The Chronicle of Higher Education has been taking another look at the life of adjuncts. In one of the most balanced approaches to the subject I’ve ever seen, they have released a series of first person videos of adjunct faculty describing their experiences as adjuncts. If you have ever though about following this path, or fear you may not have any choice in the matter, you owe it to yourself to take a look at these. They are unabashedly frank stories. They are also beautifully filmed and edited – kudos to the production team! Here’s a summary clip – individual segments are on the site (text continues below).
Some of the speakers seem to be pretty happy with their positions. These folks generally have other sources of income which ‘adjuncting’ supplements, or several positions at different colleges. The rest would prefer tenure track positions, but for one reason or another aren’t able to land one – not surprising these days – so are trying to keep the doors to academe open. These folks form two sub-groups: the resigned and the bitter, and I do mean bitter.
All the speakers seem share several important characteristics. They all love to teach and put a great deal of (unpaid) time and effort in to ensuring their students’ learning experiences are positive. They all express a deep passion for their fields of research and they have all felt marginalized or ostracized by tenured or tenure track faculty for not being ‘real’ academics.
In Canada, some universities have experimented with multi-year contracts for full-time teaching associates, a trend covered in University Affairs last year. This strategy was intended to help university administrators meet the teaching demands of burgeoning enrollments without sacrificing the quality of their institutions’ research. Since one academic simply can’t keep up with both demands, they divided the expectations between two – one whose sole function was to teach, the other who taught but had increased time to research.
Not surprisingly, faculty associations, and indeed most people concerned about the universities growing reliance on cheap, undervalued contract faculty were considerably less enthusiastic. Undeniably, it provided a welcome respite from the annual uncertainty of most contract faculty, but I suspect wholesale adoption of such practices would bring the labour disputes felt so strongly in Ontario this past year across the country.
Where do I stand on this? Well, for the most part, I am in the camp of academics who are appalled by the working conditions of most contract faculty in Canada and believe that the percentage of faculty forced to work their entire careers in such circumstances is eroding the quality of university education in Canada.
Having said that, I do recognize there are probably hundreds of contract faculty, especially those truly working part-time in one institution by choice rather than trying to stitch a living together across multiple institutions, who are absolutely satisfied with their positions. In fact, I may end up joining those ranks myself. I believe strongly that there is an important role for contract faculty in academe, especially where they can bring the perspectives and experiences of non-academic contexts into the classroom. But contract faculty should never be used to replace tenure track faculty or as a an administrative solution to a budget crisis.
For those of you on the tenure track, or intending to go that route, please listen to the videos on the link above, and remember, should you actually realize your dreams, that contract faculty are your peers, your colleagues – perhaps even more skilled than you in some areas. Treat them with the respect that any highly trained professional deserves, that you hope to be treated with if that’s where your path ultimately leads you.
In the meantime, where do you stand on this?
If you haven’t yet, take a few minutes and browse through the new batch of videotapes from Congress this year on Academic Blogging. Although this may seem like shameless self promotion since yours truly is one of the panelists, I do think that blogging presents an interesting variation of social networking for academics. It’s not unusual now for faculty to have a website outlining their research, publications and CVs, but apart from occasional updates, these are rather static affairs.
Academics blogs however offer a much more dynamic way to disseminate your thoughts and encourage dialogue and input, akin to the days of yore when academics had time to regularly discuss their research with colleagues, often over a brew in the local pub. Alas, those days rarely, if ever exist for today’s faculty. Blogging can be an alternative that may not be as satisfying socially, but nonetheless has the potential to fill an important gap left when academics can’t manage to meet face to face due to conflicting schedules, time zones or distance.
The most prolific academic blogger in my field, Henry Jenkins is a senior-level faculty whose blog is a cornerstone in the area of participatory culture, which he founded. However, blogging can also be a useful vehicle for emerging scholars. A well-designed blog with thoughtful posts can establish the value of your research in your area of expertise. And, it can also provide a ‘way in’ to your field for undergrads seeped in the culture of social networking for whom traditional academic journals may initially be too much to digest. By providing a link to your blog on your homepage and doing a little shameless self-promotion amongst your family, friends, colleagues and students, you will be able to establish a respectable following over time.
It’s not necessary to post daily, but to keep your blog interesting, try to post regularly. Providing an RSS feed will make it easier for people to follow your blog, as they will be notified whenever you post new content. If running your own blog seems like a huge commitment, consider starting a blog focused on a hot topic in your field with a couple of your colleagues. You can take turns composing posts, and the diversity of voices will add variety to the blog and prevent it from getting stale.
The blogging tool I am most familiar with is WordPress. It is both accessible for the neophyte and freely downloadable from http://wordpress.org/. You can post text, graphics, audio and video content, as well as links to other sites. WordPress also provides a neat app for adding polls and quizzes into your blog that can boost the interactivity of your readership. By inserting a range of media and resources, you will keep your blog stimulating and enjoyable to read – and hopefully one that others want to link to, as well.
While blogging will never be a substitute for scholarly publication, it can be a useful addition to your academic profile. It may come in handy during a job search or T&P process. If there is an academic blog that you think is well done, please post a link to it on Career Sense so we can take a look. It would be great to have a range of samples from various disciplines.
Transitioning out of academe can be a culture shock when you’re used to the ideological norms of higher ed. I was reminded of this when I was reviewing Dan Schwabel’s megahit in the field of recruitment: Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success. Don’t know about you, but titles like that make me cringe on so many levels. The problem is, once you get past his unabashed embrace of commercialism and egocentricity, at the core of his book is something of relevance to academics.
Schwabel is the boy-genius behind the “personal branding” phenomenon (yuck) that is sweeping HR departments and across the continent. He describes this unfortunate phrase as:
[T]he process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leverage it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility advance their careers, and build self-confidence (his italics, Me 2.0, p. 4).
As much as I thought I would be writing this guy off, he makes many really good points that are uncannily applicable to the academic job market. I thought that right now, on the cusp of the 09-10 academic recruitment season, would be a good time to translate his suggestions into something of relevance to those of you getting ready to mail out application packages.
First, differentiate yourself – you will be competing against people with very similar backgrounds to yourself, give or take a conference paper or publication. In order to be short-listed, and invited in for a job talk which gives you a chance to really shine, you need to strategically define yourself as a (wait for it) intellectual and pedagogical “product.” What is it about your teaching, your research, your participation within the university community that makes you unique? Schwabel calls this your value proposition – it’s that thing that assures you that you’d be a really good professor.
Second, enhance your reputation and credibility as an expert. Well, if there’s one thing you’ve been trained to do it’s this. Incidentally, if you ever leave academe, your strength in this area, even if it feels more façade than fact, will help you to achieve the first point of differentiating yourself.
This somewhat tautological concept becomes less so when we apply Schwabel’s third suggestion: keep it real. Ok, he uses the word “authentic,” but that word is now so clichéd it’s unusable in most conversations. If you are honest and clear to both yourself and your search committees about your strengths and skills; if you are strategic about where you would be most valued, even in a tight job market, you are much more likely to find doors opening – both inside and outside academe.
Although the term “personal branding” may make you shudder, try to get past the unsavory connotations and see where it could be useful in your job search.