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Oh, The Places You'll Go! (Decisions 2018)

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On 3/3/2018 at 9:48 PM, M(allthevowels)H said:

Congratulations on being officially Harvard bound! Since you've already got your job settled and your future housing rolling, (not surprising - I knew from the start you were an overachiever from your spreadsheets haha) you can focus all of your energy on the roadtrip itinerary. Might I suggest a detour into Philadelphia? Come for our history, stay for our mostly-not-haunted prisons. 

I tried to reply to this yesterday but GC was giving me issues. My family has already been excitedly planning our move up from Virginia, and my grandfather is especially looking forward to helping out! My husband has never been to Philadelphia, so it would be awesome to stop along the way.

I was deeply intrigued by your note about haunted prisons and had to Google it. I'm not sure grandpa would go for it, but I would!!!

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59 minutes ago, punctilious said:

I tried to reply to this yesterday but GC was giving me issues. My family has already been excitedly planning our move up from Virginia, and my grandfather is especially looking forward to helping out! My husband has never been to Philadelphia, so it would be awesome to stop along the way.

I was deeply intrigued by your note about haunted prisons and had to Google it. I'm not sure grandpa would go for it, but I would!!!

It's totally Grandpa friendly! During the summer, at least haha (read: when it's not a banging haunted house). It has a very serious museum set up, and Steve Buscemi does the audiotour. My tiny niece liked it mostly for the stories of the dog inmate, but there is a little something for everyone. Also, it's one of the easier places to find parking in the city if you come during the day.

(Though FYI: they are pretty up front about the prison industrial complex needing to end and there's discourse about the US's incarceration rate vs other countries, so if there's someone whose politics that might offended, it could get awkward.)

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1 hour ago, M(allthevowels)H said:

It's totally Grandpa friendly! During the summer, at least haha (read: when it's not a banging haunted house). It has a very serious museum set up, and Steve Buscemi does the audiotour. My tiny niece liked it mostly for the stories of the dog inmate, but there is a little something for everyone. Also, it's one of the easier places to find parking in the city if you come during the day.

(Though FYI: they are pretty up front about the prison industrial complex needing to end and there's discourse about the US's incarceration rate vs other countries, so if there's someone whose politics that might offended, it could get awkward.)

We've lived in Philadelphia for two years now and still haven't done any tourist-y things. 

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6 minutes ago, Warelin said:

We've lived in Philadelphia for two years now and still haven't done any tourist-y things. 

You should go! It's way less boring than the other tourist-y stuff people make you do! (If I have to see the Liberty Bell one more time I'm gonna scream).

I would also like to totally recommend the lantern ghost tours in Old City. It's another thing people visiting always want to do, but it doesn't suck (It's more fun historical anecdotes than scary ghosts).

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5 minutes ago, M(allthevowels)H said:

You should go! It's way less boring than the other tourist-y stuff people make you do! (If I have to see the Liberty Bell one more time I'm gonna scream).

I would also like to totally recommend the lantern ghost tours in Old City. It's another thing people visiting always want to do, but it doesn't suck (It's more fun historical anecdotes than scary ghosts).

I'll have to put that on our to-do list before we leave in a few months. Thanks =)

Agreed on the Liberty Bell. The park nearby is nice though. There are a lot of nice buildings near Old City and near Jefferson Station.

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25 minutes ago, agunns said:

I've finally heard back from all the schools I applied to (minus Berkeley, which I assume is a rejection at this point), so if campus visit days go well, it looks like I'll be off to IU-Bloomington for PhD!

Not too shabby! Congratulations!

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Congrats to everyone who has decided already! I'm trying to narrow down between Harvard, Penn, and Northwestern for comp lit. Hopefully will have a decision soon...

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On 3/6/2018 at 12:53 PM, immanentfields said:

Congrats to everyone who has decided already! I'm trying to narrow down between Harvard, Penn, and Northwestern for comp lit. Hopefully will have a decision soon...

Good luck to you! That is a really tough decision to make!

On 3/5/2018 at 9:38 PM, agunns said:

I've finally heard back from all the schools I applied to (minus Berkeley, which I assume is a rejection at this point), so if campus visit days go well, it looks like I'll be off to IU-Bloomington for PhD!

