Sobriquet 84.3: The One-Year Faculty Position

For the past little while I've been thinking about writing a few academically-oriented posts aimed mostly at prospective and current graduate students as well as other young academics. This post will be the first in that series.

The views expressed here should not be taken to represent those of my current or past employers and are based solely on the observations and personal experiences of the author and several of his friends and colleagues, past and present. Additionally, it should be noted that the experiences and observations upon which this post draws are largely those of humanities scholars in general and literature scholars in particular, which may mean that  some of the comments below will not be relevant to or accurate for scholars engaged in other disciplines. That said, I hope this is of some use to those readers interested in pursuing a career in academia, regardless of their fields of interest.

Given that I am currently enjoying the summer following a one-year visiting assistant professorship and preceding the first year of a tenure-track position, it's no surprise that I have discussed temporary academic appointments with quite a few people. While I have been blessed with a wonderful experience, those of some of my friends have been less positive. Our conversations, accordingly, have yielded some interesting insights I think are worth sharing. For this reason, I have decided to start this series with the topic of the non-tenure-track faculty position. Below, you will find six positive observations and six negative observations that, I hope, represent a fairly broad range of experiences with temporary faculty appointments. In the interests of painting a fuller picture of the issue that that I have presented, I invite readers to discuss the post in the comments section below. 

But for now, here are a few thoughts on term faculty contracts:

The Pros:

1. A temporary faculty position can increase your chances of landing a tenure-track position. One of the most obvious benefits of the one- or two-year temporary faculty appointment is that it provides young academics with the opportunity to teach real college classes in their area of expertise rather than serving as teaching assistants. Search committees value classroom experience and your one-year position will certainly give you that. Similarly, many departments invite (if not require) temporary faculty members to attend department meetings and to engage in department activities. This background, too, will likely prove useful in showing potential future employers that you have the experience necessary to contribute immediately to their institution's faculty. Put simply, a temporary contract will make you stand out as an experienced teacher and member of an academic community, especially among the less-experienced applicants in or fresh out of graduate school. A temporary position is, in many ways, a stamp of approval from the hiring institution. You were a strong enough candidate for one school to hire you, right? Search committees will recognize this as they review your application materials.

2. Chances are, you will earn significantly more than you would if you were an adjunctWhile some institutions will pay you more or less the same salary as a tenure-track faulty member and others will pay you somewhat less than they give permanent folks, it's almost a certainty that you will earn a lot more money than you would as a contingent faculty member. Furthermore, while some adjuncting positions are better than others, you are much more likely to enjoy fringe benefits like health and dental coverage as a temporary faculty member than you would as an adjunct.

3. You will likely experience less pressure to publish and serve on faculty committees than you would if you were a tenure-track or tenured faculty memberSince you're not part of the department's long-term plans, chances are you'll not be expected to publish papers or attend conferences, though it might be encouraged. For someone who will have to spend a good deal of time, energy, and money applying for next year's job, this reduced set of scholarly expectations will certainly free up some time.

4. You can enjoy many of the benefits of permanent faculty members without feeling tied down to a department, institution, or geographic areaWhile the lack of job security is undoubtedly an anxiety-producing situation for many, it can also serve as a gap year for academics who have spent five, ten, or more years in one location and will, in the future, settle somewhere else. That open-endedness, in other words, can be as liberating for some as it is uncomfortable for others.

5. You get to be an adult. After years of being a student and living in a state of suspended adolescence, you get to do some of the same things that your high school and college friends with a career have been doing for years. You can travel a bit, for instance, now that you have some extra cash. You can move into the sort of housing the average graduate student only reads about. You can even stop riding public transit and take a cab once in a while. And now that you have an larger income, you can start saving some money to make up for the years you've lived paycheck-to-paycheck and start paying off any loan debt you may have built up. There's no small amount of relief in waking up one morning and realizing that you're finally living something like the life you'd imagined for yourself while subsisting on ramen noodles and sleeping on a former roommate's old futon.

