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]

No comments: