University Business November/December 2019 - 60

LAST WORD

Why you should not become
an adjunct-yet
Some controversial and unpopular advice on ultimately succeeding in academia
By Matthew Wright

T

here is a lot in the academic
media these days about how
tough the working conditions
are for adjunct professors: little pay, significantly fewer resources, no benefits.
Even though the lifestyle is difficult,
many professionals with doctorates are
staying put and holding on to the dream
of academia-despite the fact that they
might be wildly successful doing something else.
They pour into our colleges and
universities, and many hope that veteran
faculty will be so overwhelmed by their
genius that they'll be hired on the spot as
permanent full-timers.
But here's the reality: Full-time faculty positions are in demand and will
probably end up going to other people.
So I am going to offer some advice to
future adjuncts that is really controversial
and highly unpopular.
Don't be one-until you look for a
job outside of higher education first.
Go outside of academia
If your dream is to become a faculty
member, don't waste away in adjunct
and visiting professor positions. Do
something profound outside of academia
once you've earned your doctorate, and
then worm your way back into higher
education after a couple of years.
While you're outside of the academy,
develop an arsenal of skills and a network of people. Explore solid, intellectual and well-paying jobs that can chal-

UBmag.me/adjunct
60 | November/December 2019

If your dream is
to become a faculty
member, don't waste away
in adjunct and visiting
professor positions.
lenge you while inspiring your growth
and success.
You may consider exploring positions at consulting firms, which serve as
good starting points for academics who
venture into the private sector. Such
firms provide training and help smooth
the transition. No matter what, know
that looking for the right job is difficult,
and it demands a team effort. Work with
everyone in your network, and rely on
your creativity.
Once you land a position, you'll be
able to prove to colleges and universities-especially in the humanities-that
you have real-world experience beyond
academia. In my case, the additional
training has been instrumental in how I
approach my professional activities, from
how I write to how I teach and how I
approach people.
Return to school
I am now a tenured professor and chair
of the physics department at Adelphi
University in Garden City, New York.
Being a professor is amazing. I love my
job. I basically get to set my own hours,
study whatever I am interested in, and
get to know some amazing people. I am
blessed and thankful to have this life.
But before I became a professor, I
took my doctorate and found a job at

Princeton Consultants. It's an excellent
firm. Each consultant did wonderful work. It was filled with intelligent,
friendly people-many of whom had
doctorates. Now, as a professor, I reference my work at that consulting firm
more times than I can count.
Having for-profit world experience
gave me prestige. It was satisfying work
with challenging problems to solve, and
it provided good money. I remember
walking onto a car lot and the dealer
encouraging me to take any car for a test
drive. Now, I am a professor. I walk to
work to save money, and until recently,
my wife drove a 2003 Dodge Stratus
with a broken transmission.
Let me be frank: Finding a full-time
teaching position at a university is tough.
Departments are usually focused on
hiring people on the well-worn path.
After trying and failing to score an offer,
I eventually did another postdoctorate
and was hired. But I made more money
and created more career opportunities
by leaving academia temporarily, rather
than lingering and hoping for the best as
an adjunct.
This isn't as bleak as it may sound.
If you obtained your doctorate, you are
bright, successful and resourceful. You
have skills that people need. So consider
taking those skills outside of academia for
a while, and using that experience to get
hired as a professor down the road.
There is no doubt that it made a difference for me.

Matthew Wright is an associate professor
and chair of the Department of Physics at
Adelphi University in New York.
UniversityBusiness.com


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