Monday, April 16, 2012

What's Happening to All the Creative Writing PhDs?

Guest post: by Sofia Rasmussen

Sofia is a graduate student in journalism, concentrating primarily in education and technology.  After spending years in crowded classrooms where most felt left behind, or held back, and listening to years of debate surrounding funding for education, she is fascinated with the whole industry of higher education.

Writers considering a graduate degree face a number of dilemmas when choosing an institution and program, especially now that distance learning and online doctorate degrees are available. Many are often unsure if the value of a graduate degree in that particular field will warrant the expense of attaining one at all.

For students seeking a position in teaching creative writing at the university level, the acquisition of an MA, MFA or PhD is a foregone conclusion. But for writers seeking gainful employment as an editor, full-time blogger or freelancer, the situation is not so simple. For novelists and poets, the decision to pursue a graduate degree is even more complicated.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, a full 70% of professional authors and writers were self-employed in 2008. This category includes freelancers who essentially work a regular job with one company, but the numbers should give pause to creative writers who are seeking employment outside of the educational sphere.

The University of Iowa’s world-renowned Creative Writing program and Writer’s Workshop consistently ranks at the top of prominent lists for quality of education in poetry, fiction and nonfiction. In addition to high job placement and fellowship placement rankings, UI’s MFA grads regularly move on to win prestigious awards for poetry and novels. However, like most creative writing MFA programs, the University of Iowa focuses on literary fiction.

For literary writers, there are dozens of excellent programs to choose from. The well-regarded annual Poets & Writers Top 50 list provides statistics on funding and job placement.

Would-be novelists seeking a degree in popular fiction are harder pressed to ascertain the quality of a graduate degree program and there simply aren’t as many to choose from.

Like many literary programs, Seton Hill University’s MFA in Popular Fiction and the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing offer expert guidance and feedback, as well as the time needed to pen a polished manuscript and different opportunities for employment after graduation. Grads who fail to land a profitable publishing contract can seek editing work with a publishing house or magazine.

For creative writers, the axiom is true: Writing is rewriting. Perhaps the best that can be said for genre creative writing programs is that they offer regular interaction with intermediate and professional writers alike, as well as the dedication of time to honing craft. The mention of a graduate degree may or may not cause a manuscript to garner extra attention for a manuscript in an agent’s slush pile; in the end, it’s the quality of writing that will secure a contract for novelists.

Funding is of course the key deciding factor for many graduates pursuing matriculation in literary fiction programs. Like that of the University of Iowa, others generally offer at least partial assistance. Genre and popular fiction programs usually require out-of-pocket expenses and student loans. PhD students are likely to find substantial tuition assistance, discounted or free housing and even a monthly stipend.

PhD students frequently find employment through or with the institution from which they earn their doctorate, often as professors. The additional time and money required for a PhD ultimately results in access to secure, reputable positions that afford the creative writer opportunities at publication.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6% job growth for writers and authors from 2010-20, compared to a 14% growth in all occupations. The BLS foresees a 13% growth in jobs categorized as Media and Communications - something many writers could pivot toward. Creative writers seeking job security outside of academia may find better prospects when equipped with an undergraduate degree in Journalism, Technical Writing or English, which are beneficial in many fields.

Being a writer has never been easy, and now that the costs to learn how to do so in college are so high, it is likely that many aspiring writers will need to find alternate means of being the next Kurt Vonnegut.
You can contact Sofia for more information at sofia.rasmussen11 [at]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Library Handout for English 1102: English Composition

Today I taught an interesting library workshop in which students had to find peer-reviewed articles about video games and violence. The instructor asked that I show a few of the specific databases where they could find information on their topic. She also wanted me to share some ideas for thinking about keywords and offer some advice for evaluating the research results in the sources they found.

The assignment includes the following scenario: "You are a juror in a civil case where a video game company is being sued. You need to decide if the video company is culpable. Your purpose for this paper is to state your decision and persuade your fellow jurors to vote teh same way as you are." Students must consider the following stakeholders: parents of the child killed, the video game company, parents of the teenagers accused of the killing, and consumers of the video games.

