Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Adjunct Teaching

Toastmasters Competent Communicator Manual Speech #4

I have been looking for full-time employment for more than 1 year. The Great Recession of course makes this task difficult. My situation is further complicated by the fact I am changing career paths.

One year ago, I completed a PhD in Geological Sciences. I entered my PhD program with the intention of pursuing an academic research career. Now, however, my ideal job is one in which I directly apply the analytical skills I developed in graduate school to environmental problems.

Recently, I was offered a job, one that even requires a PhD.

This job is part-time with no health benefits, no retirement plan, no office, no job security, certainly no child care, and no prospects for advancement. The pay works out to about $5/hour.

I did not take this job, but I did take one that is very similar. The main difference is that I expect to make closer to $15/hour. If I actively limit the amount of time and effort I spend on this work, I can probably increase my pay to $20/hour. The less I work, the greater my financial reward.

(2 minutes)

Ladies and gentlemen, I am an adjunct professor, also known as an adjuct, and I am responsible for teaching your children.

Seventy percent of all university teachers in the United States are non-tenure track like me. Seventy percent. That number means that if you or someone you know is taking a college-level course, the odds are very good that the instructor is making about $3,000 to teach that class. Total. For the entire semester.

If an adjunct can find enough classes to teach, she can expect to make 25 to 30,000 dollars a year with no benefits, no stability, and very few prospects for professional advancement.

Why would anyone accept this job?

The main reason is flexibility. Many adjuncts are mothers whose husbands work full-time. They choose to work part-time while they are raising children, and these are the only part-time positions that are readily available to them.

Flexibility in location is also a major factor. Good jobs for PhDs are not always easy to come by. For those who are focused on obtaining tenure, moving to a new place that is far from friends or family is standard. Often, multiple cross-country or even international moves are required.

The location issue is very personal for me. It’s why I’m here in New York instead of Pittsburgh, where I was offered a permanent, well-paying job at a national laboratory. My husband, who also has a PhD, works for IBM, and my job prospects in New York are better than his job prospects in Pittsburgh.

Difficult decisions like ours are very common among PhDs, especially for women. An incredible 60% of women who hold PhDs are married to other PhDs. The majority of PhDs who move for family reasons are women, and for many of us, the end result is adjuncting. This phenomenon is so common, that some adjucts have started calling themselves the new faculty wives.

Objectively, I do not currently have a good job, but in today’s economy I am nonetheless very grateful to have it. I’m even excited about it.

My pay is higher than the national average for adjuncts because the adjucts at Pace University, where I will be working, are unionized. I have spoken to four other adjucts at Pace, and they all speak very positively about their experiences there.

My introductory-level geology class will refresh my understanding of basic concepts. I expect this general knowledge to be useful in other geology-related work at, for instance, an environmental consulting firm.

I will also develop a host of valuable skills, including my ability to convey complex concepts to members of the general public, to provide useful and timely feedback, and to facilitate group discussions.

My adjunct teaching position is a great opportunity for my personal growth at this particular time. I will strengthen both my understanding of basic scientific concepts and my communication and leadership ability. While my long-term career goals do not include adjunct teaching, the skills I am developing are highly transferable and will be extremely useful in my next position.

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