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MFA Program Handbook

You are responsible for meeting all deadlines set by the program, your thesis chair, the Department of English, and the Division of Research Graduate Studies (DRGS). Check the DRGS dates and deadlines page for the most current info, and familiarize yourself with these important explanations of the degree process and terminology.

Adviser/Coordinator

The program coordinator also serves as the official academic adviser for all MFA students. This person is your go-to resource for the degree process, including paperwork, policies, and any course-planning questions.

Prof. Steven Church is the current coordinator and adviser. We recommend you meet with him at least once per semester.

Classified Standing

This means you have met the requirements for admission and have been formally admitted to both the University and the program.

We occasionally admit students to the University as “Conditionally Classified” to indicate that the student has not yet satisfied all program admission requirements.

Coursework

You are responsible for understanding and completing all coursework and degree requirements. Read the University catalog page for the program and frequently consult the DRGS website for updates and deadlines.

You must maintain a 3.0 GPA in all your coursework, and no grade below a C is allowed to count toward your degree. Also, no CR/NC grades will count.

To graduate with distinction, you must maintain a GPA of 3.9.

Graduate Writing Requirement

This is a University requirement that is met by submission and approval of a substantial sample of scholarly and critical writing, such as a seminar paper you have written for an Engl 250T course. (This is distinctly different from the sample of creative work required for program admission.)

Submissions are made to the coordinator. This must be done before Advancement to Candidacy.

Advancement to Candidacy

This is a crucial requirement. The completion of the ATC petition form—available here from the DRGS website—should be done by midway through your degree process. We strongly recommend the third semester.

The ATC form is tailored specifically to the year you entered the program, and it lists all courses already taken along with the courses you plan to take to complete your degree. Approval of the ATC petition form enables you to sign up for thesis units when you are ready to begin the final stages of your work here. You must complete the form in cooperation with the adviser.

To be eligible for Advancement to Candidacy, you must have earned at least a B average on all coursework to be included in the MFA degree. You must also have met your Graduate Writing Requirement, after which time you can file the ATC petition form anytime.

Check the DRGS graduate degree deadlines page carefully for ATC petition form timelines, especially if you intend to enroll in thesis units the next semester. A delay in ATC petition form approval can result in problems with your "satisfactory progress toward degree" standing, which can affect your TA position, your registration options, your Financial Aid status, etc.

Program Adjustment Request

Any changes to the program of study you charted on the ATC petition form—for instance, if you take classes other than you predicted—must be noted and approved by both the adviser and DRGS. Many students have to file at least one of these PAR forms—available here from the DRGS websitebefore they’re through.

Also worth noting: See page 2 of the PAR form for a full list of Course Limitations for Graduate Programs.

Contextualizing Narrative

In addition to the general Graduate Division requirements, students are required to complete the MFA Contextualizing Narrative Assignment with a grade of B or above. Students work with their advisor to create an approved reading list for the assignment. The Contextualizing Narrative Assignment consists of craft-focused annotations of approved texts that allow students to demonstrate a theoretical and critical knowledge of their genre.

For more info, see the Assignment Description (doc, 14K).

Your Thesis Manuscript

This should be a book-length manuscript of publishable quality. Take the thesis very seriously, and take advantage of it. This is almost certainly the only time in your life when you will be given this kind of time, assistance, and permission to make a book. If you do it well, it could become your first published book as well as your thesis.

Don't wait to start on your thesis until the last year. If you come here to write, you should be writing toward the thesis from day one. Of course, everything you write here will not be included in the thesis, but thesis progress should be your goal from the start. You will not have time to write the whole thing from scratch during the last semester—or even the last two semesters. The 4-6 thesis units are offered as a way to give you time and the end of the program to focus intensely (with help from your committee chair) on revision, final drafts, polishing, etc.

Thesis Committee

Your committee consists of the three people who will work most closely with you to complete your thesis manuscript. After your first year of study, you should be ready to identify your first and second priority for your Thesis Committee Chair. At the end of your second year of study, you will identify and reach out to your second and third committee members. Your Chair should be a member of the MFA faculty—usually the person with whom you have worked most closely. The other two members can be MFA faculty or English Department faculty. Or, with program approval, one of your members may be from another department or outside the University.

