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

March 16, 2008, 5:39 pm

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.

This entry was posted in Contingent faculty, graduate school, If the Radical Doesn't Get to Work It's All Over, the Job Market. Bookmark the permalink.