James Phillips, Associate Professor of Theatre
Years at the Mount: 10
What was your college experience like? I was busy. I took classes in the morning, worked in the theatre shop in the afternoon, and went to rehearsals at night. That started my first week on campus and continued for almost every week I was in college. I quickly learned how to work and how to budget my time.
What are your hobbies/what do you like to do outside of work? I’m the father of an Irish dancer, so my main hobby is spending money on her dance supplies. I play video games, mostly strategy as I’m past the age when my hand/eye coordination allows me to play fast twitch games. I’m humbled by my inability to garden well.
What is one thing most students don’t know about you? I sang in a cover band while in high school.
Advice for first-year students: I’m a big advocate of getting to know your professors. Research has shown that humans are more likely to ascribe positive motives to people they know and more likely to ascribe negative motives to people they don’t. Just as a matter of self-interest, it works in a student’s favor to establish relationships with the people that will be assigning them grades. But, of course, it’s about more than a bump in your GPA.
As you advance in your field of study, you should be looking to find a professor that can be a mentor. I would guess that almost all of the faculty at the Mount can look back at their own education and pinpoint the importance of a mentor. Those close learning and working relationships not only enhance your education, but they also make it more likely that you will land a job after college, even if the economy is slow. That one-on-one engagement with a professor allows you both to truly get to know and understand each other, and building that relationship will pay off for you now and into the future.
It may seem a long way off now, but the day will come when you ask your professors for recommendations for jobs or graduate education. While we’re all willing to write recommendations, it’s difficult to write a recommendation for a student that we only know through interactions in the classroom. Writing a recommendation full of details and specific examples, the type of recommendation that stands out, requires a relationship with the student.
Starting a relationship isn’t high stakes; it can be as simple as introducing yourself after class. You want to stand out and be remembered, and introducing yourself during the first week of classes helps we professors remember you in an otherwise crazy and jumbled beginning of the semester. After that, find a professor in your major that you like, say hello in the hallway, stop by their office and discuss the class material, invite them to a game or performance, dress up like them for Halloween (If you do this, please take pictures!). Later, you can work with them on research or service projects. We’re a small school, and there are a lot of opportunities.
But it starts with you. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. Challenge yourself to introduce yourself to one professor during the first week of classes. It may seem scary, but if you take a chance, your time at the Mount will be more enjoyable and you will be more likely to succeed.
Good luck, and feel free to stop by my office at Aquinas 115.