My Job Search Experience

I intended to begin by enumerating the ways in which my search for a full-time faculty position is unique. I expected it to be a more statistical list than Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” and a much more modern one. But then I realized that everyone’s job search is unique, just in different ways, and The Incredibles came to mind. “If everyone’s special, then no one is.” Clearly I will be searching online postings, researching colleges, creating cover letters, and requesting references. But there are plenty of job-search guides for academics, and so I came full circle to the other-ness of my search for a full-time faculty position.

Fifteen years ago I left a wonderful tenure track position to raise my children. It was not an easy choice, but it was a necessary one for me. My colleagues understood and supported my decision, which was more of an encouragement than they knew. I never intended to leave academia permanently; I just had a different priority for a time.

For the last seven years, I have happily taught as an adjunct. My full-time position’s title is Mother and I teach part-time at the college because I love teaching and can’t stand to stay away. I am grateful for the time I have had with my sons as well as for the classes I have had the opportunity to teach. Since I teach mostly nights and weekends, my students have been very much like me, doing something else full-time and going to school to improve the quality of their lives. Like many of them, I am now in search of the next part of the dream.

This will be my last year as a part-time adjunct. Next year my status will change. Either I will be teaching full-time at a local college or I will join the ranks of adjuncts who piece together part-time work to make a very thin quilt of full-time employment.

For many the job search requires fifty to two hundred applications, but mine will not. I am location-restricted. At the most I can apply to eight universities, fourteen campuses from within three community college systems, and one technical college. My application maximum, then, will be twenty-three.

Those twenty-three school choices make me location-fortunate and I know it. Many other applicants in similar circumstances will be looking at a situation more like I would have had in the last place we lived, a medium-sized town with a large university and a single community college system that was always fully staffed due to the high numbers of dual-career academics. Full-time adjuncts there have to travel two or three hours in several directions.

Another plus for my job search is that I will not be making costly trips to different areas to see if a school will be a fit. I know most of the colleges and universities in the area fairly well. As an academic, any discussion of higher education has always had me perking up my ears. I know generally which universities require high research levels and which are primarily teaching colleges. I know which of the community college systems have a better reputation and which have guaranteed admission agreements with universities throughout the state. These things matter to me because what I prefer to do is teach.

Unfortunately, I learned this past spring that I did not know all the schools in my area as well as I thought. One university, with a reputation as a strong teaching college, has begun the transition to a research institute in the last two years. When that particular university advertised my dream job, I decided that my family situation could handle the stretch of one year before the optimal and I applied for the position.

While my CV was sufficient to gain two interviews, the college did not hire me and the department chair gave me a strong indication of why. “How am I going to prove to the president that you’re worth hiring when you haven’t done anything in fifteen years?” she asked.

I haven’t done anything! In the past fifteen years I have completed my language requirement for my PhD, written and defended my dissertation (which has been used by someone else for their research), and taught as an adjunct, while raising two sons, one of whom would have been in special education classes without my intervention and is now in college. That’s not exactly nothing, I thought.

Once I got over my defensiveness, I realized what the chair meant. She had been talking about the fact that I had neglected research. For the last fifteen years I haven’t even thought about conference presentations or publication. Part of that time I couldn’t have afforded to go to any conferences and I’m not sure I would have had anything to say anyway, but certainly during the last seven years I could have made the effort. And I should have. Research and the subsequent presentations and papers keep the field growing and while the continuing education classes I took might have helped me improve my teaching, I didn’t give back any insights or knowledge to the academic community.

I did not realize when I applied to the university that they were changing their focus or I might not have applied. But I am glad I did. The question, though painful at the time, catapulted me out of my complacency. I have since had two papers accepted at regional conferences and have three more in review. I also have had a national conference accepted and two that I am researching and writing now. My publications list is not yet any longer than it was at that interview, but I am writing and submitting.

The question, through my attendant response, has also helped revitalize my classroom. I have looked at my teaching to find what I have learned, what I have done well, and what best practices I have identified. I have taken those and polished them up for viewing by other instructors.

This review process has given me a new perspective and I am integrating the things I have learned back into my classroom. For example, as I was reviewing my syllabi this summer, looking for topics of interest, I realized that a favorite teaching unit had been dropped. This fall it is restored. I also found that somewhere along the way I had moved a unit from the course it belonged in and attached it willy-nilly to the course I teach. That only happened this last year and I am not quite sure how the unit migrated, but it is now off that syllabus. My teaching will be better because of my reassessment and my students will be enriched. That makes the soul searching and the presentation crafting worthwhile even if no tenure track job results.

And I have passed on what I have learned. When I was recently asked by a woman who is planning to stay home with her children what she should do to make sure she can get back into academia, I added to the general advice she had received from others of “be an adjunct” and told her that she ought to make participation in conferences a priority as well. Hopefully that will ensure she won’t have the experience of sitting in an interview and feeling unexpectedly inadequate.

Obviously I am hoping that the writing and presenting will help me secure a full-time faculty position. When I pursued a doctorate in rhetoric and composition, it was with the intention of teaching writing for the rest of my life. Even though other important responsibilities intervened, I want to go back to teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and business writing on a regular basis. My dream job has all those plus the requirement that the faculty member teach classes in early British literature, which is my second field and my literary love. I am still pursuing my dream job.

I would prefer to teach at one college, working within that institution’s needs, and embracing the academy from a full-time position. Just as hundreds of others who are job searching this fall, I have taken steps toward securing a full-time faculty position. I have poured over the advice columns in The Chronicle to improve my chances of getting a job. I have created a teaching portfolio that outweighs my dissertation. I have updated my vita to include the conferences at which I will present. And I have started watching the job listings with the knowledge that this will be my last year as a part-time adjunct, one way or another.

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