This is a departure from my regular posts in that it doesn’t deal with women playwrights or playwriting or theatre at all really…but it is a topic that affects me as a woman who is currently getting her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in playwriting. And I think it’s a topic that concerns many of us in our field. So bear with me.
Yesterday I read a blog post by Michael Nye of The Missouri Review entitled “The MFA Degree: A Bad Decision?” (Read full blog post here.)
Please feel free to read the post (and please feel free to tell me if you think I’m wrong), but what I took away from the article was this: the author does not think pursuing an MFA degree in creative writing is worthwhile from a financial or an educational standpoint. He argues that MFA programs are not really training their students to become teachers (but Ph.D. programs are!), that MFA graduates are, and I quote, “a dime a dozen,” and, ultimately, that colleges are not hiring MFA graduates for anything more than adjunct.
Now, here’s where I take issue: Nye seems to be making a lot of blanket statements without backing them up (with studies, statistics, etc.). From my own personal experience, what I know is this: M.A. graduates are having a hard time finding work that is more than adjunct (ie, “tenure track”); most job descriptions I’ve encountered from writing/English departments request individuals with a Ph.D. OR an MFA; I got hired as an adjunct because I have an M.A. AND because I am pursuing my MFA…so they know I have potential to be brought into a full-time capacity (I was told this, by my employer, during my interview). Nye argues, essentially, that Ph.D. programs enable you to be more highly considered for jobs that require the teaching of literature or English composition. Maybe. But again, in my experience, my fellow M.A. grads and MFAs-in-progress are already GETTING hired to teach English comp classes, even though they have no plans to get a Ph.D. Plus, Nye is making the assumption that we, as writers, who generally (I assume) want to teach WRITING, are looking to ALSO teach, well, just about anything so long as it gets us a job. True for some people; not true for all.
Nye admits that some people pursuing MFAs are looking to be ”just writers” and not teachers; he seems ok with that (though he also seems to wonder why writers who will be “just writers” need an MFA). But his overall conclusion is that a Ph.D. is more worth your time (assuming you want to spend 2-3 years on an M.A. first, then an additional 2-4 years on a Ph.D., when I will have spent, total, 2.5 years getting both my M.A. and MFA).
So what do you think? MFA? Ph.D.? Are we MFA grads really “a dime a dozen” and is it keeping us from getting the jobs we want? Chime in. I only have one semester left, but I really want to know.
On a lighter note: don’t forget to check the blog on Friday, when I will post (in the playwright’s own words!) the “rousing conclusion” to my interview with Laurie McCants.