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Slay Grad School Envy
By M. Alouette
Green-eyed monsters are rampant in M.F.A. programs. An M.F.A. is a terminal degree, qualifying artists and writers for the professoriate (at least on paper.) This means most M.F.A. programs require a high level of achievement to not only get admitted but actually complete—classes, thesis, and all. Competition then seems inevitable. M.F.A. candidates want teaching jobs, grants, publishing opportunities, exhibition opportunities. You name it and everyone in the program wants those gold stars and lines on their resume. At least that's the perception, right? Because you don't have to want what everyone else wants. Maybe you can just want what you want.
It's too easy to get caught up in the race of what you're supposed to want in grad school. You're in a pressure-cooker stocked mostly with over-achievers. We all know there's always a slacker or two in the bunch, usually people who come with money. But the rest? Serious competition if you choose for them to be. Yet that isn't what you have to choose. You can choose to focus on yourself. Focus on the work you're producing. Focus on the ideas you're forming and challenging. Focus on the research you're pursuing. Focus on the future you want to build.
Only you make the art that you make. Only you can because you're the only person in the world with your unique voice. Your classmates have their voice, too. The same goes for the ideas bubbling in your brain. Nobody else thinks exactly like you, or me, or anyone else. That's a wonderful, fascinating fact about humanity. Even your research isn't the same as someone else's. You could select the same topic as one of your classmates and you still wouldn't come up with the same results. You will read different books, see different films and plays and exhibitions, and come to different conclusions. Your research will influence your art in a way that nobody else's research can.
So what about the future? Practically speaking, you go to grad school to develop a body of work and broaden your career opportunities after graduation. What your job options after graduation will realistically look like depend on many factors, including the particular M.F.A. program—concentration, school, location—you choose. Be warned that tenure-track positions in creative writing are hard to come by, yet most museums and arts organizations in big cities prefer an M.F.A. in a visual arts field (if not an M.A. in Art History.) The post-grad path that's right for you will not necessarily be the one that's right for someone else. Maybe you want to teach community college or maybe you want to work in publishing. Maybe you want to do a Fulbright or maybe you want to get super-cheap rent in a small town for a year and work on your novel. Maybe you want to work for an art center or a production company or a social justice non-profit. You should strongly consider what makes sense for you.
Often grad school jealousy is borne from uncertainty and insecurity. People fight over bones in the ivory tower because it's what they know; they don't know what bones lie outside the ivory tower. Reflect on what you actually want, do the research to come up with a plan, and follow through on that plan if it feels right. You'll be much happier and your green-eyed monster can take a long nap.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.