If you love to teach and have a passion for your industry, you may want to consider part-time work in higher education. Here’s how to become an adjunct professor.
In this role, you teach courses just like a professor with tenure, but without the same responsibilities (or pay). Typically, an adjunct professor is an educator hired on a contractual, part-time basis, often teaching introductory undergraduate or prep courses semester-by-semester throughout an academic year.
While there typically isn’t any job security, you’re not required to conduct research, publish papers or even attend staff meetings — which can be a pro or con, depending on what you hope to gain from your professorship. In some cases, you’ll be teaching in a classroom; in other cases, you might be teaching a course in a distance learning environment.
Despite the contractual nature of the work, getting a job as an adjunct professor still requires an impressive resume. You may want to consider this kind of appointment as a side gig; or, if you’re hoping to work your way toward a tenured position, it occasionally serves as a stepping stone. Here’s why you might want to consider becoming an adjunct professor, and how to go about becoming one.
How to become an adjunct professor: Finding a job
Overall, employment of post-secondary instructors — both part-time and full-time — is projected to grow 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 It’s a growing sector, particularly for part-timers.
“There are expected to be more job opportunities for part-time postsecondary teachers since many institutions are filling vacancies with part-time rather than full-time teachers. There will be a limited number of full-time tenure-track positions and competition is expected to be high,” according to the Bureau.
Typically, to be considered for a job as adjunct professor, you need a master’s or doctoral degree, though some community colleges or technical schools hiring for these faculty positions may only require a bachelor’s degree along with relevant work experience. Most, however, will require some teaching experience, as well as knowledge of course management software programs such as Blackboard and CourseWeb.
The trick is, how can you get that teaching experience if you can’t get a teaching job? A good place to start is through a graduate teaching assistantship, where you — as a student — teach classes at the institution you’re enrolled in. If you’re in the sciences, postdoctoral research (where you work as a research associate at a college or university) would count as teaching experience.
In other cases, having relevant hands-on work experience outside of academia is a more important factor, particularly in fields such as healthcare and the arts. From there, you could look for an assistant adjunct professor position to gain teaching experience.
One important part in how to become an adjunct professor is patience. According to Career Trend, “patience is one gift you will need in your search for an adjunct position… It may take several years before that call comes asking you to fill a position.” It advises that you watch the colleges you applied to for openings and remind them regularly that you are available.2
How to become an adjunct professor: Pros and cons of the role
The path to becoming an adjunct professor isn’t an easy one, and the disadvantages have been well publicized. The job is temporary, with no benefits, and compensation is lower than tenured professors. Many adjunct professors will work at the same institution for years, on a contract by contract basis with no job security, often across multiple campuses.
Salary is often based on a per-course or hourly basis, and ranges anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000 per class (adjunct professors typically teach no more than three classes per semester). The national average salary for an adjunct professor in the U.S. is $27,843, based on data submitted anonymously by adjunct faculty employees to Glassdoor3. This is fine as a side gig, but isn’t considered a living wage.
Adjunct professors may end up doing the same amount of non-classroom hours as professors with tenure — since there’s no cutting corners when it comes to lesson planning or grading assignments — for less pay. And they don’t work enough in-classroom hours to earn health insurance or other employee benefits.
Another consideration: Adjunct professors typically aren’t offered dedicated office space and may feel isolated from tenured staff (though for introverts, that may be a pro).
On the other hand, working as an adjunct professor allows you to focus on teaching, rather than the administrative tasks and responsibilities that come with tenured professorship, with the flexibility to pursue other interests.
It’s a way to test the waters of a teaching career — or it can be a fulfilling side gig for those who want to pass on their knowledge and inspire a new generation of students.
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- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
- Career Trend. (2017, July 5). How to become an adjunct professor. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://careertrend.com/how-2165669-become-adjunct-professor.html
- Glassdoor. Adjunct Faculty Salaries in United States. Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.ca/Salaries/us-adjunct-faculty-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,18.htm