Hall Chat: Choosing a Thesis Advisor

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It is time for me to choose a Thesis Advisor. In the third year of the Nonfiction MFA program, we have the opportunity to work closely with an advisor that we meet with a few times during the semester, who pays very close attention to our work, one-on-one and face-to-face in office hours. This of course may vary — sometimes the meetings are not always face-to-face, but there is special attention given to your work by one faculty member throughout the semester. Additionally, you take a Thesis Development Workshop, in which you are doing a normal workshop with your peers and workshopping the material that you have been developing throughout the course of your time in the program and any new material that you have developed while working with your thesis advisor. This is the real deal, the time in which we really work on developing what will be our 120 page book-length manuscript, which is the product of spending three years in an MFA program.

A question that comes up quite often, and one to consider when choosing an MFA program is, “What’s the difference between a two-year MFA program and a three-year MFA program?” Because I have never had the opportunity to attend a two-year program , I cannot speak from experience about such a thing, but I do know that people in the Poetry Program have often said that they wish they had a few more months, and for some, even the full year, to continue developing their manuscript. Faculty members in the Nonfiction MFA program have also said that they would have loved to have had the extra time to work on their manuscript and to just enjoy the time that they had in their lives where people were dedicated to paying attention to and helping them with their writing. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen very often outside of the graduate school atmosphere. Here, in the Columbia College Chicago Nonfiction MFA program, you have three years in which you are writing and creating, and other writers (your peers and the faculty) are there supporting and offering advice on ways to expand on and develop your work. I couldn’t even fathom graduating in a month. I’m just not ready, and I am so happy to have a full year dedicated to developing my manuscript.

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Choosing a Thesis advisor, for me, is a very big decision. I want to work with someone who I feel understands my work already but who will also push me in directions that I would not have thought of on my own. When choosing an advisor, we have to submit a small portion of the work that we have already written for workshop, along with a brief explanation of our project. This allows each faculty member the opportunity to get a sense of what you hope to accomplish during thesis hours and also a sense of whether or not they feel that they would be the right choice for you. It’s mutual in that respect, because faculty members are taking the time to read through what you’ve already written and then to discuss who would be the right fit for your work. My fingers are crossed that I get the advisor that I chose!

I’m extremely excited and somewhat sad that my last year in the program is just around the corner, but I also feel that I have had such amazing opportunities up until this point, getting to work closely with all three faculty members and to develop such a strong bond with my peers. I can’t say that I’m one-hundred percent ready for thesis, after all writing is never really “ready,” but I’m definitely gearing up for the idea of having a 120+ page manuscript at the end of this journey.