This month we are looking at two questions from readers that deal with a similar theme -- trying to move into full-time teaching after a career doing something else.
Question: I am almost 50 and have decided to leave the career I've had for the last 25 years and start anew as an educator. Having taught some courses over the past year as an adjunct faculty member at a local university, I am sure of my decision.
How do I best conduct my search for a job at a small- to medium-sized liberal-arts college or university? Your Web site has been helpful generally, but perhaps you could suggest how to create a C.V. for a new entrant to education that would make a positive impact on a reviewing body.
Mary: This is a tough one. I wish we could answer it with only a few tips on revising a C.V. Moving into a permanent teaching position in higher education after a career doing something else is often extremely difficult. It's so easy to obtain adjunct positions that it's natural to assume that it will be easy to move from successful experience in adjunct work to a permanent position. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Julie: We are assuming that you hold a doctoral degree or the highest degree that is possible in your field, such as an M.F.A. This level of education is, in almost all cases, a requirement for a tenure-track position. If you do not have a Ph.D. or are not going to be receiving one, you need to identify institutions that hire faculty members without them. Some (but not all) community colleges may be your best bet if you do not have a doctorate.
Mary: There may be exceptions in professional fields, such as architecture, where a professional degree, such as an M.Arch., and extensive experience may qualify you for a tenure-track position. Since exceptions are rare, it makes sense to do research before you begin your search. If you're interested in community colleges, call some and ask whether or not a Ph.D. is required to teach full time in the department that interests you.
If you're interested in four-year colleges or universities, go to their Web sites and look up the background of the tenure-track faculty members. Look for titles like assistant professor, associate professor, and professor, unmodified by the phrases "visiting" or "adjunct." Concentrate on the backgrounds of those who have joined the institution fairly recently, no more than 10 years ago. Older faculty members may have obtained their positions when requirements were lesser.
Julie: There is also a trend in higher education in which some institutions or programs within institutions stress career-building. Some of these institutions and programs describe their faculty members as "working practitioners, experts in their field." By identifying and contacting some of these institutions, you may be able to find other arenas for your teaching abilities.
Mary: So let's assume you have the type of degree required by the type of institution where you hope to work. You want to tailor your C.V. to appeal to a hiring committee, but even before you do that, make sure to line up people willing to write appropriate letters of recommendation. People who have observed your teaching in adjunct positions would be natural choices.
In addition, try to get a recommendation from someone associated with your highest degree. If possible, arrange to meet and fill her in on your interests and plans. Give her copies of academic work, a copy of your C.V., your statement of teaching philosophy, and anything else you've prepared to use in your search.
Julie: Now you're ready to tackle your C.V. For most academic searches it will focus on your academic qualifications, like your education, teaching, research, and publications, and omit or refer only in passing to non-academic experience. However, with 25 years of experience in another field, you may want to find ways to include this information and make it meaningful to academic search committees. For example, if you've given many presentations, say so. If you have lots of professional experience in the area in which you hope to teach, such as law, performing arts, business or education, you should include that in your C.V.
Mary: On the other hand, show that you realize higher education has different hiring priorities by being willing to drastically condense your presentation of some parts of your background. Avoid undue emphasis on the level of responsibility you may have had. If you say, for instance, "Supervised staff of 20 and annual budget of over $2-million," a committee may wonder how serious you are about giving up that level of responsibility. Instead, include plenty of detail about your recent adjunct positions.
Question: I've had a successful career in public administration, but my heart's always been in the academy. So I took a year off to work full time toward a Ph.D. in the field, and, for many years since, have worked hard to complete the degree despite a demanding professional schedule. It was finally awarded this spring, and now I feel ready to pursue a faculty position. However, I know I'm far from a typical candidate and I'm wondering what departments will think of me.
Mary: Their first question, and one which you may ask yourself as well, is whether you're willing to take the salary cut that an assistant-professor position will probably require.
Julie: The second one, which may not be verbalized, is how your unusual background could benefit the department. You need to find a way to show in your C.V. and cover letter (as well, of course, in interviews) why your public-service experience and your new Ph.D. make you a special and desirable candidate.
Mary: You will probably do best in applications to departments with an applied/professional orientation, rather than those with a theoretical or research orientation. Think creatively about how you could use your background and contacts to help build the department. Could you run an internship program for academic credit, easily identify public figures to bring into class as speakers, or develop a course to be offered for employees of a public agency? If you've developed a passion for research, consider applying for postdoctoral positions as well, if you can possibly afford them, to build the kind of research record that will be required by a research-oriented department.
Julie: While a graduate student, you probably attended conferences, made presentations, and published some of your research. Make sure those accomplishments are clearly highlighted on your C.V. You should also include a research statement or something that shows you have thought out plans for research. If you had the chance to teach while you were in graduate school, be sure to include a teaching section. If you didn't, think about what you can teach and include a "Teaching Interests" section. You might also consider teaching a few courses as an adjunct while you apply for permanent positions to build your teaching background.
Mary: In both these cases, it's important to show that one can make the transition to a new form of employment by, as much as possible, acting as if the transition has already been made. By using the language of academic culture, stressing what will interest your potential colleagues, and emphasizing where you hope to go as well as where you've been, you make it possible for hiring committees to see you as an unusual, but highly qualified, candidate.
However, making this kind of transition, particularly when one does not have the Ph.D. or other degree normally required, is difficult. Don't abandon your current career while you're looking to make a change. If necessary, be willing to expand your goals to include other types of work, such as corporate training, which provides some of the same satisfactions as does teaching in higher education.
In one of our next columns, we will continue discussing being an "older" candidate, especially issues of age discrimination. If you have developed ways you feel you've successfully dealt with this issue, we'd love to hear from you. Please send your comments to email@example.com We may quote from some of these e-mail messages in our column, but names and other identifying information will be removed.