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MFA/PhD program at Indiana Bloomington


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Hello everyone! This is my first post on here so just let me know if it's in the wrong place/not appropriate somehow.

I'm entering my senior year of my BA in English Literature and I'm looking at grad schools (esp. where I can study 19th century British literature/fin-de-siecle lit) and one place my advisor recommended checking out Indiana University. I was looking at their programs and apparently they have a joint MFA in Creative Writing and PhD in Literature. Originally I'd been 100% sold on Literature, but I'm also really involved in the Creative Writing program at my University. That program just seems way too good to be true? How would I focus my application for it? Would I be able to be considered for both Creative Writing and Literature positions on the job market? TIA!

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I'm sure plenty of people will arrive shortly to tell you how difficult the literature job market is regardless of what institution grants your degree, but Indiana-Bloomington is a great program. It's currently ranked top 20 for English, (for whatever that's worth). I'm not sure what your emphasis is, but I'm obsessed with Ross Gay who teaches poetry there. The University of Houston has a similar program and so does Cornell, but Cornell only takes two or three people into theirs each cycle. I've also heard of students at universities with MFA and PHD programs applying to both after clearing it with the departments, even where there isn't a stated hybrid degree. (In those cases I'm not sure if they were already there in one department when they decided to do both, or if they applied to both initially.)

As far as teaching positions you will be technically qualified to teach creative writing with an MFA from anywhere, but you wouldn't be considered until after you published extensively. Where a PhD is more production oriented and aims to have you academically hireable upon graduation, an MFA is a different monster. The MFA aims to equip you make the best art you can, and while there is some professional development, the time between MFA and publication can be long (read: years), so you would not be immediately competitive for creative writing positions upon graduation.*

*I feel like I should note that some people publish their novels, memoirs, or poetry collections during or very shortly after their MFA and those make enough of a splash that they secure creative writing positions soon thereafter...but we can't all be Justin Torres, to my eternal lament. Most of the MFA grads I know adjunct, freelance, or work non-academic jobs while finishing the projects they initially conceived during the MFA.

Sorry, looking back that all seems like an unhelpful ramble. Feel free to message me if you have MFA vs PhD questions. I have my MFA (Fiction) and will be beginning my PhD this fall.

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From my understanding, these types of programs are supremely competitive, moreso than straight up English lit PhDs. The application process also seemed a lot more strenuous to me (which probably wouldn’t be a problem for you since you’re in a creative writing program—my husband’s creative writing professor was flaky and impossible to get in contact with unfortunately). But that certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a shot if it’s what you’re into!

My husband is a fiction writer with a short story publication forthcoming, but chose to go for the English lit PhD since his passion and dedication to creative writing isn’t going to stop while he’s a PhD student, and one of the best ways to improve one’s creative writing is to study others’ work!

But there are a number of people on this forum who are doing the MFA to PhD route and might be able to shed more light upon that! He totally would have applied to a combo program if it were a strong fit (based on creative writing style and research interests, along with location). 

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The U of Utah has two PhD tracks, Literature and a Literature and Creative Writing combined degree.  The combined degree has a creative dissertation, but the two programs are pretty integrated (e.g.: classes are a mix of students in each track), and the emphasis on creative writing in the department means that there is a really supportive culture for lit folks who also have creative interests. That being said, I'm not sure that the combined degree accepts students directly from the B.A., although the regular literature track does.

Also, we have really great Victorianists! Two of the three have interests in the fin-de-siecle.  

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I just received an acceptance from the PhD program in English at IU and I was a little surprised about the stipend offer because it didn't seem like much (for instance, my first year stipend is about $18,000 and then will be roughly about $16,000 until I start working on my dissertation). It's definitely not as much funding as you might get from one of the other Tier 1 or 2 schools, but I've done some research on cost of living in Bloomington and talked with some current PhD students. They've assured me that the stipends IU offers is more than enough to live on in Bloomington - and the dept is apparently quite generous with additional fellowships/funding once you've been in the program a while. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/25/2018 at 9:23 AM, agunns said:

 I've done some research on cost of living in Bloomington and talked with some current PhD students. They've assured me that the stipends IU offers is more than enough to live on in Bloomington

Absolutely! Living in Bloomington is pretty easy. If you have a roommate, you'll be able to find rent for less than $500. Mine was about $560, but I lived right next to campus in a nice house. It's definitely different from city living. Plus drinks are $3-$8 at most of the bars, which is nice because there's not much else to do there.

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