Why It’s Hard for Adjuncts to Find Other Jobs


Matthew Ussia, a full-time, non-tenure-track English professor at Duquesne (who, until recently, cobbled together a living as a part-time adjunct), explained in an email:

“This means that people who want to get out can look in the summer and for two weeks around Xmas to change careers, but other than that they’re stuck. I was talking to a colleague last week who told me that she saw the most perfect non-academic job for her in Boston the week before, but since we were already 3 weeks into the semester, she couldn’t imagine ditching her students mid-semester. There’s a real sense of duty that comes with the job.”

We’ve covered a little bit about some of the financial difficulties adjunct professors face here, and at Slate, L.V. Anderson addresses a question that often comes up in these discussions: Why don’t adjuncts just find other jobs?

Photo: Seth Sawyers

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13 Comments / Post A Comment

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

Oh please. This article just reeks of self-pity. If an adjunct finds a better job, his or her adjunct role would probably be filled within 24 hours.

@WayDownSouth I think you’re missing the point…

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@apples and oranges Perhaps. If you could please explain the point to me, then hopefully I’ll be able to understand it

@WayDownSouth The point being that most people become teachers/professors for a reason. They love the subject matter and the ability to reach young minds. As much as that person may want to leave, they most likely feel a sense of duty to see the school year/semester through before leaving. It goes beyond just looking out for yourself. Also many people probably also find it hard to leave because again they love to teach and are forced out because of financial reasons. Again its not just a black and white situation.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@TheDoctorsCompanion Thanks for answering my question. I don’t mean to appear snarky — I appreciate that many teachers enjoy teaching. I come from a family of teachers and respect the work that they do. Many teachers love their jobs and willingly accept the financial constraints.

For many teachers, the profession doesn’t pay that well (with some exceptions, such as older unionised teachers in California). For graduate students especially, the working conditions aren’t easy and the pay is quite small. Therefore, I do understand why they want to leave and get a better-paying job outside. The lower pay and long hours spent grading papers is the reason why I chose another occupation.

However, I do question the article’s stated very small window of opportunity for leaving. Especially for adjuncts, it’s relatively easy for the school administration to swap one teacher in for another. Supply greatly exceeds demand. If a person teaches a introductory English class, for example, a replacement can be organised very quickly. I’m not sure that it makes any real difference to the students about who is front of the lecture hall for adjunct classes.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@WayDownSouth maybe the students wouldn’t care (I actually think they would at the very least find it disruptive, but I’ll concede that possibility). it’s not just that though. syllabi are often very individually designed; it’s not necessarily the case that other available instructors will have read all of the course texts, & if they haven’t, it’ll be hard for them to take over a class without sacrificing some degree of its effectiveness.

additionally, since adjuncts are usually paid per course, they can’t just be swapped into a new role without any administrative back-end, & in a lot of universities that’s a highly bureaucratic process that can’t happen overnight. the semester (or especially the quarter) moves quickly, & it’s a big deal if students are left without an instructor for even a class or two.

I definitely agree that lifetime adjuncting is often a self-defeating career choice, & it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to break out of it if you’re so inclined. but if you’re committed to teaching, it’s easy to see how you’d have moral qualms about making a sudden departure when you knew it was very likely that your students’ education would be compromised as a result. plus, academia is a very insular community, so doing something like that would likely completely torpedo your reputation (& a lot of non-professor jobs for PhDs still have an academic component–working in administration, at libraries, etc.–so the long-term career implications of that are significant too).

…it’s a complicated & shitty situation with no easy solution. the best advice for current grad students is to stay realistic about your job prospects & think about backup plans if you don’t find your way into a tenure-track job. some people do find viable adjuncting positions but if you can’t support yourself doing it, you should be looking for other options early & often.

andnowlights (#2,902)

My biggest fear related to my husband’s career is him doing all this (amazing) work and ending up as an adjunct. Statistically, it’s unlikely as his program has a 99.9% placement rate but oh heavens, it’s terrifying to think about.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@andnowlights 99.9% placement?! not in the humanities then, I assume (& in that case, he’ll probably be fine even if he’s one of the unlucky .01%). I don’t think the beleaguered perma-adjunct thing is nearly as prevalent in the STEM fields.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@andnowlights It IS in the humanities, which is why it’s terrifying. The 99.9% placement record is still true, though, for his adviser, who is super well known and well-respected. I said program but misspoke- it’s his adviser who has that record.

He’s also doing a cross-discipline program that is vaguely STEM field related, which will help him a lot. All signs point to him being absolutely employable, but “lawd have mercy” as one of my college roommates said with great frequency.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@andnowlights ooh now I’m super curious…I’m all about interdisciplinary crossovers between the humanities & other fields, so that program sounds really cool. if you want to talk shop, email me (nonvolleyball at gmail).

the academic job market is an absolute nightmare, but if you’ve got the right attitude (“I’m doing this because I care about pursuing this knowledge; I will find a way for it to enrich my personal & professional life even if I don’t end up in a tenure-track job some day”) I think it actually makes you more likely to end up as one of the lucky TT few. it’s so easy to get discouraged, but then you become bitter &/or desperate & I can’t imagine that doesn’t come across to search committees if you end up in an interview.

Christy (#3,892)

Yeah, I think this is largely bullshit. “I just care too much” to quit mid-semester. Have a self-preservation instinct, people!

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@Christy It may even teach the kids they are leaving an even more valuable lesson: sometimes “do what you love” just isn’t enough to keep a roof over your head and your belly full.

nonvolleyball (#305)

@Christy yeah, but quitting mid-semester might also have negative repercussions in terms of your career–see my comment to WayDownSouth above.

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