Sunday, March 16, 2008

If At First You Don't Succeed: Getting A Visiting or Adjunct Teaching Gig -- And Do You Really Want One?

Since the dollar is crashing, the Democratic nominee for President is as yet undetermined and Eliot Spitzer has gone home to either a divorce lawyer or years of couples therapy, it is time to return to those unworldly things that are preoccupying us as academics. And what's at the top of the list for the next two months?

Hiring, or getting hired as, a full-time visitor or adjunct.

Yes, now is the time that unexpected resignations are upon us. Searches have folded without a hire being made. It is the time of year that grants have come through for us, but perhaps not for you. It is the time of year that – for those of you have been on the market – you know now (or strongly suspect) that you won’t be interviewed for any of the jobs you applied for, or that someone else has been hired for the job for which you did get an interview. *Sigh.*

After a year of being on several search committees, I have read a lot of curriculum vitae, so today’s post is for those of you who have gathered the strength to be dusting off your c.v.’s, checking them twice, trying to figure out whether they make you look naughty or nice. You should be adding the things you have accomplished since the fall, updating the status of manuscripts out at journals and listing conference panels that have been accepted for next year. In other words, you are generally trying to make yourself look even more accomplished than you were back in September. So here are some things to check for.

Make sure your contact numbers are listed clearly at the top of the c.v., and that you are easy to reach. If you don’t feel comfortable listing your home telephone number, list your cell phone. There is nothing more aggravating than not being able to get hold of someone about a job, or having to leave a message on an office voice mail box where the message might not even be picked up until Monday. For a tenure-track line, if we are already interested in you because of your scholarship, we will take the time to track you down. For visiting and adjunct work, we may simply go on to the next person. Believe it or not, this kind of conversation happens around the country during Adjunct Season:

Chair of department (who is dishing off work to the newly minted associate prof. who needs to begin learning to do these things but, more importantly, is available to do it): “OK, so start at the top of the list of candidates we liked. The first one to answer and give a reasonable response gets the job.”
NMAP: “What if no one answers?”
Chair: “Leave messages. First one to call back and give a reasonable response gets the job.”
NMAP: “What if they don’t call back for a day or so?”
Chair: “Go back into the files and call someone else. Use the brains the Goddess gave you! We need to get this done before the administration pulls the funding.”

Now that we have it straight that you need to answer the phone, what does your c.v. need to do for you to generate that call from Opportunity U. in the first place? I have but two more pieces of advice, and they are very simple:

Your dissertation title, and the members of your committee need to be clearly listed at the top of the first page. You might be shocked at how many people fail to do this, or how many people make search committee members hunt through the various documents in the application trying to figure out this very basic information. Do not forget this one important fact: you are not you. You are (insert famous professor’s name)’s student, and you have worked with (insert the names of other famous people.) Given your limited teaching experience, knowing who you have been trained by gives us a better idea of what you might be able to do for Opportunity U. Indicate clearly which member of the committee is your primary advisor and – since the real job season is over – you can now be honest about when, realistically, you will be finishing the dissertation. In fact, you must be clear about this point, because if you are hired, you will be asked to provide proof: Ph.D.’s are paid at a different rate than ABD’s. If you had been hired in a tenure-track job, you would have finished the diss. in a long, ugly final push that would have warped your relationship to your work forever. Now you not only don’t have to finish, but you shouldn’t – you are crafting the document that is really going to get you a job next year. Take your time, for God's Sake.

The category “publications” should not be lumped together with any other category of scholarly activity. Best case scenario: it obscures the fact that you are quite well published for an ABD; worst case scenario, you look like you are trying to hide your insecurity that you have not published at all, or enough. Presentations of your work, at conferences or elsewhere, are not the same as publications, and when you bury that single paragraph you contributed to the Dictionary of Lesbian Painters in a collection of miscellaneous scholarly activities it does not obscure the truth: that you really have no publications to speak of. If you haven't really published, be brave and let it all hang out. More importantly, if you are applying for adjunct or visiting work, your publication record doesn’t really matter because we are more concerned about what you will do in the next twelve months than in the next seven years. In fact, this once, switch the section of courses you have taught and T.A’d with the list of articles you have published or that are in process. Courses you are willing to teach will go in your cover letter.

