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.