, publications (poems, stories, essays, reviews, interviews, pedagogy papers, etc.), readings/papers delivered, community service, etc.You’ve taken care of the education part and you’ve taught a lot here at WVU (which is really good). Now you need to focus on moving from student writer to practicing writer. And part of how you do that is through publishing and by envisioning yourself as part of the writing community: doing readings locally, submitting pedagogy papers to AWP, attending an affordable/do-able writers’ conference, etc.


What kinds of fellowships are available?

You’ll have to do specific research on this, but the ones that immediately come to mind include ones at Stanford (the Stegner), the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Emory University, Colgate University, Penn State Altoona (one month, I think), Bucknell (again, for a short period of time). There are others.And there are opportunities to teach at private high schools such as Exeter and Phillips Academy. Good jobs for usually one-year. The best of these fellowships allow you time to write, more teaching experience, a reasonable amount of money, and, basically, a little breathing room before conducting a job search.


What should a teaching portfolio include?

· Teaching philosophy

· Record of courses taught

· Syllabi

· Sample assignments and handouts

· Sample student work (if you have it and have permission to use it)

· Unsolicited letters from students (again, if you have them)

· Peer observation reports

· Course proposal for classes you’d like to teach (If you want to teach cw and haven’t yet, you should definitely include a proposal/syllabus/book list. I’d also do brief proposals for other common classes: advanced composition (a 300-level, discipline-specific course is popular at a lot of schools), 200-level literature survey, some sort of special topics course.)

            · Self-reflective statements of any kind

 

            



Should I set up a dossier with AWP?

Yes.This service, which basically keeps your various transcripts and letters of recommendations in one place, allows you to send your materials in a way that is both professional and confidential.

How can I keep writing/moving forward as a writer once I’m out of a graduate program?

This is a really important question and how you answer it just may determine if you do end up with that dream teaching job someday. It’s so important for writers to keep reading, to find another kind of community (with others or even with yourself: some way to reinforce the importance of the work of writing, to buoy yourself up when things are hard), to pursue professional contacts, to find those other things (interests/hobbies) that help propel your art, to be as voracious a reader (or more so) than you were as a student.

Questions?E-mail me: MaryAnn.Samyn@mail.wvu.edu


Revised: 9/05