6. You can feel proudGiven how difficult it is to find a job in academia that is more secure than adjuncting is no small accomplishment. A temporary position, while perhaps not your dream job, is, nevertheless, a sign that you've beaten the long odds against you and that your hard work in graduate school has not gone unnoticed. It may not be the destination you set out to reach when you became a graduate student, but you're certainly on the right track.

The Cons:

1. You may have a heavier teaching load than tenure-track and tenured facultyOften, though certainly not in every instance, a temporary faculty member is expected to teach more than tenured and tenure-track faculty. In many instances, this is the trade-off for not having to publish as much or participate as regularly in campus life as permanent faculty. This expectation, of course, means that you will have to spend more time preparing for your classes, grading, and holding office hours than you might otherwise like. While this may appeal to some teaching-oriented academics such as myself, it does mean you will have less time for scholarly pursuits and job applications.

2. You may be asked to teach unpopular classes at unpopular timesSome temporary faculty members are hired to replace permanent faculty members who have taken a leave of absence or are on sabbatical. Other temporary faculty members are hired specifically to teach classes with no regular instructor. These classes are frequently, though not always, introductory-level and/or required courses for non-majors. Permanent faculty members, having usually been hired to fill a departmental need in a particular subfield, can only teach a few such classes without depriving the department of course offerings in their given area of specialization. Temporary faculty members enable many departments to offer a larger number of such introductory-level and mandatory classes by taking on those very courses. Often, these courses are unpopular among both the student body (who frequently resent being "forced" to take a required class) and the faculty (who would much rather teach courses in their specialization to students who "want" to be there). In other words, you may receive comparatively little guidance from the more experienced instructors (who have not taught the class recently) and may encounter resistance from unenthusiastic students. Similarly, given your relatively low place on the departmental totem poll, it is not unlikely that more senior faculty members will pounce upon the most popular class times, leaving you to teach the 8:00 or the late-afternoon classes no one else wanted.

3. It's often difficult to meet people. While many permanent faculty members will no doubt welcome an individual working on a temporary contract to their department, the reality is that some faculty members will view you as transitory and make less of an effort to get to know you. You may notice a similar pattern among your neighbors. Furthermore, while your life is upside-down as you make the transition to a new town and a new institution with new colleagues and new traditions, it is not always easy to navigate the social matrix of what is, after all, an unfamiliar environment, especially if you have to spend your evenings looking for next year's job. Do not be surprised if you feel lonely, left out, or out-of-step with your new surroundings. While such an experience is hardly inevitable, it is certainly not uncommon.

4. You will probably spend a lot of time and money applying to jobs for the next yearIf you're on a one-year position, you may feel as if you've been granted an extension. Just like the student who receives an extra week or two to complete a project, you may initially feel a sense of relief at knowing your job search is over for a while. It will, however, soon dawn on you that the whole exhausting process of seeking employment that you've just finished is, in fact, looming in your immediate future.

5. The lack of job security can make some things, such as starting a family or purchasing a home, both difficult and riskyThe same sense of not knowing where you're going to be in the near future, geographically or economically, as you experienced as a graduate student will accompany you to your new position. Will you want to have a child without a sense that your income will remain consistent? Do you really want to be in a position where you will place a child in one preschool or elementary school only to have to pull him or her out in a year or two? Is purchasing a new car or home a good idea if you're not sure whether or not you'll be around the area in the future? Questions like these may not seem as pressing to some as to others but, inevitably, you will have to think about them. When a sense of personal expectation or a biological clock get involved, though, thinking about them can be a real ordeal.

6. Everything is new. While novelty can be exciting, it can also be exhausting. Moving, for instance, is rarely fun. Doing it every year or two can be very difficult emotionally, physically, and financially. Similarly, things like finding a new doctor or a good mechanic, opening a new bank account, and setting up utilities are frequently stressful. Imagine having to do that on an annual or bi-annual basis because, as a temporary faculty member, you will. In other words, that sense of unsettledness you experience upon entering an unfamiliar environment may subside as you become acclimated to your new life, but it will remain as a semi-dormant discomfort and you will always know that any sense of relief you may enjoy is just a reprieve and that the feeling will return, again and again, like a bad penny, until you finally land a permanent job.


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