Your Thesis Committee Chair will become your primary mentor, advisor, and advocate. Your Chair will also help you select the other two members of your committee and help identify appropriate texts for your contextualizing narrative. You will work with your Chair to plan, prepare for, draft, revise and submit your thesis. Your Chair will lead and schedule your Thesis Defense and introduce you for your third-year MFA Student Showcase Reading. They will also be one of your primary recommenders for job applications, PhD program applications, or other professional opportunities. Chair is organizing defense (2 hours).

Second and Third readers/committee members are expected to attend your Thesis Defense, contribute to the discussion, and provide a 1-2 page “letter of response” to your thesis. They are not expected to offer line-edits, copyediting, or annotations on the manuscript itself. They will also be asked to fill out a thesis assessment rubric and participate in the overall evaluation of the thesis.

Thesis Committee Assignment Form

The thesis Committee Assignment Form, which you'll submit in your 2nd year—available here from the DRGS websitecannot be filed until after the ATC petition form is filed and approved. All three members of your thesis committee must sign the form, as well as the program coordinator.

Sequence of Engl 299 Courses

Beginning in your 2nd semester, you will register for a four-course sequence of 299 classes (one 1-unit course per semester) that will focus on preparing you to write, submit, and defend your thesis, while also incorporating some pre-professional training for students in things like submitting your work and applying for jobs.

Registration is done through a Supervised Course Request form, available here from the English Department website. The same form is used to sign up for an Independent Study or an Independent Reading course. It requires signatures from your Supervising Instructor for 299 and the MFA Coordinator.

Consult the MFA thesis checklist (pdf, 84KB) for more.

Registration for Thesis Units

In your final semester, you will register for 2 units of Engl 299 with your Thesis Chair. This is done through the Supervised Course Request form, available here from the English Department website. The same form is used to sign up for an Independent Study or an Independent Reading course. It requires signatures from your Thesis Chair and the MFA Coordinator.

You must have an approved ATC petition form and thesis Committee Assignment Form already completed and approved. The number of thesis units must agree with what you listed on your ATC petition form. After approval, the Department will give you a permission number to enroll.

Consult the MFA thesis checklist (pdf, 84KB) for more.

Thesis Defense and Showcase Reading

The MFA Thesis Defense is an hour-long formal discussion of your thesis and your writing in general. Students will be expected to give a brief (five minute) introductory presentation on their thesis. The Thesis Committee will then ask questions of the student and discuss their work for approximately 45 minutes. The student will be excused briefly while the committee deliberates on assessment of the thesis and then invited back in for a final conversation. The defense conversation will assist your committee in completing the thesis rubric (an assessment form that is filed with the department). More importantly, the defense is an opportunity for you to engage in a rich conversation about your work with your entire committee present. Your contextualizing narrative will assist you in preparing for the defense.

You will also present an excerpt of your thesis for your MFA Student Showcase Reading.

Thesis Completion

Check the DRGS dates and deadlines page for your final deadline for turning in your approved thesis. The deadline typically comes around midterm. This means that you should have your thesis very close to completion before the semester you expect to turn it in and graduate.

Please note that there is a precise and specific document format required by the University for thesis submission. The DRGS thesis consultant (currently Chuck Radke) offers workshops and individual help with this, and there is a template on the DRGS Dissertation and Thesis Office page to help you get your thesis into the required format.

Application for Graduation

This requires completing an online form and making a payment through your student portal, and electronic approval must be given by the coordinator. There is an early deadline every semesterdetails are here on the DRGS website.

If you don’t complete your thesis manuscript during the semester you are enrolled in thesis units, you must enroll in thesis continuation units again each semester until you complete the thesis, which will require further registration fees. The University requires that students be enrolled during the semester they graduate, even if it's being enrolled in "zero" thesis continuation units.

Graduate Degree Clearance

The final Graduate Degree Clearance form verifies that you have completed all requirements for your degree. It must be signed by your thesis chair (who will assign you a grade for your completed thesis units), the coordinator, the English Department chair, and the dean of the College.

During your final semester, you should download the Graduate Degree Clearance formavailable here from the DRGS website. Fill out the top part and then give it to the coordinator, who will complete the form, obtain the grade from your chair and necessary signatures, and file it with DRGS in person.

Now, you are ready to graduate!