Friday, February 23, 2018

Advice for Prospective Graduate Students: Thoughts from Dr. Megan Alrutz from University of Texas at Austin

Reading all of these voices from “the academy” on the TYA USA blog reminds me that we are lucky to be in field that continually works to build bridges between theory and practice—between the academy and the profession. I am writing from my office at the University of Texas at Austin. Today alone I’ve engaged in two phone calls with professional colleagues across the country about their upcoming TYA productions, and I’ve participated in two meetings with students about how their final projects for our community-engagement class will sit in, or provoke conversation with, the field at large. The bridging and blurring of boundaries continues to inspire me in the work we do. UT offers an exciting space and place to engage in this messy and delightful work. As the semester draws to a close—we just finished finals—I wanted to respond to some of the questions that Jennifer Guhl posed in October.

1.     What is the diversity academically and professionally of the current faculty? What kind of professional affiliations or connections do they have within the TYA community?

Check out the faculty and staff bios on the UT website for specifics. I feel lucky to be surrounded by colleagues with such diverse interests and areas of academic and professional practices. One of the reasons that I came to UT was to be part of a core faculty group that would challenge me to grow and think about my work differently. I’ve found a great home for scholarly and creative work/collaboration with this faculty and the student body in Theatre for Young Audiences, Theatre Education, and Applied Theatre.

2.     Are assistantships available?  How much do they contribute financially? What different work study options are accessible to students? (TA, administrative, research based, etc) Also, if accepted, do you offer any other financial assistance for students?)

Assistantships vary each year according to a variety of funding and economic trends, but we try to offer every student some form of financial support and tuition assistance. We tend to offer increased support in year two and three of the program, and most of the support comes through paid assistantships. As instructors of record, teaching assistants, and graduate research assistants, students teach at the university level, work on research and scholarly projects with faculty, and collaborate on school and community-based programs such as Drama for Schools and the Performing Justice Project.

3.     My experience is varied between performance, administration and recently I have been growing my teaching artist/education experience, but I DO NOT have my undergraduate degree in theater (I have a BA in Communication Arts). Will this lack of an undergraduate degree in theater be an issue during my admission process?

At UT, we invite applicants with a variety of undergraduate degrees and experiences. The degree program is flexible enough to fill in gaps if students are missing key foundations for the program, but we have certainly considered and admitted students who do not come to the program with a degree in theatre.

4.     What are some of your alumni doing now?

Our alumni are all over the country in a variety of positions in professional theatres, k-12 schools, and community-based settings. Many of our alumni work in positions that allow them to work with and for young people with a focus on both the process and the product.

5.     What kind of materials would you like to see in a candidate’s portfolio?

I love to see a candidate demonstrate interest and professional experience in one or more core areas in the field, a sense of the breadth and depth of the field, curiosity and flexibility for the unknown, interests and experience in working with youth and communities, and an abundance of joy…because graduate school is challenging and draining and it takes a strong sense of joy and happiness to keep you goingJ

6.  How much does your GRE score matter in the admission process? Do you have a required score?

At UT the GRE score is considered as part of the entire package; we look holistically at every application.

7.     How flexible is the course of study? Are there any new courses you are currently developing or looking to add in the next two to three years?

Our course of study includes a solid core and lots of flexibility exists within our wide range of electives that come from areas across the department and the university at large—such as Drama/Theatre Applications in Museum Settings, Latino TYA, Digital Storytelling in Community-based Settings, Playwriting for Youth, Collaboration, Directing the Young Performer, Performance Ethnography, Race and Performance, Theatre for Social Change, Teaching Artist Praxis, and the list goes on…

This year, we are developing a new research course to better prepare students to engage in field-based research around their thesis. We are very excited for this new course, which will focus on the interests and practices of the students’ thesis work each year. Katie Dawson will teach it for the first time this spring–Stay tuned!

8.     What qualities are you looking for in incoming students? What do you think makes for a successful student in your program?

I believe our successful students are intellectually curious and disciplined; able to collaborate and take risks; possess passion and focus; desire a creative community; want to be challenged; have an open heart; pay attention to the world and young people; are resourceful; are drawn to pedagogy, artistry, and scholarship; can’t imagine doing anything else. They want to be here 😉

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