Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ph.D. Student at Florida State

Here's a recent helpful posting from a Ph.D. student at Florida State...

I have PhD in Creative Writing from FSU, and while I agree that Winegardner's comments about FSU's program are a little over-the-top, personally I thought he was an excellent teacher, possibly the best writing teacher I have ever had (MFA and PhD). He showed me a lot about my own work (things no one had ever pointed out during my MFA). He does tend to be a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy (lots of ideas and generalizations about the way stories work), which may not be to everyone's taste, but personally, after having a lot of profs who act more like a member of the workshop than the teacher (vague, loosey-goosey, anything goes aesthetic), I found Mark's approach a welcomed change of pace. I don't necessarily follow or agree with all of his ideas about fiction, but I definitely consider them when I write. His approach may not appeal to everyone, but he had a big effect on my writing. Also, I had no problem getting classes with any of the teachers I wanted; I took 2 classes with Mark (though he's been busier the last couple of years).
On the whole, when I compare FSU with my MFA program, I think FSU is a pretty good program - strong in many ways, but also with a few weaknesses. As for teaching assistantships, I believe it's a 2/2 load (though that may have changed for first semester MFA grad students), and the pay is on the low end of the spectrum ($10,000, whereas some programs are more like $12,000). I was offered 3 or 4 other T.A.-ships, all of which were somewhat better than FSU's (1/1 or 2/1 load, and/or a bit more $), but I thought it was better to base my decision on the program. One thing FSU does have going for it is a 6 week summer teacher training program, which is excellent. I think this is fairly rare; my MFA threw me in a classroom after 2-3 days of useless training...Also, you are pretty much guaranteed the opportunity to teach a summer class if you wish (which isn't always the case at other schools).
Back to the teacher thing; I've had close to 10 different writers as teachers, and I have to say that the "best" (or more famous) writers are not necessarily the best teachers. I've had some great teachers that I'd never heard of before. One or two well-known writers were great, but some were lame/unimpressive/just phoning it in. You just never know. Sometimes you get a teacher who you've never heard of, whose work is totally unlike your own, yet they're perfect for you.

Tallahassee is a reasonably cheap place to live - seems about average to me. I had a $425 one- bedroom apt. about a block from campus - an okay apt., but worth it to me because trying to park on campus is a disaster. If you don't care about being withing walking distant, you can get something a little cheaper (or just nicer for the same $).
No matter where you go, unless they give a lot of $, or it's a VERY cheap place to live, it's very hard to get by on $10,000-$12,000. Unless you're very frugal, you need loans or a part-time job.


dustin. said...

i'm one of the two posters who originally began this question-turned-tirade last spring with "what's going on with florida state?" in a direct correlation, i am very happy that this blog no longer allows anonymous comments.
i described my situation to tom looking for answers, because i had legitimate concerns and was not getting anything from florida state at the time. well, i moved to tallahassee anyway, to enroll in the somewhat-new MFA degree program. since i've arrived, all my concerns have been put to bed. i feel as though this is a fantastic place for me to be. on the first day of the above-mentioned summer training course, a faculty member profusely apologized to all the new students for the mix-ups in the office last spring. it had to do with a change of office staff and faculty--lots of changes going on here--and the mix-ups with incoming students actually resulted in some people getting asked to leave their positions in the english office (nobody was fired, just moved). this was very reassuring, because last spring was rough for me. to top if off, lots of jerks were showering insults on fsu and their faculty as comments to my question on this blog, while i was actually making arrangements to move.
well, opinions founded in ignorance and a notoriously egocentric interview have nothing on actual experience. i'm thrilled to be here, and i ask that anyone looking for information for florida state ignore some of the things said on comments here. they have a strong literary climate here, with many good things going on, and the other students in the english dept have treated me as one of their own from the day i arrived. i am very happy with where i've landed, even if it is an hour north of where hurricanes often touch land (tallahassee never really gets hurricane damage, i'm told).
i would have never looked into florida state, by the way, if it were not for tom's wonderful blog. i saw something on this site last fall which piqued my interest, then i looked at their website, read tom's book, and eventually added florida state to my list of applications. i've said it before, but thank you, tom.
--dustin, a.k.a. adrift in arkansas

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