Congratulations!!! I hope the visit is awesome. :)

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Hey internet. I have the lucky and weird problem of choosing between an English PhD program (UC Berkeley) and an MFA program (Iowa Writers Workshop). Both programs were my top choices in their respective tracks, great funding packages and pros/cons from both sides, visits forthcoming, etc. Has anyone come to a similar MFA/PhD impasse, and how did you decide? Any experiences/biases would be welcome. Thank you!

Edited by defmaybe

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41 minutes ago, defmaybe said:

Hey internet. I have the lucky and weird problem of choosing between an MFA program (Iowa Writers Workshop), and an English PhD program (UC Berkeley). Has anyone come to a similar MFA/PhD impasse, and how did you decide? Both programs were my top choices in their respective tracks, great funding packages and pros/cons from both sides, visits forthcoming, etc. Any experiences/biases would be welcome. Thank you!

These are obviously both fantastic opportunities--huge congratulations! I think its highly subjective and difficult to calculate, but there are a whole lot of questions you could ask yourself, of course.

  • What is your most pressing desire for you right now? To become a creative writer or an academic? You can do both, of course. But what do you want to focus on?
  • Where do you prefer to live for the next 2-6 years?
  • Would you fit in better to one program or another, based on the vibe of the students?
  • Do the faculty at one institution or another draw you in?
  • You can of course do a PhD after an MFA, but are you okay with the possibility that you won't get into a program of that caliber again (or any program at all)?
  • Do you have a goal for a creative project you want to complete in the program (if not, it may not be a good time to pursue an MFA)?

My husband debated also applying to MFAs, and this might not apply to you, but he ultimately decided not to because 1) He felt he could improve his creative writing on his own while in a PhD program, but couldn't get the qualifications to be a literature professor while in an MFA, 2) He is semi-skeptical about the benefits of an MFA, as plenty of great writers publish without an MFA (not to say they aren't valuable), 3) There wasn't necessarily an MFA program that called to him or seemed like an ideal fit, 4) A lot of PhD programs also allow students to pursue creative writing coursework (this is something you may ask Berkeley about). He's happy to hear that creative writing is big (and getting bigger) at Harvard, so that's something he can engage in while he's there.

We're looking forward to hearing what you decide!

Edited by punctilious

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3 hours ago, defmaybe said:

Hey internet. I have the lucky and weird problem of choosing between an English PhD program (UC Berkeley) and an MFA program (Iowa Writers Workshop). Both programs were my top choices in their respective tracks, great funding packages and pros/cons from both sides, visits forthcoming, etc. Has anyone come to a similar MFA/PhD impasse, and how did you decide? Any experiences/biases would be welcome. Thank you!

First off, congrats on getting acceptances for the top English PhD and the top MFA program! Secondly, I echo @punctilious's comments: if you want a career in the academy, a PhD in English is more likely to allow you the flexibility in job prospects. Even with Iowa's prestige, the MFA job market is even rougher than it is for English writ large, and while literary agents do try to poach most Iowa workshop grads, in my experience you have to do a lot more work post-MFA to land an academic job (hell, someone in my program working on an English PhD already has an MFA from Iowa). Also ask yourself if upon completing the MFA you feel like you'd want to pursue a PhD, and all the complications that come with re-applying for that. 

If your focus really is creative writing, and you're willing to rough it, Iowa's MFA is a fine choice, and cost-of-living-wise you'll avoid the impossibly expensive Bay area.

Given that you're looking at two top-of-field options, at this juncture I would ask yourself what you want most out of your graduate degree. That should give you your answer.

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Thanks guys! I am leaning towards Berkeley for many of the reasons you both touch on, but my myriad pro/con lists are still largely unedited right now. The various precarities - financial, creative, etc. - of both programs make the decision an especially hairy one -- "which form of financial insecurity is best for me?!" Lol. I hope to find the time to work on my writing if I decide to go down the PhD route, and it's interesting to talk to people (at Berkeley and elsewhere) who went for their PhD after the MFA. It's a fickle thing thinking about desire on all these levels, especially between two pretty incomparable opportunities, both of which mean leaving New York City, where I've lived this whole time. Lots to think about & hopefully my visit to Berkeley for the admitted students weekend will shed some light. It's funny, too, how aggressively these places try to recruit their admitted students, assuming that I've also gotten into Duke, Yale, etc. It's like, "um no, I'm literally choosing between living in the place of a likely apocalyptic earthquake or a remote cornfield for the next X years. It's like that."

