after your ph.d | directing

Slide Arts + Life After Your Ph.D Angela M. Farr Schiller, PhD is the Director of Arts Education at the three-time Southeast Emmy® Award winning ArtsBridge Foundation, in Atlanta, GA. Additionally, she works as a Dramaturg-In-Residence with Atlanta-based Working Title Playwrights (WTP), the leading new play development organization in the Southeast, on new play development and teaches master classes in dramaturgy. Her body of work is ultimately rooted in revealing the ways that performance can be utilized as a meaningful tool for critical thinking, social justice, and the development of empathy and compassion for the human experience.
What are you doing now?

Currently, I work as the Director of Arts Education at the ArtsBridge Foundation in Atlanta, GA. Here my job is really about bridging K-12 students throughout the entire state of Georgia to the arts in meaningful, significant, and life affirming ways. Additionally, I freelance as a dramaturg and director, and am working on two book projects with fellow Stanford TAPS alums, The Methuen Drama Book of Trans Plays (Lindsey Mantoan and Leanna Keyes) and Troubling Traditions: Canonicity, Theatre, and Performance in the US (Lindsey Mantoan and Matthew Moore).

What was the transition from PhD to the working/”real” world like?

For me, and I know that this is not always the case for everyone, the initial transition was pretty standard. During my time at Stanford, I was always thinking about life after graduation. That said, it was not uncommon for me to be reading through job ads and strategically picking classes and on/off campus opportunities that would build my resume/cv in important ways that would make me a little more marketable while I was working through my program. Also taking advantage of the workshop offerings from the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, such as Jump Starting Your Academic Job Search, were super helpful in getting my mind around how to read (and read through) a job ad, what materials would be needed for a strong application packet, strategic approaches to these materials, practice interviews, negotiation skills, etc. Like many in my cohort, I applied to about 30 positions (being able to situate myself as an artist/scholar was really helpful), received a fair amount of response, and with a lot of help from my wonderful mentor Harry J. Elam, Jr., landed a tenure track position in Atlanta which I loved.

In the fall of 2015, I moved into a department where I was the first Black tenure track professor in the history of the department, which was exciting on-one-hand and arduous on-the-other. Atlanta has been a wonderful city to grow as an artist. That said, being Black and a womxn in academia has been challenging in ways that I did not fully understand the weight of until I started my first post-Stanford tenure track job, and I don’t think that this is just because I took a position in the South. Being a token (even if I was an appreciated one) is burdensome and comes at a cost to one’s mental and physical health. I loved my students but, as in many abusive relationships, love is not always enough. I am grateful to have found a wonderful sistah-circle with other womxn of color within my university as a community to stay afloat through all of the nonsense, but they were all struggling as well. Predominantly white institutions (PWIs) can be very hostile places for non-white academics, the internet is filled with blogs, articles, and stories that back up the trials and tribulations of this experience at PWIs across the country. That said, after filing a successful and hard-won Title IX suit, I left that position and am grateful that I did. I learned a lot from that experience, including how important it is to be able to take a risk on myself and my instincts, and how critical it is to have a support community/squad to lean on. I am grateful to have received a PhD that made space for me to be able to work fluidly inside and outside of academia. I have no doubt that I will at some point return to academia, I love working with students in this capacity, nevertheless I have grown a lot in my current position including the ability to recognize an entirely new spectrum of skill sets that I had never really utilized before which has opened up a new paradigm of potential pathways for my next right steps.

How does Art Theory/Practice manifest in your life?

Art Theory/Practice is an integral part of how I understand myself in the world. For me, so much of art theory and/or performance studies is about how power works in social settings. There is no situation that I enter into that does not involve navigating power, from where I live to who I live with, so for me it is very personal. That said, I also have the great fortune of being able to suss out these systems via my art theory/practices as an educator, director, dramaturg, and arts leader in my community. I appreciate the myriad of ways that art theory/practice continually allows me to see and see again who I am and who I am becoming in the world.

What advice would you give to current PhD students at Stanford today?

I am always cautious about giving advice because that would mean that I am so sort of expert around what people should or should not be doing, and I definitely do not see myself as an expert in other people’s lives. That said, I am happy to share 10 things that were useful for me:

(1) Choosing an empathetic, motivated, and supportive mentor/dissertation chair who was invested in where I wanted to go versus being an extension of where they wanted me to go.

(2) Creating a standing meeting with my dissertation chair/mentor that I would attend whether I had completed my task for that period or not (it taught me that “work” was not the only thing of value that I had to bring to those meetings, sometimes my anxieties, fears, and other roadblocks were just as valuable to learn to bring to the table as pages completed toward my dissertation)

(3) “Progress not perfection” was a useful mantra for me to keep in mind throughout the process, remembering the adage that the best dissertation is a completed dissertation and that this journey is a marathon not a sprint

(4) Attending the department graduation ceremony on an annual basis gave me a lot of inspiration and trust in the process, demonstrating for me that finishing my PhD was possible because my colleagues were doing it every year

(5) Reaching out for help when I needed it and utilizing the resources of a place like Stanford that has a lot of support mechanisms to help me reach the finish line

(6) Finding lots of ways to have fun, develop joy, and build community during my time at Stanford was just as important (sometimes more) than getting “work” done

(7) Being of service to undergraduates in/out of the department and a good friend to my colleagues

(8) Setting boundaries early in my program around my time by treating my work at Stanford as a 9-5 job. This felt impossible at first, but once I started doing it (and respecting this choice in myself) it became much easier to do. Academia, both as a student and a professor, is greedy and is never satisfied with any amount of work that is accomplished…there is always more to do. I had to assert my own agency around my time in ways that the institution will never do for you. I kept waiting for a kind of natural break where I would feel like something was completed or done and that never came in any consistent way, so I had to do an intervention on my own time and this has been a gift to myself that keeps on giving, even outside of academia.

(9) Remembering that I had not been through the process of earning a PhD before and that I did not have to have all of the answers (and frankly no one else did either), this would be a day-by-day, quarter-by-quarter, year-by-year experience that unfolded differently for each person who journeyed through it and that it is ok.

(10) Lastly, finishing my degree gave me a texture of confidence in myself and my abilities that continues to nourish me.

Angela Farr Schiller