Friday, October 26, 2012

Advice for Second-Year MFA Students

You’ve been hearing whispers about the Plan of Study and you’re perplexed, concerned. What could a Plan of Study be, and why do you need one when you’re about 18 credits into the program?

Well, my friends, a Plan of Study is your contract with the English Department and the Graduate College; it says that no one can change your degree program, and hey, it’s required! But don’t fret, I think too often we hear the word “requirement” and a shiver starts somewhere near the backs of our knees and travels all the way up our bodies; yes, collectively we are somewhat alarmed, I think, by forms and deadlines, but we need not be. 

On the Plan of Study you’ll list the classes you’ve taken and the classes you will take. You’ll state the fact that you are a thesis student. If you have spoken to your committee members and they have agreed to be on your committee, you’ll list them on this form.

For your thesis, you will work with three committee members. Your committee chair will give you the most feedback; s/he (this is, I know, an awkward grammatical construction, but it’s my favorite of the gender neutral) will work closest with you on deadlines, requirements, and revisions of your thesis project.  

You should be thinking about this now, actually, second year MFAer! Who do you want to chair your committee? Who really gets you as a writer? It’s good advice to approach a CRW professor in whose class you received an ‘A.’

The other committee members will offer valuable feedback as well. Think now, while you’re in workshops, about who you’d like to have critiquing your work, about who you want to be present for your thesis defense.

Fully immerse yourself in the program. Attend lectures and events. Ask questions. Read literary journals to see what is published where. Talk to your peers and professors about writing. Establish a writing routine. Form a writing group with your peers. Play Exquisite Corpse together (not for any particular reason - really I just think it’s fun).

Remember, for the MFA degree you’ll take 21 hours of workshops, 18 hours of lit/theory classes, one required course (ENG 6009: Principles and Problems of Literary Study), and six thesis hours (see the advising checklist).

So, second year, are we clear? Make an appointment with me to complete the Plan of Study. Think about who you’d like to work with as your committee. Get involved in the writing culture and community. Look at your writing and think about what kind of thesis you’re going to create. What shape will it take? Why? How? 

Now is the time to ensure you’re taking classes that will assist in your thesis work. Allow your literature/theory courses to inspire you as well. Take in everything, take notes, and allow your work to grow like a passiflora vine; tend it so that it may bear fruit.

M.R. Sheffield is an instructor and the English Graduate Advisor at FAU. Contact her at Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Florida Review, Blip Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Pank, and other publications. She received her MFA in fiction from FAU. And her cat keeps a blog.

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