Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How To Be a Musicology Adjunct

Okay, here's a useful topic to blog about here: How to be an Adjunct. Adjuncting, or becoming "contingent labor" as it sometimes delicately put, is not a very fun life. The pay is not much, rough commutes are often involved, and the work is sometimes dispiriting. But in these Tough Economic Times, and in an era of shrinking tenure-track prospects, adjunct work can help fill the gaps. Or if you need to be located somewhere specific because of family reasons, or are trying to keep your hand in the game while raising kids or whatever, adjuncting can be great. I've been oddly successful at this, and as I've talked many of my friends through the process, I thought I would share some thoughts with you, dear reader.

How do you acquire adjunct work? Well, obviously, usually these hires happen informally, with a phone call to a friend who recommends someone. But say you've moved to a new city where you have no connections. What do you do? It is perfectly acceptable to cold email the appropriate person at local institutions. Don't harass them, and I wouldn't recommend telephoning, but nobody minds a random email out of the blue.

What to do:
1. Find a list of schools in your area. This might seem like an obvious point, but remember that no matter how long you have been an academic, there are schools you have never heard of. The key here is not to limit yourself--get in touch with every random Catholic/military/regional-state/for-profit/whatever school within your commuting distance. I recommend going to Wikipedia, where there are lists of schools for each state.
2. On the school's website, figure out who you should email. At smaller schools, there will often not be a music department, so you might need to look for a "Performing Arts" department or some such, maybe even just a general "Liberal Arts" department.
3. Email a nice polite message that says something to the effect of, "I'm here in town, can teach anything you want, so please keep me mind if you need any classes covered. Here's my CV just in case."
4. Remember, people qualified to teach music history are in shorter supply than you might think. This might be less true in Boston or New York, but if you are in some area without a local musicology graduate program, you might actually find yourself in demand, especially if you are finished with your doctorate.
5. There are usually two phases of hiring: in the beginning of the spring semester, when the schedule for next year is being finalized, and in the summer, when previously arranged classes suddenly need a teacher for whatever reason. Emailing around these times is a good idea.

What To Expect:
1. If you went to some fancy-pants university for your graduate degree, you will quickly learn that there are many things you have been taking for granted. This might include free parking, access to a functioning copy machine, an office, motivated students, etc. Don't be snobby. Welcome to the real world.
2. To be an adjunct at many schools is to be like a small child in certain households: you are there to be seen, not heard. By this I mean, don't expect any hand-holding. Some schools have adjunct orientations where they explain how to submit grades and whatnot, but that is uncommon. You will have to figure out most logistical things yourself, and adapt yourself very quickly to new and different student cultures. You'll need to be flexible and independent.
3. You're not going to get paid much, you realize? Good. And certainly you're not getting health care, unless you are lucky enough to be in a unionized environment like the Cal State system.
4. Enjoy yourself. Given the previous three points, this might seem counter-intuitive. But adjuncting is also an opportunity to hone your teaching skills, a chance to experiment with different techniques in an environment that is relatively hands-off. Go crazy; these teaching evaluations won't appear in your tenure file.

This post obviously just represents my own experiences in one area, and at a few schools. If you have any tips or suggestions, post 'em in the comments!


Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting post! I keep my fingers crossed that the economy will turn up in a few years, but in the meanwhile, adjuncting seems more promising than trying to be an independent scholar. However, so many areas already have "their person" who covers all the music appreciation classes around, and I'm sure those people cling to their jobs for dear life (who can blame them.) In any case, I appreciate your advice, and I hope you'll post more tips as you think of them.

better next time said...

#3 & #4 at the bottom are really important--especially when you remember to balance them with the "I can teach anything you can throw at me" attitude you (rightfully, I think) advocate. I had a rough experience teaching a class outside my comfort zone because I put in disportionate amounts of time getting myself conversant in the topic. I was never able to lighten up and it showed in the way I prepped classes: all information gathering, no lesson planning. As a result class periods were slogging lectures instead of a more flexible variety of activities that would keep all of us engaged. Throw in prepping for comprehensives and I had a small breakdown. Needless to say nothing went particularly smooth: I wasn't called back to adjunct again and only passed a portion of the exams.

What did I learn? a) know what you're getting into and find a way to fit regular convalescnce into your adjuncting schedule. b) you're going to do more than you're paid for, but don't kill yourself. c) you're a better teacher when you're realistic and self-aware about how you're handling things.

Thanks for the post.