I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday.
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Today’s post is by an author who prefers to remain anonymous.
Whether you’re a postdoc or a VAP, chances are you’ve thought about how this position can advance your career. Over the course of a 2-year postdoc, there were a handful of things I figured out that helped me make the most of my time and land a TT position at an elite SLAC. While there’s no magic formula to getting a job offer, hopefully a few suggestions and lots of luck can help you convert your visiting position into TT job at another institution.
- Don’t expect it to turn into a permanent job
You’re probably wonderful. Your students probably think you’re wonderful. Your colleagues probably think you’re wonderful, too. That doesn’t mean your job will become permanent. For starters, it’s possible that your position is a replacement for someone on leave who’s definitely returning. In other instances, the visiting position might be designed to gauge student interest in an area that could expand the curriculum in the future. Maybe they plan to hire in your field in a few years, but not right now. Even if your colleagues want to hire you, that decision is likely above their pay grade. Departments don’t get new lines just because they want them. Some institutions, like mine, require the hiring department’s support, and need this type of hire to be approved by a college-wide committee, the provost, the college’s legal counsel, and the president. Other institutions might require a national search for all TT positions, so you’d need to apply like everyone else. It’s entirely reasonable to hope the VAP line becomes a TT line and to try get some supporters in your corner, but don’t let your hope lull you into a false sense of security. I was under no illusions that I’d be able to stay put. I hit the ground running, so although my colleagues probably thought I was auditioning for a job, I was really just trying to get enough work done to be competitive on the market.
2. Mind your business and do your work
Stay out of departmental politics. I walked into a department that didn’t quite get along with each other. Within the first 1-2 months of starting my new position, one colleague specifically told me who they disliked and was very vocal about their negative feelings towards our chair. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that there was a minefield laid out ahead of me. Even though you might get caught in the crosshairs anyway, play nice with your colleagues. As a new employee in any job, other people’s longstanding issues are very much not your problem. The easiest way to avoid getting dragged into beef that doesn’t concern you is to mind. Your. Business.
In addition to avoiding conflicts, recognize the other things that are decidedly not your business: advising, service, or any attempts to fundamentally improve the institution. “Business” involves compensation – unless these duties are in your contract or unless you’re being paid for additional labor, it’s not your business. Your business is doing whatever you need to find and prepare for your next job. To me, that entailed teaching the hell out of my classes, publishing a journal article, having a few other pieces accepted for publication, and securing a book contract for my monograph. Your loyalties should be to yourself above all else, so be sure to prioritize the things that matter to you, not the things that matter to the institution.
3. Take advantage of what the institution has to offer
Exploit the institution, don’t let it exploit you. As a visitor I assumed that I couldn’t take advantage of some of the resources offered to TT faculty, like teaching support, conference funds, or research grants. While some funding was restricted to TT and tenured faculty, there were other opportunities available to all full-time faculty, including VAPs. Closed mouths don’t get fed, so I asked my chair and a dean if I was eligible for specific grants. There were a surprising number of applications that didn’t specifically preclude visitors from applying, so I threw my hat in the ring. I ended up with over $35,000 of grant money to take students abroad on a fully funded spring break trip.
You might find that there are non-monetary professional development opportunities or resources that are accessible to visitors, not just tenure-track faculty. If your university is a member of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, for example, there are workshops and trainings that you can participate in. If your library has an institutional subscription to a database or journal in your field, you can use them in your research and teaching. Also, be sure to cultivate relationships with faculty within and outside of your department so that you can maintain a professional network after you leave.
4. Take chances in the classroom
If there’s any time to experiment in the classroom, it’s when you’re a visitor. It’s somewhat comforting to have the freedom to make mistakes knowing that your contract is going to expire soon anyway. I incorporated new assignments into my classes without knowing if they would work how I imagined because the stakes of messing up were lower as a VAP than they would be in a TT position. If you’re on the market, of course you want to have strong teaching evaluations and there are only so many risks it would make sense to take. Nevertheless, you can try new things knowing that a reappointment or tenure case isn’t riding on whether a course goes well or not. A visiting position affords you the opportunity to refine your pedagogy and test different learning tools in the classroom with the confidence that you have nothing to lose.
Visiting positions are not without their faults. They often require sudden moves far away from family and friends, and the uncertainty that accompanies temporary positions can be anxiety-inducing. Despite the downsides, visiting positions can work in your favor and can help you prepare for a permanent position elsewhere.