Friday, September 15, 2006

Teaching Assistants: Where are you, and how much do you make?

Bassboy writes in...

I'm a first year MFA student in South Carolina, and I have a question which is directed more to your audience than to you personally, but you may be able to offer some insight. In talking with the dean of the department yesterday, we got to talking about funding for grad students in the form of assistanceships-- they were asking the students opinions on certain matters. But I was wondering what kinds of assistanceships other MFA students out there are receiving, and whether or not any teaching is required. At my program here, we currently recieve 12,000 on top of the tuition, and would then teach three basic english sections over the course of the school year. What do other schools out there actually offer and give their students, as opposed to best case scenarios?

Thanks, and keep up the great work.


Thank you, Bassboy, and hopefully we'll get some people writing in. When I was at UMass from 1998-2000, I think I made about 13K for two classes of composition, and a little more for the creative writing classes. Plus of course the tuition waiver.

I'd also be interested to hear if anyone's full tuition is not waived when they teach two classes. I know they don't fully waive it at Emerson. Anyplace else?


rtperson said...

I'm an MFA at FSU, and we make about 10,000 a year for teaching two classes per semester, plus a full tuition waiver. It's a cheap part of the country to live in, but the money is not good.

To make ends meet, I'm teaching an extra class (an additional 5K), and teaching over the summer as well. A lot of grad students take on extra part time work, and as long as you don't overload yourself it's a good idea. You don't want to go into a lot of debt over your creative writing degree.

Dave said...

Don't forget that you go to writing programs to do some writing, simply not to get into debt. I wonder how you can find time to write while teaching three comp classes and taking two or three grad classes. Whether you dump $35k each year for an MFA from a fancy program or surviving on a min wage to get an MFA from a crappy program, you all are exploited by the MFA machine, and it's sad!

rtperson said...

True, but on top of all this work I've been able to complete 70 pages of a novel, 3 short stories, a plan of attack for my second novel, and at least two publishable literary essays. I created my own creative writing course, which I will teach next semester, and I've been invited to be on a panel for this year's AWP conference. That was all accomplished in my first year. Even as the dread MFA machine ties me to the railroad tracks, I've been a lot more productive here than I ever was when I had my corporate job.

Dave said...

Good for you! You must be one of those hyper types we often see in grad programs. Or you must be one of those “military” types. I hope your "plan of attack" works out. I heard Robert Olan Butler’s workshop is called a boot camp for creative writing. Isn’t that right? Well, a slacker like me will never survive a boot camp environment like FSU.

Greg said...

While dave is being... malicious (mildly) about the MFA, he raises an interesting point, which I'm inclined to agree with him about--this whole idea about MFA as money machine. I think about all the programs out there, and that most of them offer no aid, and wonder how people even attend them, or if they drive themselves into debt to do it. While a writing program certianly has its benefits, this money aspect makes me a bit weary. Also, there seems to be a dominant "literary fiction" mode, at least in the the short story. I can't help wondering if attending an MFA will injure a writer in some way, because of this model that we are going to be judged against; not that I want to write Beckett-esque prose or anything, but there is certianly a formula in literary short fiction. BUT, on the other hand, it is a community of dedicated writers, which is always nice (most of the time) to be around. And so what if you're teaching part time and taking classes -- working 40hr weeks leaves less time to write than when in an MFA, I would suspect.

I have a final question of my own--novel writing in an MFA program. How does it work? Is it just short fiction in the workshop or do some programs (all?) try to embrace the novel form at some level, too?

Third Person Limited said...

First, Dave is being more than mildly malicious. But whatever floats your boat, and if coming here to attack prospective MFA students is your thing, then whatever.

Maybe some people think the workload (teaching, studying, writing, working part time to make ends meet) is not worth it. Fine. Others value the teaching experience and find a program can offer time to write (even with all the other obligations) as well as a supportive community and some solid instruction. Some programs, by the way, offer fellowships the first year and you only have to teach the second year. This helps.

I happen to refuse to pay tuition for an MFA, but that's me. I wouldn't judge someone who decides to pay to go to school. People make their own decisions based on many factors that are none of my business. I assume their choices make sense for them.

Dave said...

Hey, Third Person Limited (or Retarded),

I am not "attacking" anybody, any prospective MFAers here. I am just expressing my opinions just like everyone else here. Anyway FYI rtperson is not a MFA wannabe like you. He is a MFA candidate.

snowflats said...

I'm an MA candidate up at NMU, and we receive just over 8,000 a year for one section of composition per term. Plus, tuition's waived and we get fancydance laptops. The price of living here is cheaper yet than at FSU, so I take out a small loan in September and hold my breath.

The MFA's here get a couple thousand more but are required to teach and take a class in the summer. And they get an extra year of funding.

Personally, I think it's pretty fortunate that we even have to worry about this stuff. I mean, I enjoy teaching (not always the students though, alas!), there's a hallway full of people to bounce ideas off of, and I'm getting my education paid for. It feels pretty keen to me.

Jimmy said...

We get $9,000 for the academic year at the University of Montana. We also have to pay about $1500 worth of fees out of pocket.

I think there are much better offers out there than this.

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