But here’s the other piece of advice I will give you. It is a real question whether you should get a full time visiting teaching gig; or whether you should stay away from teaching for a year, delay submission of your dissertation until April, and get some articles out to journals. If you can teach and write at the same time, fantastic. But also know that full time teaching is often consuming, even for a veteran teacher, and it is also really interesting, which means that you will want to spend time on and with your students that should probably be spent on your writing at this stage of your career. If you do not yet have publications and/or a polished dissertation, writing is a better use of your time in the long run, as long as you can find some other way to feed, house and clothe yourself, and as long as your committee will agree to keep you on the books for another year.

Because honestly? Showing that you are a mature scholar who can see an article through to publication and a person who has a clear sense of how the dissertation will become a book is going to help you far more than a year of teaching when, in the fall, you pull out your c.v., dust it off again, and go back on the market.


The Constructivist said...

There are still grad programs where you barely get any opportunities to design your own courses. So if your grad program isn't set up to help almost-post-ABDs teach while you're finishing the diss and sending early chapters out to journals, joining the reserve army of the nontenurable is not a bad move, particularly if you want to gain some cred outside the R1 track n the market in the fall.

Maude said...

i have a question--i took this past year off to finish the diss--moved away from the graduate institution, turned down their horrible 4-4 adjunct load. if i don't graduate in may, i'll most definitely be defending by july. so, my question is, if i don't get any adjunct work for this upcoming year, is it going to look horrible for the coming job market season? i mean, if i'm using the time to send off stuff for publication and polish the diss, is it going to affect my chances of getting interviews if by december i will have not taught for three semesters?

granted i know there are no hard and fast rules, but given the post, i thought i might ask.

thanks. and i don't mean to treat your post like an advice column. i'm starting to get a little concerned about this.

Tenured Radical said...

Don't worry Maude; those of us who give (sometimes unwanted) advice should be prepared to be asked questions.

Frankly? I think it is even-steven on the teaching. Given that people are coming out of grad school now with a couple articles, and given that tenure everywhere is getting tighter, when I do a search I want to be reassured that publishing has become a priority for my candidates. I would say that teaching one or two classes, if you can afford it, gives you something to talk about during your interviews. Also, what constructivist says above makes sense: showing that you can teach a class, particularly one that is going to be basic to your field -- Early Modern European History survey; United States 1865-present -- is something you want to get on your vita too.

I would say a good balance of the two is what you want to show, and part of what I am trying to say is that either because they want to avoid the dreaded "gap" in the vita or because they are genuinely captivated by teaching (and why not? It's fun) people on the job market are carrying teaching loads that prevent them from getting writing done at a time when it should be a priority. But here's another idea -- let's say you have taught those courses. How about an editorial assistant's job on an academic journal, or something part-time and administrative at the U.? I find this very persuasive on a vita, since I teach at a SLAC, and that puts a high priority on hiring people who can demonstrate maturity and administrative competence. With such a job, you can actually leave your work at work and go home and write.

I guess I would say that there is no right choice, but look at several options and see which one allows you to develop or demonstrate skills that improve the whole package.


Maude said...

many, many thanks. i can begin to devise a plan for the coming academic year now.

Sisyphus said...

*Sigh.* Will do.

Or not, as the case may be. That last couple paragraphs really apply to me well, but I've also gotta eat next year, so I don't have a choice about graduating and adjuncting.

Ooh, and I'd add that my original plan --- taking a summer off to polish up articles and send them off --- didn't work because I didn't realize journal response time is so slow they'll probably _still_ be out with no word this summer. So my advice to grads might be to send stuff out as early as practicable and then go back to the diss later while waiting for the journals. Sigh.

Maude said...

sis, i will say that i guess it is easier to have options when you live with someone who has a full time salaried job, as i do; however, it sucks to be almost totally dependent. it does offer more time to work on my own crap though.

Tenured Radical said...


