In Defense of the Adjuncts

Adjuncts have a place in academia. Unfortunately, the positions often occupy the wrong space. Let me explain.

First though, I need to clarify some things. I had originally intended to write this post about how adjunct positions are the perfect opportunities for people who left academia but still want to teach and be part of the academic world, people like myself. I believe that adjunct positions were originally primarily composed of people like me – non-academic professionals who can bring a unique view to the classroom. While I will expand on this later, I am unfortunately now a minority in the adjunct world.

I was inspired to shift the focus of this post when I read a recent article in The Guardian that reminded me just how many academics are full-time adjuncts. This by itself seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true. Getting a job in academia is hard. Getting a tenure-track position can be downright daunting. I recently wrote about my decision to leave academia, and while the sole reason was not because of the dearth of positions and my relative “success”, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t play a role. I have peers, friends, that are great scientists and educators that ended up having to “settle” for what they could get.*

Too often are scientists are scientists being forced to adjunct, sometimes for years, while they apply for tenure-track, or even just full time (e.g. VAPs, instructors), positions, just to stay in the field and stay relevant. And adjunct positions do not pay well, oftentimes few, if any, benefits, and require as much, if not more, time and attention than full-time positions.** Something like >70% of instructional workforce in higher ed is composed of adjuncts.*** This is not the role adjuncting was designed to fill, at least that’s the general consensus. Here are some more really depressing stats about the adjunct world (you’re welcome).

I sat for a while staring at my computer to think about a good segue into the actual original intent (and title) of this post – making the case for adjunct positions. I’m still going to do that; however, I recognize the hardships and current climate of the issue. While adjuncting is an unfortunate way of life for some, it offers the perfect opportunity for non-academics to keep teaching. This is my goal, to have my full-time position in science policy and communication while holding a position as an adjunct at a college or university in the DMV. I love teaching. I originally wanted to be a high school teacher before I learned how much I loved research. And while I have given up research,**** I do not want to give up teaching. This past summer I was fortunate enough to teach a field course in disease ecology, something that I’m hoping to do again (it’s a difficult balance when you work a 12-month, non-academic schedule, but I’m going to make it work). I missed teaching and I want keep doing it.

I guess the big question is if I’m “stealing” opportunities from those who want to stay in academia and want (need) these positions to gain the experience that they lacked in grad school to obtain a full-time position. Well, maybe, but I don’t know what to do about that…

*I also have friends who have the position they’ve always wanted so I shouldn’t completely disparage the institution.

**Again, in no way am I disparaging those who word incredibly hard in full-time positions.

***Numbers may vary. Regardless, it’s high.

****I am no longer running my own studies but I do still collaborate with amazing friends and peers that are kind enough to keep me looped into their worlds.


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