Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Ask the Administrator: Breaking In

A young, disenchanted Ph.D. student in a Spanish program writes:

I am currently in the middle of my first year in a Ph.D. program and, well, I
don't like it. I have an MAT in my field already, but not from such a
prestigious institution as the one at which I am currently studying, which is
why I'm loath to drop the program entirely. However, I, like the
adjunct/waitress, really do enjoy teaching and would like this to be the focus
of my career, so I have been casually looking around for higher ed teaching
jobs, mainly at community colleges. What I would basically like to know is what
are the chances of a bright, well-recommended 26-year-old like me getting a FT
job if my teaching experience is limited to the six semesters I taught while
getting my MAT? Should I go the starving adjunct route first and try to build
up contacts in my new state before applying to FT jobs, or does that even
matter? Any advice to breaking into the cc field would be greatly appreciated.

There’s no magic number for the number of semesters of experience you need. Six isn’t bad for an entry level position, actually. Given your age, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect much more than that. In fact, some community colleges (not my own) actually prefer less experienced candidates, since they command lower salaries. (There’s one not terribly far from me that refuses, as a matter of admitted policy, to hire anyone to faculty who has more than five years’ teaching experience. They explain it as a budgetary move. I consider it unethical, but they do it.)

The burden on you will be to explain that you’ve rediscovered your first love, rather than simply falling back on teaching when the Ph.D. thing didn’t work out. I know that some people see community college positions as fallbacks, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. When I’m hiring, I want someone who actually wants to be here, not someone who just needs a port in a storm until something better comes along.

I’m not a big fan of “go[ing] the starving adjunct route” as a strategic move. I don’t know the circumstances of your graduate program; if you have some sort of stipend there, it might be advisable to ride the stipend for a year or so while you adjunct and apply elsewhere. If you have another source of income (say, a well-employed spouse), the adjuncting thing can work for a while. If you’re on your own, it’s awfully risky.

The good news is that Spring is typically the big hiring season for cc’s. We’ve learned the hard way that we get much deeper applicant pools in the Spring than in the Fall (that damned ‘fallback’ thing again…), and our fiscal situations are usually clearer in the Spring than in the Fall, so that’s what we do. If you choose to, I don’t know why you couldn’t send out applications over the next few months, aiming for a September start. Since your field isn’t as crowded as some others, I like your chances.

As my regular readers know, I take great exception to the common practice of treating extended adjuncting at a given college as a sort of audition, a prerequisite for a full-time job there. To my mind, it devalues graduate training, and severely devalues professional development for full-time faculty, instead promoting silly political games. That said, it happens. A foot in the door counts, in some cases, even if graduate training is supposed to be enough.

Good luck!

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

I agree with Dean Dad's bottom line. I also agree with him about disliking the extended audition approach; it turns adjuncting into an indentured servitude, but I still think you should do it, as explained below.

I agree with DD that the adjunct inside track is a reality. So, I would try to adjunct (for one thing, you can find out if you like teaching at a cc; it will be very different from teaching at your current prestigous institution). I agree with DD that you need to demonstrate a genuine desire to be at the cc, not seeing it at all as a fall back.

I recommend also doing committee work at the cc, getting to know the faculty in the department, and (if you are permitted) going to department meetings.

Another voice agreeing with DD. If you do choose to adjunct, take on one class and try to support yourself with a day (meaning health insurance and benefits)job. Institutions vary, so doing committee work at one may be invited, at others, it may be frowned upon. I would try to be as strategic as possible so that you are not exploited as an adjunct. Do committee work that interests you and furthers your professional goals. Pick a project (like technology) that is important to the college and show your interest in using it, learning about it and sharing what you know with your colleagues. Get to know faculty and go to department meetings if possible.
I did the "adjunct as audition" routine and it worked for me: I was hired after one semester. During that semester, I was active in the department in terms of attending workshops and speaking up. But I know many more people for whom this didn't work and who ended up on the adjunct treadmill for years waiting for a full-time job which never came.

I second the advice, though, about teaching one course at a CC to be sure that is the place you want to teach. While there be visible but not obnoxious (no, I can't say where that line is drawn) and demonstrate a real commitment to students--that's what we want to see. Good luck.
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