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February

February: the shortest month, always proving to be a whirlwind. Here at Alaska-Fairbanks, February means comps (or, if you will, comprehensive exams.) The second-year MA’s and MFA’s all gathered in a computer lab on Valentine’s Day (of all days) for the exams. Two longer essay questions in the morning, a two-hour lunch break, and three shorter questions in the afternoon. Afterwards, we first- and third-years always host a little ceremony to honor the examinees involving champagne and Doritos (no one knows why this combo, but it’s how it’s always been done.) Then, a student in my program who lives in my building threw a party to celebrate the completion of the exams. The party was fun (one of my cohortmates, a fantastic cook, brought incredible pork tacos,) and it was a great chance for me to socialize with the others in my program. We’re pretty good at socializing, actually, and that close-knit quality is one reason I’m glad I’m here.

I’ll be taking comps a year from now. The comps list, thankfully, has shrunken some; as well, my cohort is the first to have our choice of five of the readings, selected with the approval of our advisor and intended to inform our thesis. The prospect of comps worried me even before I got here. But it’s an exciting list, and it’s not going to be hard to pace myself as long as I take advantage of vacation time to read—which I plan to do in two weeks with the start of spring break.

This week I’m having lunch with Gerri Brightwell, the director of our program. We’ll be discussing how to improve the web presence of the UAF program. Two years spent in Draft, one as an applicant and one as a veteran, have given me insights that should help us to tweak the program’s website so that prospects better understand our program.

We’ll also be talking about my thesis. At present, I’m eight pages into the first draft. I know, I’m a first-year, so I’m way ahead of the game. But I know what I want to write, so no time like the present. Also, I did some math a few weeks ago that encouraged me to start. To complete the MFA at Fairbanks in three years, you need to complete and pass 45 hours of classroom hours. If you’re funded for three years, your tuition is covered for 10 hours a semester, or 60 hours total. However, every semester, if you have a TAship, you take one hour of “teaching mentorship,” which is not in the classroom and so doesn’t count towards the 45 hours. So, I have to take 45 hours, but I can take 54. Nine free hours. I’m required to take six credits’ worth of thesis hours, three per semester; however, I can take up to twelve. So, after this semester, I can take three hours per semester of thesis hours, meaning from here on in, I’ll only be taking two classes per semester rather than three, giving my schedule some nice flexibility, even if I’ll be working on my writing with the freed-up time (which, hey, is why I’m here to begin with.) And in the end, I still have one class I can take in pretty much whatever.

Clearly, I’ve been thinking about my future. In that, I’ve been thinking about whether to add an MA to my MFA. One of the more intriguing aspects of the UAF program is the ability to do a dual MA/MFA. What this looks like, in terms of your studies, is that the electives you would take in the MFA degree are put towards English courses for the MA. You also take comps and write theses for both degrees.

Not sure of where I’m going after I leave here, I gave this prospect serious consideration. By the way, if you’re thinking of applying here and not sure whether to apply for both degrees, you can always apply for one and, if accepted, consider adding the other after you get here. I met with Rich Carr, chair of the English department, to see if I should pursue this path. His advice: though it’s possible to finish the MA/MFA in three years, it’s not common. Some students apply for a thesis-completion fellowship offered by the university if they go past three years. It’s a tough haul, and you should go through with it, not because you think it will improve your employment prospects, but because you are dedicated to the study of literature.

I decided to just stick with the MFA.

This month, I’ll talk about a course with the unwieldy name of “Theory, Criticism, and Methods.” We students don’t normally call it that; instead, we say “Critical Theory” or “Criticism and Theory.” It’s one of the few courses required of both MA’s and MFA’s, and, as it must be taken before comps, all the first-years, as well as a handful of students who are attending part-time or who began studies last year in spring rather than fall, are in the course. This semester, the course is being taught by Dr. Chris Coffman, a professor widely admired by the students here. And no wonder; she has one of the most engaging teaching styles I’ve ever seen. As she’s our resident queer-theory expert, I feel most fortunate to have her here on faculty, as I press forward with my rather queer-centric thesis.

I have to admit, the prospect of this class terrified me. But that was because I didn’t really know what it was about. Mostly, we’re studying philosophy and linguistics, two fields I studied extensively in the past, so I’ve been able to wrap my mind around it pretty easily.

On which point, I have a short paper on Derrida due tomorrow that I need to work on, so I’ll wrap it up here. Until next month.

Image: Kate Ter Haar

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