By Jennifer Socas, PhD
I was apprehensive when I was first asked to write about how I was able to obtain my current job, however Dr. Taylor felt this would be helpful to students and give them hope in this grueling job market. If my story is helpful and gives people hope, I am overjoyed. I feel truly fortunate to have recently secured a full-time position in the Theatre and Speech Department at City College (CUNY) and realize I am one of the lucky ones. Each year, doctoral graduates across the nation embark on their journey to find a job within academia. Many of my talented colleagues are still searching, a few have chosen non-academic jobs, and some have also been very lucky to receive fantastic full-time positions within the academy.
Over the years, I have always focused on cultivating the skills and knowledge I needed to create my own niche. During my job search, I thought about what made me unique and valuable and how my particular expertise would fit into a department. I already knew I wanted to focus on international applied theatre work, and I concentrated my practical work and research on that area. I published on applied theatre work, presented at conferences, and built an international applied theatre organization from the ground up, securing an impressive core team and working with them to expand our programming to East Africa and India. I also knew I wanted to be in a theatre department at a university, so I sought out opportunities to teach theatre, teaching theatre history and acting courses, as well as directing for Pace University. While honing my curriculum vitae and interviewing for positions, I highlighted the depth and breadth of my teaching experience with students from a variety of backgrounds, both nationally and internationally.
Another key to my success was taking advantage of all of the opportunities offered at NYU and using them to enhance my skills in theatre, advising, and administrative work. While at NYU, I took advantage of many of the study abroad options, including studying with legendary theatre practitioner, Augusto Boal in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I also studied mask and physical theatre in Puerto Rico and Applied Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. I assistant taught numerous courses with our distinguished faculty – Advanced Directing and New Student Seminar with Dr. Nan Smithner, and Dissertation Proposal Seminar with Dr. Philip Taylor. When Dr. Pedro Noguera in Teaching and Learning asked if I would be willing to teach Inquiries III with him, I eagerly agreed. I made sure that I took copious notes and reflected on each experience so it would enhance my practice and inform my work as an educator and theatre artist. When writing from my classes seemed like it could be published, I sought opportunities to have that work published. Finally, I volunteered for as much administrative work as I could make time for – assisting on programs and prospective student advisement as a Graduate Assistant in the Program in Educational Theatre, mentoring and observing students in Theatre Education at Manhattanville College, and working as the Coordinator for Doctoral Studies in Music and Performing Arts.
Mentorship is an extremely important part of the doctoral process. I feel very lucky to have had great mentors during my time at NYU. As my mentor and Chair of my dissertation, Dr. Philip Taylor was a constant source of support and encouragement. He often found opportunities for me to enhance my understanding of applied theatre, such as suggesting I join the program in Brazil with Augusto Boal. He always gave meticulous feedback on my work and research as a scholar in applied theatre, and even serves on the board of my organization, Global Empowerment Theatre. He encouraged my publication efforts, and he is including a chapter from my dissertation in his upcoming book. Dr. Taylor always believed in my success and that I would find the perfect job for my skills and passions. His unwavering belief in me made the process less daunting and gave me the confidence I needed when I went in for my interviews. I was lucky to have wonderful faculty members supporting my work throughout NYU. Dr. Nan Smithner’s expertise in physical theatre and directing, her deep knowledge of feminist theory, and her detailed feedback on my work helped shape my teaching practice and my dissertation. Dr. Pedro Noguera’s insights into public education and education in East Africa were invaluable, as were his recommendations for next steps in publishing and support of my teaching practice both at NYU and elsewhere.
I know I have been very lucky to receive so many wonderful opportunities, but I also was persistent in seeking out those people and experiences that would enrich my practice and studies. Once again, I hope in some small way this may help one of you to better navigate your way through this fantastic, challenging, and exciting journey to a career you love!