The Great Divide

What’s in a concentration?

For the first year and a half of graduate school, the answer seemed to be, “nothing, really.” At least with the existing structure of my university’s MA program, declaring a concentration seemed to be pretty pointless. Our program is still rather small, especially given the size of our undergraduate program, and the course offerings for graduate students prove to be rather slim most of the time. We have three concentration tracks (writing, literature, and teaching), but the majority of the courses I have taken in the program have counted toward at least two, if not all three, of the tracks, making distinctions between the three to be rather useless. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what most of my fellow teaching assistants’ concentrations are, and these are people I spend more time with on an average basis than my own family. It just never really made a difference.

But now it’s The Final Countdown. A countdown that cannot be ignored. The last semester before graduation. And, suddenly, concentration allegiances are starting to rise to the surface, drawing a subtle line between the graduating members of the program.

I am in the writing track. Throughout my undergraduate career and the first year or so of grad school, I’ve claimed creative writing as my field, making the blanketed “writing” track my ideal choice. At least at my school, creative writers hold a curious position within the department, successfully balancing the line between literature and rhet/comp. Creative writers deeply appreciate literature. After all, they are the ones that actually produce the literature. However, they do not fully blend in with the literature crew. After all, at their core, creative writers are writers. They don’t quite fit in with literary critics, but they don’t move completely into rhetoric and composition either. They ride the line between the two, making it easy to blend in among any group of faculty. In the Battle of the Bookworms, creative writing is definitely Switzerland.

But then, about six months ago, I started to do the unthinkable…I started to change allegiances. Working in the campus writing center my first year of grad school, attending a writing center conference, and writing about both composition and writing center issues in a summer course made me realize that I was kinda into all of this rhet/comp stuff. Actually teaching composition past semester solidified these feelings. I began to think about applying to rhet/comp PhD programs alongside MFA and creative writing PhD programs. I talked to some trusted faculty members about these feelings, about my interests, about job prospects, about what I actually wanted to spend the next fifty years of my life doing. And the more I taught, the more I did research on writing centers, the more I read about rhet/comp programs, the more my feelings intensified. By the end of the semester, I was officially 100% rhet/comp trash.

Naturally, I felt really guilty about this shift for awhile. I had been running creative writing as my platform for a solid 5+ years. That was one of my identifiers in the department. And suddenly all of that was gone. But isn’t that one of the main goals of grad school, especially at the MA level? To figure out the next step? To learn more, try new things, and see where your true interests lie? At least for me, that’s exactly what grad school has given me insight into myself and my vision of my future. I have genuine research interests in rhet/comp. I have problems I want to find solutions for. I have a vision of what I want to spend my life doing and a plan for how I’m going to get there. And I had none of those things with creative writing. I have a place and a purpose now that I never would’ve had without my master’s program and my teaching assistantship.

So, what’s in a concentration? Once you’ve found the right one…everything.

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