As promised, here’s a bit about our thesis advisor-finding processes. Important to note…they are all DIFFERENT, just like yours will be. So, please, stop comparing yourselves to other MAPHers who may seem like they’re in a better or idyllic place right now. Ultimately, you’re all comrades-in-arms, in this together and there to support and encourage your fellow brethren, but you will all have different journeys as you make your way toward the finish line.
(Read about our experiences after the jump…)
Students completing a creative thesis in the Creative Writing Option have the (optional) built-in guarantee of working with the person teaching the thesis workshop class in their genre. Since I was doing a creative thesis, I had the option of avoiding the whole hum and haw of courting potential advisors. For instance, trying to ascertain from a professor’s gaze whether or not they were sincerely excited about my project, or simply waiting till our meeting was over so they could go microwave their tea, which by that time would have gone cold while I was imagining what good friends we would become over months of thesis work.
But I opted to go through the whole thing anyway. Because they are the default thesis advisor for graduate (and undergraduate) creative thesis, the pre-designated faculty may not be able to read as much of your work as you’d like. Last year the fiction advisor was available to read 30 pages or so of writing. So, knowing they would already be commenting on around 20 pages of thesis material in the winter workshop, I decided to find another professor to advise my project. I wanted someone who was available to read more material, and hoped to benefit from the challenge of multiple perspectives in critique. During winter quarter, I was already enrolled in one of my eventual advisor’s classes, so she knew who I was and she was easy to contact, since I could always approach her after class. Non creative writing faculty can be helpful to approach for creative projects, first because they tend to offer a new point of view that can play well off of comments you receive in writing workshops, and also because they, being on vacation from the usual stuff they read themselves, may approach your project with a lot of enthusiasm. Oh yeah. They’re also incredibly brilliant people who attentively analyze complex texts for a living, so their opinions can be challenging in the most inspiring way.
I feel a little guilty writing about my thesis advisor experience. I was one of those jerks who found an advisor early. At the time I was still debating whether or not I would write an academic thesis or a play and mentioned my dilemma to a professor during his office hours and he said he’d be willing to support me whichever option I chose. I knew then that it was more worthwhile having a faculty member who was supportive than spending the next few weeks agonizing about the mythical “perfect” advisor (and torturing myself about which option I was choosing since my advisors could be drastically different). My advisor was splendid and when I decided to write a play, since he wasn’t a creative writer, I sought out additional critiques from my playwriting instructor. It is important to remember many different people may give you insight when writing your thesis.
Also if you are among those with an advisor remember not to gloat to your friends, no Facebook status updates about having had a great coffee with Professor X. Be quietly pleased and the support your fellow MAPHers as they get their advising sorted out.
Frankly, I didn’t have an advisor until the very last minute and was basically stressed out about it from January 1st until January 31st. Because almost all of the early modernists were on leave (except for 2) during my MAPH year, I was stuck trying to woo them and rustle up potentials from various other specialty areas in the meantime. I knew exactly who I wanted to work with, but ended up meeting with four different professors because the early modernists were so swarmed with people that I was terrified of getting a “no” and having no back-up options. Several meetings with my top choice and a list of about 100 secondary reading suggestions later, I worked up the courage to ask him to advise my project and he said, “that could probably work, but I can’t give you a definite answer today.” And so launched the most stressful week of my MAPH career.
Ultimately, he was excited to advise my project and signed on within the last week of January. And, in the end, I was actually grateful for my slightly hectic advisor-finding experience because it connected me with a lot of professors that I may never have talked to otherwise. I ended up continuing to have conversations with several of them throughout the thesis process because they provided important alternative perspectives on my project. So, even if your process has been stressful thus far, try to focus on the fact that you’re getting the opportunity to talk to so many different, interesting people and you may even end up building solid relationships with some of them. When I applied to Ph.D. programs last fall, I was able to ask both my advisor and one of my awesome secondary resources for recommendation letters because they were so familiar with both me and my project. So, just keep in mind: potentially stressful now, but most likely an incredibly useful experience in the long run.
As always, we’re available to talk anytime you need it. In the meantime, good luck!