Off to Cardiff University!

          I’m excited to share the news with everyone! I am transferring from the doctoral program in English/Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana Lafayette to the doctoral program at Cardiff University in Wales, UK! Because I’ll be considered the equivalent to ABD (all but dissertation), the program has offered to waive the residency requirement and allow me to work on the degree from the States, though I do look forward to traveling over for retreats and meetings.

          To make a very long story somewhat shorter, the choice to leave ULL was my own. In summary, there reached a point at which I had to suspend my role as a student and look at the program from the perspective of a teacher, my trained profession. Was I getting out of the program what I was putting into it? Were the hurdles I was asked to jump (in the quest to prove time and time again my validity as scholar) meaningful, fair, worth the stress, beneficial in a real and tangible way? These are the questions I would ask a student of mine in a similar situation. Over time, the answer changed from maybe to NO, especially after I spent a full year unhappy and completely depleted of creative energy. I kept trying to make the program work for me, and it just never felt right. Furthermore, it broke my heart that I never had a poetry advisor there. I wrote so many good poems and felt like I had no one to give them to for guidance. Advice from my experience: always visit a program and meet the people in your direct area of interest before you enroll and invest any time there. I regret not having done this.
          When I first started thinking about transferring, I knew my standards were going to be high – not in regards to the ranking system that’s so often regarded here in the US but in terms of what the program actually valued. I wanted a program that put the writing first and the students’ individual interests first. I was done with literature programs masking as creative writing programs. I’d paid my dues. Luckily, during exams at ULL, I had read about CW programs in the UK in Stephanie Vanderslice’s book Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education. She praised UK programs for placing emphasis on the writing itself and for providing students with real world information and exposure to vital facets of the writer’s life, like publishing and teaching. Here in the U.S., there are so many programs following along with what’s been done in the past instead of asking important questions about how to effectively teach creative writing. This is where the inspiration came from to look abroad.
          At Cardiff, one of the oldest CW programs in the UK, I will be one of seven PhD students (as opposed to one of dozens), as the program only takes in students that the professors individually want to work with. The program there has its own Creative Writing Department equal to but not overshadowed by literature and other departments. My new supervisor (major professor) is a major award-winning writer of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, whose creative work I deeply admire and who in return likes my work, as well, and is energized and equipped to help me finish my book.
          Additionally, my enrollment in the program includes a generous research and travel fund designated to me specifically that I can draw from for trips or conferences or other research ventures. Also, the program pays for the students to travel to an annual writer’s retreat in Welsh countryside. I have also been offered the opportunity to teach creative writing workshops at Cardiff, if I’m able to come over for an extended stay. From the moment I was accepted into the program, the administrators, fellow students, and professors have been enormously kind, generous, and invested in me as a student and a writer.
          In retrospect, I wish I had done a more comprehsenive search for programs instead of choosing ULL because it was close to where Matt and I were living in Baton Rouge. But, I think things always have a way of working out as they’re meant to. Several of the professors I worked with at Lafayette were fantastic, supportive, and helped me to grow as a writer. Also, my time at ULL made me a much stronger applicant than I was before and helped me to solidify my interests, both academic and creative. Finally, had I not gone to ULL, and thereby not read for comps, I may have never found my way to Cardiff.
         Mostly, I’m so thankful to have been a part of ULL because of the people. I’ve met and studied so many friends there, and I can’t imagine my life now not knowing these folks. You all know who you are ❤
          I have so many people to thank for being a part of this big decision. Broadly speaking, thanks to the friends and former professors who listened to my ideas, gave me their wisdom and advice, and wrote me letters of recommendation!
          A special thanks to Stephanie Vanderslice for being so nice to random person seeking you out for advice. Your expertise on UK programs and the advice you gave me were invaluable during a time that I needed confidence.
          Thank you to John McNally for taking me under your dissertation-advisor wing at ULL, though we largely write in different genres. Thank you for your candor. For your support.
          Thank you to Christine Devine, who was my advisor during my time at ULL and who is a treasure trove of love and wisdom and kindness to all of her students. She encouraged me to take classes that I might not have taken otherwise, encouraged me to study abroad in the UK under Dr. Wilson, and encouraged me to find the right path for myself.
          Thank you to Kendall Dunkelberg for allowing me to bounce ideas and programs off of you for months. Dr. Dunkelberg was one of my CW professors during undergrad, and over the 10+ years since I left MUW, he has stayed in consistent contact and has encouraged me in every program, job, and writing opportunity that I’ve undertaken. Professors like you and others mentioned in this post are the reason I want to be a professor myself because you all consistently show me the impact that a supportive teacher can have and can continue to have on his or her students. 
          Thank you, finally, to Christina Thatcher, a now fellow student of mine in the program at Cardiff. Thank you for encouraging me to apply to your school and for taking so much time answering my questions. And also, just thank you for who you are. You are someone who supports other writers in a very real, very loving way. In a world full of jealous, bitter, and self-serving writers, you are a breath of fresh air!
          Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? It’s cliché, but it is the God’s honest truth. In this life, you have to be your own advocate. You have to stand up for yourself, for your passion, for your life. No one will do it for you. You can choose to stay in a bad situation or to give up and quit, or you can choose to find an even better path for yourself than you ever could have imagined. I vow to always choose the later, especially when it effects my writing. I vow to never let another program, person, institution, road block, or rejection ever again interfere with my writing because the work is bigger than all that: it’s fundamental to me and to my happiness.

2 Comments on “Off to Cardiff University!”

  1. Thanks, Christie! I’m proud of you for making this decision and finding the right place to complete your PhD. Thank you, too, for a thoughtful discussion of the decision-making process you went through. It ought to help many others who are deciding about graduate programs.

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