Contingent Labor, Part II

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At last I present the long-delayed sequel to the post on contingent labor. Part I covered the realities, both good and bad, of being an adjunct; here, I will recap our panelists’ advice on finding adjunct work, surviving it, and planning an exit strategy enabling you to leave it.

Finding Adjunct Positions

In news which many of us will find unsurprising, but possibly heartening in this most unusual of situations, finding adjunct work can be about networking just as much as finding a tenure track job. However, despair not, because several of our panelists’ connections are ones we all have: undergraduate departments and professors at Lehigh. If you keep in contact with professors from undergrad, or even just try emailing the department, you may discover that they have openings. And guess what? They already know you as a smart, reliable student who they were proud to send to grad school, so they may be excited to welcome you back as an instructor! Alternatively, our advisors and mentors here at Lehigh also have connections to other universities—they may hear of opportunities and pass them on to you, or you might ask them to put out feelers on your behalf.

Other than working your existing connections, George exemplified creating your own. He applied to a summer position at a community college, and while he didn’t get it, he made a contact which led to an offer for the fall semester.

Making Yourself an Attractive Candidate

The panelists offered a wealth of advice on how to make yourself more competitive once you have identified your prospective position(s). Nicole said to research departments thoroughly, just as you would for a TT job search, by looking at faculty and course offerings. This research will help you create a targeted job letter (which you can send to departments even without connections, just to establish those contacts George found so useful!). She contacted the chairs of several departments and attached these materials and introduced the courses she is qualified to teach. She also suggested preparing a dossier of syllabi and sample activities to have at the ready. And, like in any job interview, as questions to show your engagement; ask about the department’s expectations and about the students. Rebecca learned that one question in particular secured her the job: she asked “where do you see the program in 5 years?”

Learn from Panelists’ Retrospective Wish Lists

Even if you are not currently looking for adjunct work, or even anticipating doing so in the coming months, look ahead and consider what you can do to make yourself a more desirable hire. Also take note that many of the characteristics departments value in an adjunct also appeal to search committees for TT positions! Our panelists put together a list of characteristics that helped them get jobs, and a list of things they wish they had done. The list:

  •  minor in comp/rhet
  • shadow other comp teachers, both here and elsewhere
  • learn about mode/genre, or more broadly, ways of teaching comp without a content-driven focus
  • cultivate diverse teaching experience
    • online courses
    • community college courses
    • anything offering advising experience
    • developmental writing (and/or reading)

How to Survive Adjuncting

So, once you have your first section(s) as part of the contingent labor force, congratulations for being employed! However, we have all heard the horror stories. We know that it is an incredibly stressful sector of academia, particularly because, as Colleen pointed out, it is predicated on precarity. Colleen thus emphasizes the important of SELF CARE. This is an important skill to cultivate for all of us as academics, grad students, and general adults/human beings, but especially for adjuncts (because of the aforementioned precarity and anxiety).

I cannot emphasize this enough. Colleen’s advice is SO IMPORTANT! She tells us to make the choices that are best for our well-being by valuing health and sanity instead of single-mindedly working toward  the nebulous future of a tenure track job. To make these choices, consider the following:

  • be realistic about how much you can do
  • take fewer classes to allow more time for applications, whether to TT positions, alt-ac, or otherwise
  • don’t help your university exploit you: say no to things you aren’t paid to do! You are not free labor!
  • Don’t neglect your health; though medical care is scary without health insurance, ignoring health problems will only make your situation worse, and will not help your job search! Take advantage of free clinics and income-based hospital plans.
  • Don’t neglect your sanity, either! This may mean yoga, meditation, a punching bag, treadmill, therapy, etc.

For more on self care as a graduate student, check out GradHacker’s archive of articles—they are huge proponents! For starters, see articles tagged “anxiety:” But, the word cloud of most frequent topics is clearly a resource for related issues:

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 4.05.34 PM

Exit Strategy

Colleen laments that she began adjuncting without an exit strategy. To help the rest of us avoid this pitfall, she suggests assessing your end game realistically, and cultivate multiple options. In other words, planning to adjunct for a year or two with the expectation of remaining on the job market and landing that coveted professorship is not the best plan. If your goal is a TT position, look for options outside of adjuncting wherever possible, even if this means working part time for a year. If you are open to alt-ac jobs, investigate your options and start making contacts. Be aware that because adjuncting places so many demands on your time while offering few resources, it becomes a destructive cycle that can feel inescapable. The longer you remain an adjunct, the more wearing it becomes, leaving you with less energy to work on cultivating your other options. Thus, use your summers wisely now, perhaps to try an alt-ac job part time, or to check off some items on the wish list above. Try to get experience in other areas of the university to show aptitude in advising or student affairs by seeking internships or volunteer positions in whatever offices interest you (the Rainbow Room? The Women’s Center? First Year Experience?)

Overall, if you are looking for adjunct work, I wish you good luck! More importantly, I wish you good luck in your long-term goals, and making sure that adjuncting doesn’t become a longstanding gig.

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