Thursday, August 14, 2008


Ask the Administrator: The First Adjunct Job

A faithful reader writes:
I am writing to get your advice about seeking adjuncting positions. I am finishing up my Ph.D. (godwillingandthecreekdon'trise) from Big Name University back east this upcoming June. I live out on the West Coast and would like to find some adjuncting work for the following year 2009-10 - in part to gain experience, in part of delay the geographical issues a full-fledged national job search would bring into my marriage, and in part to spend some time with my lovely Sweet Monkey who is a little newborn thing right now. I thought I would put together a list of all the schools within a hour + drive radius, the compose a letter to send to the dean of the humanities division. For what it is worth, I am in a 'timely' field - Islamic Studies - and many places seems to be adding classes in my specialty.
Any thoughts about what might make such a letter compelling and maximize my chance of landing a class or two? Should I also call or try to make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting? In terms of local institutions, do I need a different letter/approach for cc's, CSU's, and private universities? (I'll also probably send my letter to a couple of local seminaries, but I'd rather not teach there as I don't want to get pigeoholed into seminary teaching....).
If you have any thoughts you can share, I sure would appreciate it.

First, congratulations on having the presence of mind to weigh factors like geographic separation and parenting before making a jump. (And congratulations on the baby!)

In my observation, adjunct jobs often aren’t all that hard to find.  It’s the full-time ones that pose the challenge. Of course, Islamic studies is somewhat more specific than, say, General Psych, and my experience has been closer to the Atlantic than the Pacific. Readers with more local or field specific knowledge are especially invited to comment.

Adjunct hiring is typically done on an as-needed basis. If what you're offering doesn't fit what they need right now, then your general wonderfulness is beside the point. So if you want in, you need to figure out what they need, and show how you can give it to them.

The easiest way to do that – and I'm still surprised that more people don't do this – is to go through the course catalog for each college to which you intend to apply, and actually pick out the courses you believe you could teach. Then list those courses by name in your letter. Could you teach Intro to Religious Studies? Western Civ? Eastern Civ? Non-Western Religions? Sociology of Religion? It would also be a good idea to give some sense of timeslot availability. My chairs tell me, consistently and independently, that good daytime adjuncts are much harder to find than good evening adjuncts, since the evening pool includes high school teachers and people with day jobs. (I found the same thing when I was in their shoes.) If you can pick up those mid-day prime time sections, you go to the head of the line.

(Close reading of catalogs/course schedules will also tell you whether you want the humanities division, the social sciences division, or a particular department. It will probably vary by school, which is all the more reason to be specific.)

This may vary by region and personality, but I wouldn't recommend cold-calling. Include a few different ways to reach you, and be quick to respond when called. (I know that sounds basic, but honestly, I've seen last-minute staffing decisions made based on who returned a call first.) It's August, so they're probably in whack-a-mole mode at this point, trying to staff those last few stubborn sections; speed is of the essence. So if you don't usually use your cell phone, don't give them your cell number. If you give them an email address, check it frequently.

When you get called, the image you're shooting for is 'professional and ready.' That's not the same as 'deep,' necessarily. They want someone who can hit the ground running in just a few weeks; to the extent that you can convince them that you can do that, you should be fine.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers – what would you add (or correct)?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

I was in a similar position a few years ago and ended up with the adjunct sections I needed.

I think the letter approach is a good one. I'd also write a very brief follow-up e-mail a couple of weeks later and attach a brief CV for their consideration.

In terms of the letter, first indicate exactly how you are qualified (MA completed 2000 from X). Next, indicate exactly what your teaching experience is. Finally, explain what classes you could teach. Looking at their course catalog is a good start -- but then also do your best to look at their on-line registration system to see what they are offering this fall -- chances are decent that it will be similar.

In terms of the tone of the letter for various institutions -- that is hard to answer, mostly because all the institutions are looking at you as a fill-in person -- none of them are interested in how much you are planning to publish or how brilliant your dissertation are there to fill the gaps with decent teaching and no complaints.You might turn into a good inside candidate some day, but that is in the distant future...