Anyway! I appreciate your thoughtful responses & apologize if I've hijacked the thread with my peculiar situation. Also, congrats to @punctilious on your partner's acceptance and decision! I really wanted to apply to Harvard but couldn't get that second essay shaped up in time. Will he work with Steph Burt? The faculty there (duh) is pretty great, and it does seem like the department skews toward creative writing in some interesting ways. Congrats to everyone for dealing with this toilsome process! :)

Edited by defmaybe

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15 minutes ago, defmaybe said:

It's funny how aggressively these places try to recruit their admitted students, assuming that I've also gotten into Duke, Yale, etc. It's like, "um no, I'm literally choosing between living in the place of a likely apocalyptic earthquake or a remote cornfield for the next X years. It's like that."

YUP. Husband’s main POI at Harvard was definitely in recruiter mode and seemed convinced he got into UChicago or Stanford. It was sort of hilarious and unexpected!

Steph Burt wasn’t on his main POI list (husband is into fiction rather than poetry, despite both of his writing samples being on poets haha)—but we’re intrigued by her interest in science fiction. Husband’s POIs are David Alworth, Louis Menand, and Andrew Warren, all of whom have reached out to him and he’ll get to have meetings with during the visit days!

I would imagine the adjustment going from NYC to Iowa would be tough. We were super limited in the locations we were willing to live—we wanted to be in or near a major city with good public transit. 

Let us know what you decide!

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19 hours ago, defmaybe said:

Hey internet. I have the lucky and weird problem of choosing between an English PhD program (UC Berkeley) and an MFA program (Iowa Writers Workshop). Both programs were my top choices in their respective tracks, great funding packages and pros/cons from both sides, visits forthcoming, etc. Has anyone come to a similar MFA/PhD impasse, and how did you decide? Any experiences/biases would be welcome. Thank you!

I feel very strongly about this, having done an MFA before my PhD: do the MFA first. It will only make you a better applicant for PhD later on (whereas having a PhD doesn't necessarily help get into MFA school) and it would be better to be in the creative community before trying to write a dissertation (when your creative output will definitely cease for a bit) than trying to re-enter that headspace afterwards. 

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21 hours ago, defmaybe said:

Hey internet. I have the lucky and weird problem of choosing between an English PhD program (UC Berkeley) and an MFA program (Iowa Writers Workshop). Both programs were my top choices in their respective tracks, great funding packages and pros/cons from both sides, visits forthcoming, etc. Has anyone come to a similar MFA/PhD impasse, and how did you decide? Any experiences/biases would be welcome. Thank you!

I'm going to echo @immanentfields here. I would do the MFA first. 100%.

I've been able to palate cleanse from academic writing by working on creative writing in a way that I wouldn't have done as thoughtfully pre-MFA - and I was one of those obnoxious writers who thought they were already the kind of writer they wanted to be when they entered the MFA. (I was wrong). The PhD pays out - your disseration, your degree - at five years, give or take, after beginning the program. An MFA is less production oriented (even at Iowa, the more production oriented of the MFAs) and so "payoff" is kind of an amorphous thing that stretches years long and evolves with time. That's the journey that I would want to start sooner because barring being Justin Torres or Garth Greenwell - who both went to Iowa, if I recall - it can take years and years for that experience to resolve into the kind of novel/chapbook/memoir you want to present to the world. Those years can run simultaneously with the PhD, if you do the MFA first.

To put it in caveman terms, an MFA helps you make better art. An MFA first means you'll have been making better art for longer, increasing the chance of success. An MFA from Iowa means when you make that better art, you'll have channels in which to distribute it.

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39 minutes ago, M(allthevowels)H said:

I'm going to echo @immanentfields here. I would do the MFA first. 100%.

