Worrying, Schooling, and Teaching

Thursday, January 21st, 2010 by Rachel

I thought and thought about making a top 10 of my first semester countlist, but it just didn’t seem right. I’ll give a list in May, when I’m officially halfway through the program.


Just like after my first semester at NAU’s MA, I’m now in a state of crisis. What am I going to do with my life? What is meant for me post-MFA? Do I really want to work on a PhD? Do I really want to go through the stress of another application season? Is being in school something I want to do for another 3-6 years? If I do plan on starting the PhD application process, I’ll have to have solidified my school list by August or September, so I can start asking for recommendations and start the rigorous application process. Since I took the GREs in fall of 06, this is the last application season I could recycle those scores without REALLY pushing the five year rule. I never want to have to retake them.


Part of what plays into a lot of this worrying is Derrick. Derrick and I will have been together for five years in April. As those of you with spouses, domestic partners, children, and pets know, it’s a lot harder to move a family than move just one person. You DO have to think about what’s best for everybody. Times are tough all over, and his job in Flagstaff at the newspaper definitely was NOT stable towards the end. Flagstaff would have never provided enough of an opportunity in terms of providing me (with only a MA) work either. Unfortunately, Derrick hasn’t been able to find a job since moving to Milledgeville, regardless of sending out tons and tons of applications and resumes. It does make things hard, as much as we do enjoy living here in a little yellow house.


Milledgeville doesn’t offer us any long term possibilities. We will have to move once I graduate. We’ve talked about moving somewhere specifically for Derrick, since I can really teach anywhere, especially with the qualifications of a MA and MFA, but I really worry that eventually I won’t be able to provide as much WITHOUT a PhD.



We want to stay in the South, and PhDs in creative writing are limited down here for some strange reason. University of Southern Mississippi, University of Georgia (in Athens, just an hour and a half north of us), and University of Tennessee are my only three real options. But I can’t only apply to three schools, right? I have almost no interest in applying to PhDs in literature… Looking into PhDs in pop culture didn’t seem to offer too many possibilities within this region.


One thing that I’ve begun to consider is a PhD in composition and rhetoric. This might seem crazy to some of you, but I like teaching Freshmen Composition. It’s really grown on me, as tough as my first semester was in Fall 07. I think I would be okay with teaching composition for the rest of my life—there are so many options in terms of curriculum! I don’t think I could ever get bored. A PhD in comp. would allow me to apply for tenure track teaching positions, jobs to run writing centers, to be in charge of Ga’s teaching freshmen comp.


I’m not a fan of pedagogy, but last semester when I spent my first time working with pedagogical research and wrote paper on pop culture in the composition classroom, I really felt like I’ve begun to make ideas all my own. My teaching philosophy has begun to solidify. I’ll never be the kind of teacher who is proud of giving out only three As. I do care about students making effort, working through revisions, and starting to develop their own ideas—starting to develop as people, which I think is the magic of teaching freshmen that we sometimes take for granted. I like watching students learn about the world… this is something that I don’t know if I would be able to see as much in upper level literature classes.


I haven’t done a LOT of research yet on this, but I’ve already found programs which look really interesting at University of South Carolina and Clemson, which adds a couple more schools into the pot. I wonder if I can ask recommenders to be sort of general in their scope, so maybe I could apply to 3 PhDs in creative writing and 4 or 5 in Comp and Lit?


I told Derrick the other day that I know I’m always looking towards the future, but I can’t help it. It’s hard not to worry when you watch people who end up unhappy, or you watch people who really don’t know what they’re doing when they graduate, or when you talk to people who aren’t even grateful to be at a great MFA program. I just want to do what’s right and what will set me up for my dream job in the future.


  1. Actually, as a comp and rhetoric PhD, you’d be far more hirable than if you pursued a lit or creative writing doctorate. Just keep in mind the horrific job market (MLA tenure-track jobs nosedived nearly 40% this year, and around 25% last year).

    Georgia State also has a creative writing PhD program, though I’ve not heard much about it. Anecdotally, I’ve heard terrible things about UGA’s creative writing department from three different professors. Good luck on your decision!

  2. Rhet/Comp is totally where the money is. If there’s any money in any of this. It would be a smart choice, if you can see yourself being happy doing it!

  3. I was going to also mention the Georgia State CW PhD. I don’t have any additional info either. I soooo totally know what you mean about considering another person in everything you do and how difficult that can be. I’m glad you mentioned that. My son is 9. He’ll be 10 if I only do 2 years in my program. I just can’t see myself staying in Charlottesville long term so I’m really looking at moving close to family so I can have support and stay somewhere until he graduates high school. So my newest idea (because I have millions) is to look at regular lit PhDs in northern Cali where my sister/best friend lives. I’m taking a really challenging lit class this semester so I’ll use this class to gauge my tolerance for that sort of thing. Ok, I’m talking too much in your comments lol. I totally understand your worries though.

  4. I’m pretty sure Jen P’s sister is a PhD candidate at Georgia State and she graduated from our program! Might want to ask her about it?!

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