But What Are You Going to Do with a Degree in That?
Kimi Marin, MA Literature (2008) & owner of Kimi Marin Yoga
As we shift into Warrior Two position—arms at T, torso facing the side of the room, head facing the front—the yoga instructor offers our class this mantra: I know about the past, I’m aware of the future, but I’m firmly grounded in the present. It’s a reminder to reach neither too far forward nor too far back, to keep the core aligned in a vertical column. Like many elements of yoga, however, it has relevance off the mat too.
When you decide to pursue a master’s degree, you’re making a commitment to devote two or three years out of your life to engage deeply with a subject. You may be entering a program immediately after getting your undergraduate degree, or perhaps you’ve already been working a few (maybe even several) years in a profession. If you’re taking a break from a career and planning to return to it—as did one of our recent MFA fiction alums, a civil engineer—the future isn’t so murky. But if you don’t know what you’ll be doing after you get that MA or MFA, it can be a little stressful. I remember a few years ago a poet in our MFA program, Dan Riehle-Merrill, lamenting just before graduation, “Everything after May is just a big, black hole. If only I knew what I’d be doing two months from now . . .”
Yes! If only we knew what was in store for us!
Spending those two or three years obsessively worrying about the future would be a terrible disservice to your studies, and yet you can’t ignore it either. (As if you could. Who doesn’t have that skeptical friend/uncle/sister—perhaps it’s your inner skeptical friend/uncle/sister—who asks what on earth you’re planning to do with a degree in [insert unemployable field here].) While being firmly grounded in the present, though, you can still lay a little groundwork for the future.
Something to keep in mind when choosing a graduate program—in addition to the courses, faculty, funding, and perhaps location—is what other kinds of opportunities are available: assistantships, internships, and the like. At CSU’s English Department, for example, some graduate students are offered teaching assistantships, gaining valuable classroom experience, which is especially great for those who plan to go into academia. Alums of our various concentrations now teach at University of Alabama, University of Miami, California State University-Fresno, Washington State University, California Lutheran University, Regis University, Bradley University, University of Southern Indiana, and elsewhere, as well as in high schools all across the country. Graduate teaching assistantships don’t, of course, prepare you just for a teaching career; those skills certainly translate into other jobs as well.
We also have a number of internship possibilities, too, both on campus and off, in a variety of settings: nonprofits, advocacy and outreach programs, magazines and publishers, and many more. Among them is an editorial assistantship at the English Department’s Center for Literary Publishing, where interns read, edit, typeset, design, and proofread for Colorado Review and the CLP’s two poetry book series, the Colorado Prize for Poetry and Mountain West Poetry. Former CLP interns have gone on to work in copywriting, advertising, marketing, graphic design, campus-based community outreach, writing centers, public relations, fundraising, web mastering, web app recruiting, documentary filmmaking, and, of course, publishing: literary, academic, el-hi, commercial, technical, trade, and special interest. Alums have landed these positions because they’re excellent writers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers—in short, because they earned a fabulous education. But also because they picked up a few professional skills along the way. They learned to use InDesign, Photoshop, FileMaker, Excel, WordPress, and other programs. They’re adept at social media. They know how a stack of paper turns into a finished publication. They can design a poster, a book cover, an ad. They know the difference between copyediting and proofreading, and the value of both.
And the poet who faced that big, black hole? Dan’s Warrior Two may have been wobbling a bit in that moment as he fretted about the future, but he’d pursued various internships and opportunities during his time here—with the Center for Literary Publishing and as the assistant to the director of creative writing—and with that experience and his degree he’s now a development associate for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. His wife*, Laura, an MFA-in-poetry alum too, CLP intern, teaching assistant, and writing center veteran, took her experiences at CSU and became the director of Carleton College’s Acting in the Community Together, where she oversees service opportunities for the campus and community.
Our department’s graduates have gone on to find rewarding careers—and to write no shortage of excellent books, by the way. Many stay in touch, and they tell me their time at CSU was valuable and enriching. I watch them continue to advance in their professions, building their lives and families. But I hope, too, that they’re enjoying where they are right now, whether on the yoga mat or off.
*It’s a whole different topic, but sometimes you also meet the love of your life in your graduate program.