- To Teach and to Mentor: Toward Our Collective Future
One of the things I’m proudest about when I reflect on my term as the president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) in the mid-1990s is initiating the attention the association now regularly gives to graduate students. Graduate students and beginning assistant professors are the future not only of ATHE, but of the whole profession. I’ve been proud to see my own former students assume leadership roles in the field, and want to suggest that all graduate students should plan and aspire to do the same. At the same time, having a successful career and having a calm and balanced life can sometimes feel contradictory. In these brief ruminations, I’ll address (as “you”) graduate students and new assistant professors, offering strategies I’ve pondered over the thirty or so years of my own career.
Although many of these strategies might appear to be commonsensical, I’m often amazed and sometimes appalled at how easy it is for me to forget them. Finding a balance between work and play, or between my career and the rest of my life, remains an ongoing preoccupation for me, even though I’ve been teaching steadily since 1986. Since these are continuing, nagging issues for most of us in the profession, I hope many readers will find helpful suggestions here, if not common cause with some of the intractable dilemmas I outline. I can’t say I’ve successfully or consistently adopted all of the tactics I propose, but I’ve thought a lot about the conflicts that bedevil those of us whose commitments to our work extend beyond our jobs and into a more idealistic belief in what theatre and performance can mean and do.
A Few Preliminaries
I cannot stress enough how important it is to be self-conscious about your choices. Your own mindset has everything to do with how you define your success. In fact, regardless of what anyone tells you, you have to rely upon yourself as a barometer of what will work for your career. One of the things I love about being an academic is the freedom I have to set my own schedule and to guide my own choices, within a necessary framework of institutional and professional expectations that dictate certain benchmarks. Theatre academics have a lot of flexibility in how we mix research and practice, practice and advocacy, and advocacy and administration in a field with direct ties to a profession or an industry. Within the colleges and universities at which we study or teach, our departments and our field are small enough that many of us will be called upon to assume leadership positions. We need to be prepared to be leaders, scholars, artists, and citizens while maintaining separate and fulfilling private lives. That balance can be very difficult to find and maintain.
Always start with yourself to decide how you want your choices to work for you. What are your priorities? What do you do best? What do you most like to do? What kind of career will sustain you for twenty or thirty years? If you monitor your career with honest self-assessments on a regular basis, you will claim agency that is too often lacking, especially for graduate students and first-year assistant professors. If you primarily see yourself as an artist, be sure you get a job that will facilitate that skill set and passion, otherwise an academic position won’t be a good fit. I see myself as a writer [End Page 97] and a critic, even more than a scholar or a researcher. This means that the amount of writing I’ve had to do to be tenured and promoted was never onerous, because I consider writing my primary milieu. That is not the case for everyone.
If you consider yourself a scholar but you struggle with writing, strategize about how you will make it easier for yourself. Be self-conscious about your habits and practices and what you need to do your best work. Do you need a writing group? A mentor to help you with drafts? A fixed...