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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / April 2017 / Adjuncting: Yes You Can

Adjuncting: Yes You Can

News Article by Zachary Murphy, PhD Candidate and "Roving Educator"

Brockport SignThose of us that want to be college educators, yet are still in our PhD training, face the problem of experience. As is the case with any job graduate students and post-docs will be applying for, you need experience. The gold standard for experience in order to be a faculty member at a primarily undergraduate institution is teaching in the classroom. Previously I have shared a collaborative approach that I took to achieve experience in the classroom through an American Society of Cell Biology’s program. These types of opportunities, however, can be few in number and hard to find. When looking for teaching at the college level, this commonly leads to the adjunct position. This is working on a semester-by-semester basis to teach one or more courses at a college or university.

So while adjunct teaching would be great for my professional development, is it even an option? From what I have heard from fellow students, there exists a set of beliefs about adjunct teaching: 1) you cannot adjunct without a PhD, 2) you must apply for these positions through a college/university job site, 3) it is considerably more work than the hours and pay suggest, and 4) there is simply no hope of doing this while a graduate student. Using my recent experience as an adjunct instructor and lab coordinator at SUNY Brockport, I would like to address these beliefs and hopefully persuade future educators out there to pursue these experiences.          

You cannot adjunct as a graduate student.

False. As the introduction to this article may have given away, one can absolutely be an adjunct instructor. Though almost all adjunct opportunities will require a Master of Science degree, the University of Rochester (generally) grants one to a graduate student that has completed his/her qualifying exam. So no excuses for those 3rd and 4th year students!

You must get an adjunct position through a university job hiring website.

False. This point may be obvious to some. In the current climate, quite often these positions are gained through the people you know. I was fortunate enough to adjunct for a course at SUNY Brockport this past fall semester. The semester began around late August. When did I submit my application for the position? That would be never. Simply put, I got the position by knowing and speaking to the right people. By using a cold email approach, I met earlier in the year with several instructors at Brockport to discuss career paths and opportunities. As a follow up to those meetings, several faculty were kind enough to forward my CV to the chair of the biology department. When a position opened up in the department, opposed to taking the many steps to set up a job announcement, my CV was pulled off the pile and the position ultimately offered to me.

Now to be fair, there are often many postings on job boards for adjunct teaching. I have little personal experience applying through them and I feel the general rule still remains: make sure you are known personally through contacts and not just on paper.  

Adjunct teaching is more work than the contact hours listed.

True, a thousand times true. This cannot be overstated enough. If you feel you were busy as a graduate student, just wait until you experience the time requirements as an adjunct on top of research. Ultimately, how much time you spend as an adjunct each week will depend on two main factors. These are the course you are teaching and the contact hours you have.

First, the course you are teaching. If it is the first time the course is being taught and you must develop the curriculum, this will exponentially add to the time that the course takes. Courses that are taught on a repeat basis with some level of the curriculum in place will require less work in the preparation portion. Yet do not be deceived. In my experience teaching a course with a design already in place, I easily had to prepare for two to three times the total length of the class prior to each class. For example, I taught a three hour lab and a one hour lecture. This meant I put in around six to ten hours of prep for the lab and three hours for the lecture each week.

This leads into the second aspect of contact hours. Each week, you will accumulate an amount of hours that you are actually in a classroom with students. These hours will set the pay that you receive. A common course will be around three contact hours, with a full-time teaching load being twelve contact hours. At Brockport I would finish with a load of twelve contact hours a week, a significant amount of time to be away from the lab. Adding in the 10 to 15 hours of prep with another 5 to 10 of grading and assessment, this meant a grand total commitment of about 25 hours a week. With drive time and office hours, my adjunct experience easily took 30 hours of my week, but I was only paid the 12 contact hours to which I originally agreed. All of this is a long winded way to say that adjunct teaching is a commitment far beyond what your contract may say.

There is no way that you can adjunct teach while in graduate school.

False. Despite what the previous section may seem to convey, adjunct teaching as a graduate student is possible and rewarding. However, it is important that this is a process that is not taken lightly. First off, despite your best intentions, it is likely adjunct teaching will cut into your time in the lab. Therefore any position must be taken with the advisement and support of your mentor. Additionally, you must be prepared for the real possibility that adjunct teaching may delay or impact your research somewhat. This was something that I fought hard to avoid. Though I still put in the same number of lab hours and reading, it would be dishonest to say that I was as productive during my adjunct teaching as I was before or after it.

To end on a positive note, adjunct teaching is extremely rewarding, an excellent experience, and a clear demonstration of your ability to fit into a future faculty role as an educator. Faculty at undergraduate institutions are often expected to teach a full load, provide service to the university and community, and also continue their scholarship in the form of research and scientific endeavor. Adjunct teaching as a graduate student is a clear demonstration of your drive and ability to continue a research project while also teaching in a classroom. Though it may seem (and was) a long and sometimes painful process, I highly recommend that future educators push for these opportunities while in graduate school and as post-docs.

Happy teaching!

Tracey Baas | 4/7/2017

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