I still think you were right to take a little time off the diss to get the articles out. And hint: writing an article from material that didn't make it into the diss is an especially good idea, both because it gives you a little time off from the Main Event (while helping you think about attendant issues) and because you get more props for not just publishing a chapter of the diss.

Another hint -- it is really ok to ask a managing editor when they will get back to you, and then start to bug them when they don't. In fact, I urge you to do so.

And it is still better to have articles out being read than not to have articles at all.

And yes -- you gotta eat. Bu even for those of us with tenured, full-time gigs -- teaching is a very time-consuming and distracting way to make a living. If you can find another way to stay on track and feed yourself -- do it.

BTW, there's a web job available with CLAGS in New York. Part time, $14 an hour. If you already live in NY, this is a good gig. Anyone who is interested should write me and I'll send you the info.


Tim Lacy said...

No one I know who has opted to teach as an adjunct for a living has had a happy life. Period. Shall I count the ways why?

1. No time to work on scholarship;
2. No time or energy to read;
3. No health insurance;
4. If single, no time for dating---or a diminished social life in general;
5. As TR notes, it doesn't help later with the t-t/f-t job hunt. It's sad, but no one seems to respect even an admirable teaching record;
6. You don't have academic freedom because you're trying to please EVERYONE to maintain your positions;
7. You're generally traveling like a madman;

...Shall I continue? - TL

Anonymous said...

This post raises great questions--I map them onto my own job search (which included a stint as a "teaching postdoc") on my own blog, to avoid derailing the comment thread.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a good idea to advise folks to take time off from writing the dissertation -- how are they going to support themselves? Also, having a degree in hand, or at least nearly so, definitely gives one an advantage in the job market. Finally, teaching experience really is important.

Tenured Radical said...

Well Heather, I agree with you in a way -- but part of what I am seeing is graduate schools trying to rush students into finishing the degree without providing the credentials those students need for a very competitive job market. Getting a student out in six years -- which is what many RI's are trying to do now -- often means that people are being pushed onto the job market (which is itself time consuming,and causes people to stop working on the diss for months at a time) less professonalized than they need to be to compete with people who have been out for a year or more. Then when they fail to get a job, they are pushed onto the adjunct market, which really makes it difficult to publish. I don't think people should stop working on the diss, but I do think, for example, it isn't necessary to finish in October if you have no prospect of employment in the fall.

And certainly the wealthy schools who are making so much noise about using their endowments for financial aid are well equipped to think through the transitional year or so where finishing could be usefully delayed, or a year of postdoctoral work financed, so that the potential job candidate can focus on other aspects of professionalization -- primarily teaching and publishing - that make a job candidate competitive.


Anonymous said...

What a horrible, horrible education system we are part of that promotes scholarship (much of which is parochial at best) over teaching. That a person going on the job market would focus on putting out articles, rather than developing their pedagogical skills depresses me enormously. And TR, if you're looking for people with articles, speaking Truth to Power, you're part of the problem. Granted, you're the player, not the game, so much love to you. If anyone brings that weak "I've taught two classes but have three articles" into my house, I'd send them packing. I don't want to carry all the students who flee professor incompetence's classes. We need a radical reorientation of our hiring systems.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear paying attention,

Well it is so easy to get coopted by the system, and I don't think I'm immune to it, so I will think about what you said. On the other hand, anyone who knows me would tell you that a) I care deeply about teaching -- my own and other people's; and b) people don't move ahead in our system without writing and publishing, so I think it is reasonable to ask them to demonstrate that they can before you hire them.

But also -- I don't think it is an either-or kind of thing, except -- why have a year of teaching that prevents you from doing some of the other things you care about and that will move you ahead, when yo already have enough teaching experience already? Other than the eating/roof over one's head thing. I also think there are, frankly, other skills to develop that most academics don't think enough about: how to run things, for example. If many graduate schools don;t teach pedagogy, they *really* don't teach administrative skills. IN fact, most people are contemptuous of such skills, which I think is impractical and wrong. And yet developing that part of your profile could leave you with the time and energy to write.