Also, I'm not sure you need to rush these letters out on the same schedule as you would tenure-track applications. Right now, at my CC, we're finishing the schedule for Spring 09 -- and we won't even get tenured faculty schedules for Fall 09 until mid-semester. That lets you wait with the letters until at least mid-semester -- if not a bit later.... because the deans won't even know what is open until the tenured folks choose courses. If you write too early, they'll forget about your nice letter... I wrote mine in February and had "full" adjunct employment the following fall.
As well as the 'blanket' approach try and keep track of jobs that actually exist and apply for those directly. Most places post vacancies somewhere, often online, and if you get on their email lists they'll email them right to you and you can make sure your name is put forward rather than relying on someone else to pluck you from the pile.

Have your documentation in order. I've just applied for an 'emergency' posting (it looks like someone got a job and they are left with four courses to fill at short notice) and they want a standard application form, cv, a course outline, a teaching evaluations summary and two reference letters (one of my referees asked me to write the letter for her, too). Having this stuff ready in advance (at least the cv, eval summary and alert letter writers) will help you be prepared. You should be able to provide all of this documentation in hard and electronic format, too.

Get your childcare situation in order. As a parent adjunct this has been one of the hardest things for me to manage because of the unpredictability of when and where the gigs are.

Good luck, and congrats on Sweet Monkey!
There is good advise in Dean Dad's reply and in the two comments above.

A good clear letter, an attached vita, a followup by email are all good things to do. One of the key attributes of a good adjunct is being low maintenance. I am not sure how a letter shows that, but a clear and direct letter helps. :-)

I also agree with the idea of looking online. This is important because at different institutions hiring will be done at different levels. At my regional 4 year college chairs are responsible for adjuncts. Deans decide how many sections the chair can fill. So a letter to the dean would not be the most direct route. The letter might get filtered to the chair, but maybe not.

Make sure and be clear on your areas of teaching interest. When I was chair if I could find an interesting person who could cover an area where we had no classes after a quick pitch to the Dean I was usually given the leeway to hire someone to teach a special topics course. I would have quickly followed up on an islamic studies person!

And Dean Dad's point about daytime adjuncts is a good one. They can be hard to find. If you available then make sure and clearly indicate it. At my college students prefer daytime classes, but adjuncts often have day jobs.

Good luck.
To the questioner:

Although your specialty is topical, few places will be looking for an adjunct to teach a course in Islamic studies. That new course is probably being added for one of their current faculty ... but they might add a second section if there was demand and you were the supply. Your niche is probably in gen-ed humanities, possibly one with a non-western emphasis, for the time being.

To everyone:

If you don't want to start work NEXT WEEK, don't even think of sending something right now! If you do want to teach next week, check the on-line listings and call now, or yesterday. As one commenter noted, all you have to do is pull up their on-line registration system and look for a TBA where your name could be.

If you want to improve your job prospects (for an adjunct or otherwise) in the future, consider teaching a single section as an adjunct sometime this year. If you haven't taught before, that will give you the time to put in the extra prep needed for that first class. Experience is important for both you and them.

(The "jobs" topic on my blog has lots of relevant material, including a recent one specifically about CC jobs.)

As others noted, most places have a way to file an on-line application and/or maintain a file of qualified applicants. Since they will need the transcript that proves you have the Mx degree (or PhD) in hand and 18 hours in the content area, not just a CV, they like having a pre-qualified pool to contact.

Final bit of advice. Don't ever pick up a "last minute" section, one that has just been added due to demand. It's OK to be a last-minute hire, but you don't want your first section at some CC to be filled with drive-by applicants: "Hey, their sign says classes start on Monday. Maybe I should go to college this fall!"
I echo the "don't send anything now if you don't want to teach next week" comment. I'm trying to staff those last few fall 08 sections now, and anyone who sends me anything talking about next year will probably be forgotten by the time staffing for fall 09 rolls around.

