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Katie Pierson (she/her)

Postdoctoral Trainee for Graduate and Postdoctoral Learning at The Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching

Katie Pierson (she/her)

I research and teach about ways that theatre practitioners use theatre as a means of communicating with and to the world around them.”

Katie Pierson, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. Katie develops the curriculum for the Teaching Certificate Program where graduate students and postdocs establish a scholarly teaching foundation and become more critically reflective practitioners. Her theatre research focuses on the historiography of collaboratively created performances and the often-hidden histories of work created by women and individuals embodying diverse identities. 

Katie's dissertation (re)framed British theatre practitioner, Ann Jellicoe, as an artist-scholar through an exploration of the ethos Jellicoe fostered during the development of her community play form, which promoted collaboration, trust, accessibility, and the creation of quality theatrical performances. Katie was drawn to Jellicoe’s work due to her own aim to create sites of pedagogical discussion centered around community, collaboration, and social justice values.

Katie also is interested in exploring pedagogical and professional development, including examining the pathways to a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)-centered career in faculty development. Her interest arose from her own journey as a graduate student teaching associate at her university’s center for teaching. Katie is fascinated by the liminal space occupied by graduate students and postdocs viewing it as a site rich with potential for research and systemic change.

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
In the simplest of terms, I teach teachers how to teach. More accurately, I see my role as being a thought-partner with instructors in all stages of their career who are looking for support when it comes to navigating challenges in the classroom or seeking ways to re-envision their teaching approaches in creative, inclusive, and equitable ways.

As a theatre scholar, I research and teach about ways that theatre practitioners—playwrights, directors, theorists, etc.—use theatre as a means of communicating with and to the world around them, as well as the way historical narratives are written to include or leave out different people or groups.

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
When I started grad school, my goal was to become a tenured professor of theatre studies. In the second year of my doctoral program, I applied to be a teaching associate for my institution’s graduate student-oriented center for teaching. I immediately felt like I had found “my people.” I had no idea that there was an academic career path where I could spend all my time talking about teaching with other people who were also passionate about it. I also found it invigorating to work with graduate students from other departments and learn more about how academia operated outside of theatre and the humanities

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why?
I am really inspired by fellow educational developer James Lang. His book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (2016), changed the way I think about teaching and the learning process. He’s able to distill down and present bodies of research in such an approachable way while mixing in personal anecdotes and practical examples. I aspire to write like that. I also admire how he’s able to speak to instructors from many disciplines.

How do you unwind after a long day?
I love taking my dog Sirius for walks around the neighborhood or on the lakefront trail. Spending time moving my body outdoors really helps me switch out of “work mode.” Like many of us, I also tend to spend time mindlessly scrolling on my phone or playing Candy Crush (a total guilty pleasure)!

What books are on your bedside table?
Well, recently I haven’t had any physical books on my beside table, just my Kindle. I had to put a lot of my books in storage when I moved to Chicago. But I’ve been bouncing between a few books: Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, and The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay.

What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
When you’re still early on in your program, take time to look at the job advertisements in your desired field. I did it as part of a professional development activity in my PhD program, but I wish I’d spent even more time looking over the ads and reflecting on what skills I already possessed (or was actively developing) and what skills I might need to get the jobs I wanted. At the time, it felt like applying for jobs was so far away that it wasn’t the best use of my time in that moment. In hindsight, it’s so much easier to seek out opportunities to learn new skills before you reach the stage of applying for jobs.

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
I’m collaborating with Jennifer Keys, the director of the Searle Center, on a project that explores the postdoc role as a pathway to becoming a “SoTL scholar.” SoTL is an acronym for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. So, we’re going to study how a postdoc position might help people gain the exposure, training, and network to enter the developing area of SoTL research. I’m really excited about it for two reasons: 1) as a humanities scholar, a qualitative study like this is all new to me, and 2) even though I’m a postdoc, postdocs aren’t common in the humanities, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the history, function, and possibilities associated with this academic role.

Published: April 26, 2022

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