to dma or not to dma? (#1)

Source: PHD Comics

To DMA or not to DMA? This question has been bobbing around in my head for the past few months as I’ve seen friends run the gauntlet of DMA auditions, talked with other friends about finishing up their doctorates or applying for jobs, and wrapped up my first year as a master’s student (it passed so quickly!). In response to my own uncertainties about the future after I finish up my master’s (no, I didn’t say quarter-life crisis…who said quarter-life crisis?), I wanted to start a series where I ask my older, wiser, cooler friends about their experiences with and opinions on the DMA. And then publish these responses in hopes that they will help others asking the same question.

My good friend Brooks Tran agreed to be my guinea pig for this project! So without further ado:

Brooks Tran, piano, second-year doctoral candidate:

What do you like about being in a DMA program? 
“Freedom to pursue topics of interest. The opportunities and new experiences that come with my specific TA position that push boundaries and test my limits. A DMA program requires much more multi-tasking than a master’s program (research, course work, four recitals rather than one)–this forces you to refine practice habits and work intelligently.”

What don’t you like about being in a DMA program?
“There is a lack of career-building-oriented classes (i.e. how to make a resumé for musicians, how to look for teaching positions, etc.). There is a lack of clarity regarding expectations for exam topics and dissertation. The multi-tasking gets stressful.”

Would you recommend a gap year between the master’s degree and DMA?
“For me, personally, I think going straight into the DMA program was a good idea just because I feel like I had good momentum going when I was finishing up my masters degree. But a large factor in me starting the program immediately was the opportunity that opened up for me with the TA position. I would have taken a year off originally, but my gut reaction was to seize the opportunity! I do feel like a break would have been nice at times, but I don’t regret my decision.

What advice would you give to someone considering a DMA?
“Make sure you like your teacher, as you will be spending a lot of time working with them not only on repertoire, but research and exam preparation–it’s nice to have a teacher who is willing to help with more than just piano lessons. Practice smartly! Otherwise you will drown. Go where the money is–the length of DMA programs is not always as clear-cut as masters programs, so careful financial planning is imperative.


Thanks so much, Brooks! (Psst…you should check out his group Parnassus Project, a Seattle-based chamber music group that seeks to infuse the community with classical music by bringing performances into a relaxed cafe culture. He serves as artistic director and performer in this group on top of his responsibilities as a DMA student and TA. Classic example of grad school multi-tasking at work.)

What are your thoughts on the DMA? Are there any other questions you would like to see answered as the series continues?

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