by Robert Oprisko
While in graduate school, you “count.” You hold an active affiliation with an R1 university, you are assumed to be capable to teach undergraduate students at said R1 university, and your potential is unlimited. Once you graduate, if you don’t already have a TT job, that’s over and your identity, as you knew it, crumbles.
You lose your affiliation and become an “Independent Scholar”. Your value diminishes; no longer can you expect full tuition remission, health insurance and a moderate stipend for teaching a single course. There is a vague, but palpable feeling in the academy that something must be wrong with you because you don’t already have a new academic home, a new master, and a steady paycheck.
Welcome to being a Ronin.
Ronin were of the samurai caste in feudal Japan who, upon the death or disgrace of their master became homeless, jobless, and were discriminated against by their former peers. The existence of Ronin provided incentive for others to adhere to social norms and to accept centralized authority. Samurais’ lives became ever more rigid and their actions more proscribed. Ronin, on the other hand, were free from said constraints. More recently, a ronin refers to a professional “salary man” who is “between jobs”. As are you.
Coming to grips with an Alt/Post-Ac professional existence can be difficult because the structures you face approach you as being of minimal to no value.
That norm is bullshit.
You have value.
You have skill.
You’re an expert.
The only way to escape the torment of un(der) employment is to come up with what you feel to be a fair value for your time and expertise. Employers, even temporary ones, aren’t going to value you or your time if you don’t. So, come up with a number. This number should be the amount of money you feel to be your minimum amount of money you need to make annually in order to not be selling yourself short. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume $50,000. As a ronin turned mercenary, you’ll need to divide this number into purchasable chunks in order to more easily gain clients. I suggest the following forms.
Teaching: Take the salary you feel you deserve and divide it by the number of classes you feel that a full time teaching load should represent. Having taught a 4/4 load as a VAP, I find that to be a maximum load that can be done well by me. Dividing $50,000 by eight courses is pretty simple, my rate for adjunct work is $6,250 per course. Some of you may think, but my current university has set policies for how much they will pay adjuncts. No they don’t. They pay a “market price” which only works because some people will foolishly take them. Salaries aren’t perfectly equitable within the academy, just ask women, people of color, and non-STEM academics. You have every right and ability to negotiate or set your own rate. Add more if it requires a long commute.
Writing: Some people type faster than others and the creative process can be draining. Take the amount of time you think you need to adequately write and revise 1,000 words and use that as your baseline for scalability. If you can have a publishable 1,000 words in four hours (remember to include time for research and revision!), your rate is $100/1,000 words, the equivalent of $25/hour or $50,000/year.
Editing: You can use the equation above to determine how much you should charge for editing documents as well. Make certain to have multiple rates for depth and intensity of editing. Light copy-editing is faster than substantive editing is faster than developmental editing, which often restructures entire passages includes a decent amount of original work. Creating a comprehensive book index is more intense than expected.
Research: One of the dark secrets of the academy is that there exists a research underground where some academics, usually super-stars, will pay others to do their research and writing for them and then they publish it under their name. In this way, a TT academic can make six figures annually, produce insane volumes of research, and still golf four days per week. My gut reaction is to say, “Don’t do it!” because it perpetuates inequality, is, effectively, a gross form of plagiarism, and the pay often doesn’t match the volume and intensity of work. If, however, you aren’t dissuaded, be certain to make it worthwhile. Don’t take on original research, especially contracts that include final payment as a product of “publishable quality” in a specific journal because that provides the client with too many escape clauses. Do the work like a professional contractor and charge professional rates; I suggest double your norm, in our case $50/hour. I would also mandate that all of your writing kept you as an author in order to build up your portfolio for consideration by future clients. Remember that other academics aren’t the only potential source for this work. Think-tanks, policy institutes, government contractors, and any corporation with an R&D division are all viable employers.
Every academic likely is familiar with and comfortable teaching, writing, editing, and conducting research. Feel free to add your own unique skillset into your pricing structure so that you not only know what services you offer, but also how much you charge for them. Be sure to bill your client in a timely fashion; if possible, get payment up front. You have a carefully crafted expertise with a specific set of skills. It’s time to get well paid for them.