From ATA’s Mentoring Committee: How to Be a Happy and Prosperous Translator or Interpreter

By Eric Chiang


ATA’s Mentoring Program has had two lives so far. Its first life began as the brainchild of then ATA Board member Courtney Searls-Ridge. Courtney followed her dream to build a mentoring program for ATA members: she organized, recruited, and cajoled to get the program off the ground in 2001. The program’s second life began in 2012 when Courtney passed the baton on to Susanne van Eyl. A year earlier, I had been the last mentee accepted into this first program, and luckily for me my mentor was Susanne. As so many mentors do, she encouraged me to grow professionally, in this case with an invitation to serve on the new Mentoring Committee. Paula Gordon rounded out our group of three. In 2014, we welcomed a new member, Cathi Witkowski Changanaqui, to the committee.

The Mentoring Program is an ATA membership benefit. Any ATA member can apply to become a mentee; this is a valuable privilege many members don’t know they have. Although the majority of mentees accepted into the program are newcomers, you don’t need to be a novice translator or interpreter to apply. As an example, if translating patents day after day has lost some of its appeal and you are now contemplating translating literature or, for that matter, opera libretti for the opera house nearest you, the Mentoring Program may be able to help you. Although we can’t promise that you will soon hobnob with editors—the real ones, as opposed to the revisers some of us are—of publishing houses or rub shoulders with the favored divas of Lincoln Center, it should not come as a surprise that ATA counts many talented translators and interpreters who are experts in a wide variety of fields, including literature and opera. The ATA Mentoring Committee will track down one of these members to be your mentor and help you put the next piece of your professional puzzle in its proper place.

The main objective of the Mentoring Program is to convey the business side of the translation and interpreting profession to the mentees. For this reason, we don’t pair mentees with mentors working in the same language. It is unlikely, therefore, that the mentor and mentee will get sidetracked by language-specific questions.

Potential mentees should have some professional experience before applying to the program. To apply, individuals must submit a completed ATA Mentee Statement Worksheet with an essay explaining their background and desire to become a mentee. Applications must be submitted by March 1 of each year.

After their introduction, mentor and mentee will decide jointly on the modus operandi of the mentoring year, which begins and ends in April. It is the mentee’s responsibility to drive the mentoring relationship; that is, to set goals, stay in touch with their mentor, and establish milestones for themselves. It is the mentor’s responsibility to be there with advice and encouragement.

We have tremendous appreciation for our mentors who are volunteers drawn from the vast ATA membership. Translators and interpreters are artisans whose craft and business savoir-faire need to be not only honed but also shared. Like any other profession, the more accomplished members will retire sooner or later, and not necessarily because of age—and why not, since there are other things in life to explore, no matter how much we love our profession—and leave the younger members to carry on. Facilitators and transmitters of knowledge, mentors are an essential part of our profession. If you have the professional experience and the desire to be part of this heroic group, we will be delighted to hear from you.

During this year’s ATA Annual Conference in Chicago, the Mentoring Committee will present a session entitled “How to Be a Happy and Prosperous Translator or Interpreter.” We will discuss the Mentoring Program in more detail, as we have done at past conferences, but we will also try something new: committee members will discuss their own experiences in some of the topics which should interest newcomers, such as getting a good and fair price for your work and keeping their passion for their careers alive in spite of circumstances which may spoil it.

We hope to see you there!

Learn more:

ATA Mentoring Program
Free webinar: The ATA Mentoring Program explained
Questions and answers from the ATA Mentoring Program Webinar
ATA Annual Conference mentoring session: Becoming a Happy and Prosperous Translator/Interpreter
ATA Mentee Statement Worksheet
ATA Mentor Statement Worksheet


About the author: Eric Chiang likes to translate legal and religious texts in English and Chinese and is a perennial student of the French culture.

3 thoughts on “From ATA’s Mentoring Committee: How to Be a Happy and Prosperous Translator or Interpreter

  1. Thanks for this post! I had been curious about and interested in the mentoring program, and this post and attached link to the webinar were very informative. I think it’s a wonderful program for both newbies and seasoned translators (mentors). I am working on transitioning from my current job of the past 20 years to translation. I have mentored a few employees that were starting out (in social work) and found it to be fun and educational for me to see things from a different and new perspective. I hope to apply to the ATA mentoring program and see things from the other side!

    • Marta,

      I’m glad this post helped you! It sounds like you are in a great place to be a mentee and you will surely appreciate it after having mentored others. I wish you the best in your transition, and feel free to keep us informed of your challenges and questions! We would love to continue to help.


      Jamie Hartz

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