I've been able to palate cleanse from academic writing by working on creative writing in a way that I wouldn't have done as thoughtfully pre-MFA - and I was one of those obnoxious writers who thought they were already the kind of writer they wanted to be when they entered the MFA. (I was wrong). The PhD pays out - your disseration, your degree - at five years, give or take, after beginning the program. An MFA is less production oriented (even at Iowa, the more production oriented of the MFAs) and so "payoff" is kind of an amorphous thing that stretches years long and evolves with time. That's the journey that I would want to start sooner because barring being Justin Torres or Garth Greenwell - who both went to Iowa, if I recall - it can take years and years for that experience to resolve into the kind of novel/chapbook/memoir you want to present to the world. Those years can run simultaneously with the PhD, if you do the MFA first.

To put it in caveman terms, an MFA helps you make better art. An MFA first means you'll have been making better art for longer, increasing the chance of success. An MFA from Iowa means when you make that better art, you'll have channels in which to distribute it.

Yeah, exactly (and in a more articulate way). Basically, @defmaybe, I would think about it this way: the MFA isn't necessarily a job-market degree even though it's a co-terminal degree--it's really more of an opportunity (in terms of time, space, and community) to develop as a writer. The PhD is going to give you the....opposite of that. Obviously they will try to help you develop as a scholar, but it's less about time and space and more about rigor and preparation. I have a lot of friends doing PhDs--even creative writing PhDs!--who say that they don't have as much writing time as they thought (and some at lit PhDs even say that they have no creative writing time). I think going into that experience before having done your MFA might put a big halt on your development as a creative writer even as I simultaneously believe that lit scholarship is really good for creative writers, simply because of this issue of time--whereas, if you go to Iowa and maybe grow a bit as a writer (and develop routines), you would be more equipped to handle long periods of creative inactivity. 

Also, for what it's worth, I do think it is statistically harder to get into Iowa's MFA program than it is to get into a PhD program. And I also think that my MFA years (tho not at Iowa) were so important to my personal development and sense of the world, and I can't imagine a more perfect post-BA experience. So congrats and uhhh...go do that.

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It looks like UCR for me! It's weirdly bittersweet to be at the end of this whole process (bitter for obvious reasons haha BUT, it's true what they say about it only taking one!) 

My question for everyone else is, what are y'all doing if you've narrowed it down, by voluntary or involuntary means, to one school, which you'll definitely be attending, barring some catastrophic event?  Dialing them up before visiting days (not until the first week of April) feels almost too implicitly like "having been denied elsewhere, I choose you!"  But masquerading as if I don't already know I'll go there also feels strange.  I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this, or what you've done yourself! :P 

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15 minutes ago, chellyfish_ said:

It looks like UCR for me! It's weirdly bittersweet to be at the end of this whole process (bitter for obvious reasons haha BUT, it's true what they say about it only taking one!) 

 

Are you local to California? Riverside is a really great, super-diverse school. The area may not be Santa Barbara or Davis, but you're in proximity to L.A....and vegas if that's your thing. (I can't say that was not a tiny motivation in my applying)

I'm excited for you! I really learned how really strange and random this process is. You might have the best application in the world, but some chance technicality might bar you. I hope you enjoy UCR. You applied there for a reason -- even if it was not your number 1.

Edited by LexHex

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29 minutes ago, agunns said:

I officially accepted an offer from IU-Bloomington! It's so hard to believe that the process is finally over.

Congratulations! That is so wonderful!

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2 hours ago, agunns said:

I officially accepted an offer from IU-Bloomington! It's so hard to believe that the process is finally over.

Congrats @agunns! I've mostly been lurking here but I'll very likely be doing to same soon. Are you still going to attend the recruitment day?

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22 minutes ago, lucysnowe said:

Congrats @agunns! I've mostly been lurking here but I'll very likely be doing to same soon. Are you still going to attend the recruitment day?

Thank you! I'm definitely going to still attend the recruitment day because I've never been to Blooomington and I figured it's a great chance to meet some of the faculty in person. But I figured why wait to accept the offer when I know that I'm going to no matter what!

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25 minutes ago, agunns said:

Thank you! I'm definitely going to still attend the recruitment day because I've never been to Blooomington and I figured it's a great chance to meet some of the faculty in person. But I figured why wait to accept the offer when I know that I'm going to no matter what!

Awesome, I'm attending as well! Hopefully I'll get a chance to introduce myself.

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