Saturday, April 08, 2006

Newer vs. Established Programs

Snagged in Sanati asked about Newer vs. Established programs. I had the feeling that he could break it down even better than I could, so I put him to the challenge. He was well up to it:

In response to my own question about pros/cons of newere and established programs…. And I’m really speculating here….From where I’m sitting it’s coming down to something my boss always says “6 or one half dozen…” Most of the profs have taught at the same programs, have graduated from any variety of programs, many don’t have MFAs, both programs boast a nice collection of publications, etc. It seems to me that the path is wide open, but maybe there are doors I'm not seeing because I'm unaware. Damnit, I was hoping for an absolute answer. Any feedback from others on pros/cons would be appreciated.

Pros – Newer program
--- Since they are trying to build a name for themselves, they are likely motivated to drive students to produce quality work as well as assist students in the publishing process during and after coursework. And in the writing career-building process as general.

--- Exciting place to be if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to be part of the beginnings; who knows, maybe even help shape the future of a program. And if it's in a place you like to visit, come back for Alum readings.

Pros – Established program
--- They already have the name and high success rates with students publishing work. But, is it because they produce higher quality writers or that they have connections in publishing industry? Or both? Or that they accept better writers to begin with?

--- When/if applying for writing gigs (teaching, writer-in-residence, workshop teaching, etc.) you may get extra stars for a well-known program.

Cons – Newer program
--- Inexperienced teachers.
--- Organization/structure still morphing.

Cons – Established programs
--- Burnout.
--- Have heard tales of untold snobbery.
--- Have also heard tale of “big name” authors being preoccupied with their own work.

SiS, the things I would add: A newer program would not necessarily mean inexperienced teachers, though there will be some sense of "We're still figuring out how to make this program work as a whole." Otherwise, you are spot on with your analysis. Thanks for the post.

My two cents: A caveat first. It depends on the programs obviously. There are oranges and apples within the established and new program worlds. That said, there's something about a new program that is interesting to me. The sense of "We're going to make this work" is a good atmosphere to be around. An established program might not necessarily be "stuck in the mud," but there's that risk also. In any case...

I'd still still stick to the criteria I set forth in the book: Funding, location, teaching experience, faculty. Make those your main criteria. If those don't sort it out, I'd contact especially the new program. Talk to the program director. If he/she won't talk with you, or is not actively recruiting you in some way, then that's all you need to know. Choose the established program. If the new program can convince you, appreciate that. It says a lot about how you'll be treated while you're there. Approach it as a discerning customer, and keep an eye to who is offering you the most, and who wants you there the most.

Any additional comments from readers would be much appreciated. Rock on, SiS, and thanks for the analysis.