Also, give a little time between when you do eventually send your letter and your follow up. Many times, the folks that are responsible for hiring are responsible for a lot of other things as well. If there's a fire in another area the week you send your letter and you start calling/emailing multiple times right away, you may come across as a bother rather than an opportunity.
We're also finishing our Spring 2009 schedules right now, so I'd wait a little bit and mail out letters.

Several colleges have a diversity requirement, so that may be worth looking into as well when you peruse the course catalogs
As someone who hires adjuncts for one of those CSUs you might be interested in teaching for, what I'd say is more specific than what others have said. Most CSUs create pools once a year, the application deadlines are usually April. You're going to want to look beyond Religious Studies departments (though you should certainly look at them), for some of the now in favor interdisciplinary teaching that's available. Check the colleges of humanities for all their interdisciplinary programs. You'll also need to send a separate packet to each department, though by packet, I mean nothing onerous: a c.v., maybe a recommendation letter, maybe a sample syllabus. Good luck and I agree with Dean Dad that adjunct work can be less painful to find. I often wish for better pools with more ABDs and recent PhDs.
At a CSU, I suppose no one will want an adjunct to teach islam. But my (very recent as in just this summer) experience is that a liberal arts college may very well want you to add a section of introduction to Islam, especially in a department skewed toward Christianity and Judaism, as so many religious studies departments are. I would definitely lead with that, if it were my specialization.

At the same time, in addition to your training is Islam, I would highlight your ability to teach intro to religion, or world religions, or whatever the catalog says the 100 level courses are. If you can teach the history of Christianity or basic christian theology, you're in even better shape.

I would listen to the other commenter who knows about the csu system but in general, religious studies adjuncts seem to be in greater demand at smallish to mid-sized schools that have a religious studies or theology core, meaning all undergraduates are required to take some basic course in religious studies or theology. When it's a general requirement and it's a decent sized school, they're going to need lots of sections, which means they're going to need adjuncts. If you can teach those courses during the day, you're in great shape.

I got my current gig adjunct in religious studies by emailing the department chair--actually, I emailed several of them in the area--and outlining which courses I am able to teach, noting where they match the departmental service courses. I also attached a cv.

Several of them followed up with me but the one with the religious studies core needed the most immediate help.

the department chair that ended up hiring me also sent me to several other program chairs and directors across the college, people she thought might be interested in using me. That was kind of her. I really should have investigated across disciplines myself, especially since religious studies is interdisciplinary by nature. So you should do that.

I'm actually scheduled to teach in two different programs this year. During the interviews with both the chairs who hired me, I was asked if I could teach Islam. I can't. If I could have, they would have added a section and hired me to do it. I have no question. But that's because they don't have anyone qualified.

I'm not guessing that's necessarily going to be the case as a csu the way it was at a mid-sized regional comprehensive.
If you end up in California, don't count out the UCs as a place to adjunct. They won't let you do it for more than three years, but if you're in the area near a UC, you just might be able to find something that is specific to your discipline. I'd send out your CV in the spring (Marchish) to department chairs with courses that you could teach and see what happens.
Great advice here. I'd add that you should tell everyone you know that you are looking for part-time teaching at XCC, CSUX, UCX, St. X, and anywhere else (by name) that you can think of. You want to jog someone you know into saying, "Hey, my sister works in the Art Department" or "My neighbor is a research librarian there." Seriously, in my experience there is nothing like a small personal contact to grease your way into an adjunct slot. I have too much to say about this to put it all into a comment, but you've got me thinking about this and I think I'll post about it on my blog. Good luck with your search, and congratulations on your baby! (If good child care can be worked out, adjunct teaching can be pretty good for parents' schedules.)
Two more thoughts: First, as much as possible, contact the people who actually do the hiring. At my institution, that's department chairs in most cases. A letter to the dean would probably not reach the department chair. Second, look hard at interdisciplinary programs -- these are often short-staffed, and a PhD with an interest in Islam might come in handy.
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