How do you measure, measure a Ph.D. program?

August 29, 2011 — Leave a comment

Oh yes, I’ve been reading the Poets & Writers rankings of Creative Writing Ph.D. programs, where my fellow alums and I have been delighted to find the University of Cincinnati’s program ranked #8. (Facebook: like! like! like!)

At long last, we say. How many faculty successes does one need before one gets recognized? How many graduate jobs and student publications? Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred? How many amazing literary events? How many more top-20 rankings of its literary journal? (Go Cincinnati Review!)

Now at last we get some recognition.

So, how DO you measure, measure a Ph.D. program. To the tune of Rent’s “Seasons of Love,” sing it with me now:

In funding, in selectivity, in job-placement
In CGSR compliance,
In reputation, faculty, in number of applicants.

I can’t sing it either. (At least push play so you can listen as you read the rest of the post…)

But as I read the P&W fine print, it looks to me like Ph.D. programs are ranked not according to all those things, but according to how many people claimed to have applied there since 2007. The answer – 40 – put UC in a tie for #8.

I’m not very good with reading or comprehending fine print, so I may be wrong about that disappointing criterion, but either way, let me give some personal reasons why I still think of my time at U.C. as a #1 “Season of Love”:

1. All the faculty, friends, and fellow students I thanked by name and general reference (karaoke!) in the acknowledgments page of my book.

2. This is a continuation of #1 because I can’t say enough about it. Let’s talk faculty. I graduated in 2006, and I can still send an email to my professor who no longer works there AND is on vacation with his family, ask for a reference letter, and I will get it. My other professor who is still there recently invited me back to give a reading in the spring. And a professor I never even had in class has, 5 years after I’ve graduated, carried on an extended email exchange about a grant opportunity I’m pursuing. (Thank you Brock, Michael, and Don.)

3. This is also a continuation of #1. Friends, fellow students, & ma’ ladies. When my writing was rejected, or when I screwed up in my oral exams, I was encouraged and supported by voices even more powerful than the ones in my head. Since then, I’ve had many opportunities that came about through my network of increasingly successful alums. Who were the first to invite me to give readings at their universities when my book came out? And who did I contact first when I started my How to Become a Writer interview series? You know it.

4. Before grad school the closest I came to interacting with a living author was maybe at a reading at Joseph Beth Books. At U.C. I had lunches, dinners, parties, and even airport chauffeuring with major and emerging authors, and even if I didn’t always have long in-depth conversations, I learned, like all writers do, by observing. (It is impossible not to observe when Lorrie Moore is across the lunch table or  Michael Cunningham is in the passenger seat of your crappy Nissan Altima.)

5. It was in my town. I was married and had a young child when I started grad school, so my geographical options were limited, and I consistently thought, Lucky me that this perfect program is right here in my city.

6. Perfect program? Pretty much. I’m sure I would have also loved a program with publishing and book arts, but a Ph.D. was a great way for me to go because I’ve got an academic side as well as an artistic one, and because it gave me so much extra time. I actually got my M.A. and Ph.D. at U.C. back-to-back, so it was six years to launch, and I needed every minute of it.

7. Yes, funding is important, and I was well-funded. If I weren’t, I would have had to quit after my M.A.

8. I’ll stop at #8 since U.C. is #8! How do you really measure a program? Sing it with me:

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

All of which I had at U.C., and more, making it intense and wonderful and #1.

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