Take a look at the handout; it includes suggested databases, potentially useful keywords, contact information to librarians, and sample searches.  See other library handouts for English 1102.  It does seem like an interesting topic, and I enjoyed doing some of the preliminary research myself.  I never new Arnold Schwarzenegger was involved in legal court cases involving video games and violence.  Nor had I ever heard about Entertainment Merchants Association.  Wow, their site says that the home entertainment industry is a $35 billion dollar industry.  I can believe it.

When talking about evaluation, these were some of the questions I used to invite a discussion:
  • What does a list of references at the end of an article indicate about the article?
  • What does a list of references tell us about the article itself?
  • What kinds of articles include lists of references or a bibliography?
  • What makes an article accurate?  How do we know?
  • When is an article not current?  When is it out of date?
See Mehan's blog post: "Anyone Up for a Bit of the Ultraviolence?"

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gathering Feedback with Free Online Tools,, and all offer free online software to let anyone in the world create online polls.  Personally, I have more experience with and the surveys, polls, and ratings I can create and share online.  LetsGoVote and PollEverywhere let users create polls that can be answered with cell phones that can text message responses. 

Because cell phones are nearly ubiquitous and text messaging is definitely mainstream (at least in the United States), providing quick polls that can be answered with text messaging makes sense.  Most college students have cell phones, so these spontaneous polls can be created "on the fly" in the classroom for immediate feedback to the instructor. 

Students do not always want to answer questions in front of their peers for fear of being embarrassed after a wrong answer or too much attention from the instructor.  Text messaging lets students answer anonymously, still giving the instructor a sense for the understanding of his/her class.

A couple of years back, I got excited about Google Documents, and the surveys, quizzes, or polls that can be created with them.  I had forgotten about them, recalling how clunky and unintuitive they were to use and create, but I have taken another look at them recently.  They are free.  With that in mind, it takes a few more steps to get some things accomplished.  The results of a survey are listedin a spreadsheet format; however, the three tools listed above can automatically display results in visual graphs, which are much more appealing. 

Still, a lot can be done with Google Documents, and I do not believe that users are limited to a certain number or responses received to polls/quizzes/surveys or number of surveys created.  On the other hand, the three tools mentioned above do limit users to 100 responses a month, or 20 responses per survey, or 40 audience members per poll. 

Below is a presentation I created for a workshop yesterday:
What do you think of online surveys? Do you create polls to gather feedback? Are they helpful? How?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Which questions invite discussion best?

Which questions have you asked that generated a thought-provoking discussion?  Please leave answers in the Comments. 

Here are some questions I have used in the past to gather feedback.  Some of these originate from Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross's Classroom Assessment Techniques, which is printed by Jossey-Bass.
  • What's the most important thing you learned today?
  • What questions do you have that remain unanswered?
  • What is the muddiest point?
  • What would you like to learn today?
Not sure if I have asked some of these others, but they seem like good ones:
  • How does this apply to your own life?
  • How can this information be applied outside of this class?
  • How do you find research for your college papers?
  • What makes a source good and/or reliable?  What makes it worth using?
  • What is a reference resource?  Why would you want to use one?
  • What is the difference between popular and scholarly articles?  Between newspaper/magazines and academic journals
Here are some questions that may be good to ask with audience response systems, clickers, or text messaging software:
  • Have you searched for books in our catalog?
  • Have you searched for books on the shelves?
  • Have you found articles in the library databases?
  • How can you typically distinguish the journal title or book title from the rest of the cited reference?
  • What makes a source good and/or reliable? What makes it worth using?

Ratings Widget in Polldaddy

I am trying a new thing with the ratings widget from  I hope this works.

Do you like to rate things? How often do you take surveys? For many, I can think of teachers, authors, and business owners, it is important to get feedback to know how effective your efforts are. For teachers, understanding your audience can really enhance your ability to teach them what they need. In a library instruction setting this can be quite valuable.

When writing a blog, feedback can give the blogger or author a sense for who and how they are reaching their audience.  It is nice that Polldaddy is free, though it has limited offerings.

Please rate this post below and add a comment. I would like to see how well the widget works.