Chasing Rainbows – An Adjunct Farewell

An email I received earlier this year.  If you are confronting a similar situation, remember that my post-ac team can help, and the initial consult is completely free.

At this point, I am giving up. This interview was my last real shot at academia and it is no longer financially and mentally sound for me to continue working toward the goal that I have desperately been trying to achieve (and thought I would) for eight years. It has been taxing, but now it is too much. I am now living the adjunct’s life I feared, shuttling between campuses to earn a few thousand dollars for each class. I just don’t have the ability to convince myself anymore into thinking that adjuncting is going to pay off.

Moreover, I am also a father. My son was born in 2012, and addition to teaching 3 to 4 classes a semester, I have also been his primary caregiver since my wife had to go back to teaching after 2 months. (In XX city, there is no maternity leave for teachers.) This meant that in addition to teaching, applying for grants and fellowships, revising a dissertation for publication, for 5 days a week from 8 to 5, I was taking care of my son from the time he was two months to now. (Having these roles made me realize how gender inequality in academia works when the duties of the private sphere–which wasn’t even the case with me– are exclusively thrust upon women, while at the same time they are expected to produce as scholars and be great teachers.)  This has also meant that I am not the priority anymore, my son is and always will be. I simply can’t forsake his future happiness and education to continue chasing rainbows.

In short, I am 35 years old and I have been mostly adjuncting for 8+ years now (except for a few years where I received fellowships in exchange for teaching). I have no money–in fact I am $30,000 in debt from undergrad and grad school. All the money we have saved is contributed by my wife, who is an elementary school teacher and has supported me financially and psychologically through the grad school and job market process. Without her, I would not be able to continue through grad school and go on the market, which I feel incredibly terrible about at this point. I just feel universally overwhelmed and rudderless.

The problem is I simply don’t know what to do. I never had a backup to academia. I don’t particularly like the institution of academia (the inequality among adjuncts and the academic 1%, the elitism, snobbery, increasing neoliberalism), but I love teaching. More important to me, I want to keep writing and publishing. I just don’t know where to go do these things. I applied to jobs in the federal government, thinking that might be a start, but I am not sure. But I do know that I do not want to feel this way anymore. I want to earn a living for myself and my son and be rewarded for my work, not underpaid, ignored, and rejected.

I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take the instability and the constant rejection. I can’t keep trying to make people notice me so that I can feed my ego and feel validated. It’s not working.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Chasing Rainbows – An Adjunct Farewell — 2 Comments

  1. That’s a sad tale of woe! I also notice it’s posted a couple of years back, so I hope the writer’s fortunes have changed by now?

    What finally sorted me out was to stop limiting myself to a job as a XXX lecturer/ researcher, much like Dr K’s post-ac advice. Instead I focussed on my skills, and believe me after a phd you have a distinctive set of research skills that people want- in my case qualitative data analysis.

    So I landed a temp job that utilised these skills in a random university that doesn’t do my subject and in a random other humanities context. This was after what seemed like constant rejection for postdocs and jobs for 4 years while finishing my PhD and doing a bit of contract research (children intervened for me, too). From teh temp position it only took a few steps to getting a real job where I get to be a XXX researcher within the same institiution, and again that’s by looking at my skillset, not futilely chasing my discipline.

    On reflection I realised that I stubbornly (and I think rightly) refused to adjunct for very long, only one year of an adjunct teaching post on its own. It’s simply not affordable as OP points out, my family were sometimes on the breadline, mainly due to my foray into adjuncting. I also get the snobbery idea that OP mentions- I felt that longer term adjunct colleagues had somehow tarred themselves with the “will work for crumbs” brush and were treated very badly by the institution.

    Thanks mainly to Dr K’s advice I treated the adjunct post as a way to tick boxes for future jobs: build a CV, demonstrate teaching skills ( I did a teaching qualification), work on my networks, get discounted entry to conferences, collaborate with more senior colleagues pick colleagues’ brains about ideas and USE THE DEPT. LETTERHEAD!! – all that stuff.

    As a collective, we post-doc/ pre-job cohort must be more firm about this lowly role, try not to do it long enough to get exploited by it. When you have become a more emplyoable prospect move on, even out of academia if necessary. Don’t let the universities bleed you dry any more for the reflected glory of slaving away as an “academic”.

    OK rant over!

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