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Adjunct Life: Managing Your Workload


In a tough economy with high unemployment and competition for jobs, we are all thankful for new opportunities, often making it difficult to say “no” even when our plates are full. I said “no” to a contract offer for the first time this week, and didn’t feel good about it. But the harsh reality is there just aren’t enough hours in the days ahead to complete, much less make perfect, a new project in addition to all of the other projects I’ve already said “yes” to.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “about 70% of the instructional faculty at all colleges is off the tenure track.” And whether they are full-time or part-time, these adjunct instructors are often not only teaching multiple courses at multiple institutions, but also meeting the demands of other employment contracts that pay the bills and help them build their professional careers.

I’m seeing a lot of new year’s resolutions from educators this week, and many address the pace at which we all seem to be functioning, no matter the industry: we are all trying to do more with less and faster than we’ve done it before. We are prone to spreading ourselves too thin to get the work done, much less enjoy any kind of work-life balance or even engage in professional development activities.

Career Management for the Part-Time Instructor

The multitasking can be a financial boon in the short-term, but potentially cause long-term problems related to stress, poor health, and job burnout. While there are initiatives underway, such as the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education and the New Faculty Majority, that advocate for instructors and work to improve the overall working climate, what can you do to manage your workload in the meantime?

  • Do some research before signing on. The Adjunct Project is a growing community that provides a place where you can seek advice from your adjunct peers, many of whom are experiencing similar workload challenges. You can also search for information related to salaries, benefits, and working conditions at various colleges and universities as submitted by other instructors.
  • Identify support systems and resources. In addition to The Adjunct Project, you’ll also find active communities via LinkedIn Groups – like Online Adjunct Professors and The Adjunct Network – and other resources such as Adjunct Nation. Posted articles and ongoing discussions inform you about employment trends and provide perspectives from instructors at a wide range of institutions.
  • Know your priorities. You may be involved in advising your students to create a career plan, but what about yours? Determining your work values, establishing professional goals, and identifying the steps you need to take will help you make decisions about your own career. Quintessential Careers provides tips for career planning along with a list of exercises to get you started. And check out iSeek’s recommendations for assessing your workplace values (e.g., working in teams, flexible hours, compensation) to guide your next career move.

Keep the Career Conversations Going

If a new opportunity’s needs and requirements don’t match yours, you have to make a decision about whether to accept or reject the offer. Sometimes we’d like to say “yes,” but just can’t. When you do have to say “no,” find ways to keep the door open. You never know that the future might hold.

  • Share your concerns. Susan Adams from Forbes.com says “you have to communicate that you don’t want to decline a project, but you’re trying to be realistic.” Be brief, but let them know about your schedule and commitment to high performance.
  • Convey your continued interest. While you may not be able to accept the current project, what about others that may be on the horizon. A simple phrase such as, “please keep me in mind for the [summer]” may lead to follow-up conversations about future work.
  • Keep networking. Can you connect with the employer or organization in other ways? Begin building a positive, professional relationship through systems like LinkedIn. Make contact and respond to their online posts when appropriate.

As we quickly approach the beginning of the traditional spring semester, it’s important to plan for what’s ahead and consider all of the options available in order to make the best possible choices for our careers and our students. What do your next few months look like? Tell us about your schedule and plans for the new year.

Image credit: ryantron, Flickr, CC:BY-ND

January 4th, 2013 written by Staff Writers

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