Thursday, January 28, 2010

Exciting time at UNCG!

by Whitney Gray

This semester, by some miracle, UNCG has been given the green light to hire another poet. As a poet myself, I find this extremely exciting to have someone join our team and help enrich my education. Last semester, I worked with only one poet, as our other resident poet was on leave. This semester I'm working with two poets, and I am eager for next fall when I can work with someone new.

Working in the English department has allowed me to learn a bit about the hiring process. Right now, it's too early for me to look ahead and imagine myself applying for (real!) jobs, so I've never really thought about what it would be like to interview for a faculty position. Aside from sending resumes, dossiers and books, I knew there would also be an interview (or a series of them). I had no idea that presentations and/or readings would be required as well. We brought the poet to campus for a series of events this week, which will also include the poet visiting and conducting our workshop. MFA students were required to attend the reading and presentation this week, and it was very insightful. Not only did we get to hear the basic job interview questions (i.e. "What is your pedagogical style?"), but we heard some wonderful poetry and discussion regarding writing. I am really excited about workshop today to see how the candidate handles a classroom of strangers (and their work). Not only will the poet be working with the students in the workshop, they will have to endure a room full of faculty members and second-year poets watching the workshop. (As a side note, I have to admit I find this whole workshop equally terrifying on my end!)

Is there a discussion about job placement after your MFA is complete? What information or advice has been given to you about furthering your education and/or joining the job market? The faculty at UNCG are constantly reminding us that we should keep the post-graduation lectureships in mind because they want us to have a decent job after completing our MFA and they want to help us further our careers as writers and as professors (editors, etc.). It seems that though we aren't getting major career tips (i.e. workshops for resumes, job placement, etc.), we do have a lot of support in the form of networking and letter-writing. Writing should, of course, be a number one priority and outcome of your MFA, but jobs are part of reality. How have you been preparing yourself pedagogically (those of you interested in teaching)? What "next step" are you working toward?


  1. Thanks for the post. Great topic!

    I haven't even gotten in anywhere (everything's crossed that can be), and I'm already thinking about the post-degree job dilemma.

    My starting principle is: how do I make the most money per hour, so I can preserve the most hours for writing?

    And I've wondered if teaching is the way. Everyone knows there are a glut of humanities grad degree-holders, including those in creative writing, and a scarcity of academic jobs. Plus, this market imbalance has created a glorified temping situation for university teachers. You get paid nothing and you don't get benefits - you're a contractor, moving around institutions as the academic years go by. Making the jump from this after-degree state to a more secure position is quite difficult, and a hustle in itself.

    Which is fine, if you want it, but I wonder how much it supports one's writing. I'm a little obstinate, but I'm still thinking maximum earnings to minimum time is the best way to get the time I need to write.

    What I wonder is, has anyone considered less orthodox careers that still use your MFA? Some kind of freelancing (I'm currently a marketing copywriter, so think of this a lot)? Adult education? Giving lectures to book clubs? Retirees? Teaching in private companies? Community colleges?

    Maybe I'm too cynical, but I feel that the academic system isn't the supportive, reflective place it used to be, at least not for most of us potential job seekers. I feel it's just as much of a hustle as any private enterprise, but it has this intellectual patina that attracts arts types (who end up economically disadvantaged), whereas the private world repels arts types because of its money-centrism (which is, admittedly, repelling).

    I guess my premise is, the need for writing and reading literature still seems very present, and goes beyond the university. Since there are so many of us, why not take our show on the road?

  2. I look at a job in academia post-mfa as an impossibility and only a small possibility after a few books and a lot of years. I like Jamie's idea of max earnings/minimum time and I'm always considering what type of employment I will go after post-mfa. I've thought of leveraging the teaching experience into a corporate training position, copywriting, corporate consulting. Eh, I don't know. I just don't want the time commitment. I would honestly pursue a PhD for the love of lit and time to write, so I may go that route. But yeah, I'm not expecting the MFA to immediately open any jobs in academia for me. That's pretty much the guidance I was given from a few schools upon acceptance.

  3. The funniest thing is, from a corporate perspective, I have become a far more effective and productive employee since I really started managing my time to write. I realized that every hour was precious re my own writing time, and this carried over to my job.

    And, while I'm definitely not pushing the corporate angle (think I'm going to school to escape it!), it just seems like in the world we live in, everyone's got to be a mini-Martha Stewart, ie self as enterprise, and can no longer fall back on a benevolent academic fun-farm as we wait for our Nobel prizes.

  4. Ya know if things hadn't changed so drastically at my old job in the year before I started the mfa, I would have stayed. If you can find a decent low-stress office job of definitely has it's merits. At my low res program we were given a lot of tips via panel discussions and lots of networking as well as faculty support for letter writing. My final residency was a lot about life after the mfa. My friends teach mostly at community colleges as adjuncts. I hope, someday, to work in support at a college. Like as a mfa coordinator perhaps?

  5. Job searches are exciting, but a little nerve-wracking if you desperately want a specific person to come, or don't think one of the applicants would come if the job is offered to him/her (if that person is just leveraging for more money somewhere else). But I do hope your school's job search works out.

    And lucky that y'all got a workshop and a reading out of it!

    Houston has a good amount of support in terms of fellowship/job preparations because we've got the dual MFA/PhD track, and most of the people here for the latter are interested in going into academia (go trickle down effect!), but I think it's more a matter of consciousness than anything else--hypothetically: Is your programming training you in a craft or a discipline?

    I think if a person sets academia as a goal, most programs probably offer resources to help get on that path, even if it's only possible with the aid of lots of luck (should the other steps, like a solid base in literature and pedagogy be there).

    But yeah, it is nerve-wracking being here and not knowing what to do next. The PhD always looks appealing...


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