This post is the first in a series. Part 1 looks at doing sessional teaching for the money. Part 2 considers sessional teaching to gain experience. Part 4 helps you approach sessional teaching strategically so you get the skills you need. The introduction is the same so you can start anywhere.
As term time approaches, those of you who don’t have tenure track or tenured positions in universities may be considering various options for sessional teaching (sometimes called adjunct professors, or part-time lecturers). I’m not talking about Teaching Assistantships, but rather opportunities to teach one or more courses, usually for a flat fee (albeit paid biweekly or semi-monthly or whatever). I’m also not really talking about limited term full-time appointments (teaching only or teaching & research) though some of the same considerations may apply.
Sometimes these offers come in very late in the game (even the week before term starts). We all know that the pay is low for the work involved, and that it will not reflect your experience or training. It is never a good idea to act as if you are desperate. So what kinds of things might you consider before taking that sessional teaching?
So what if you need to pay the rent but you’ve decided that maybe the particular sessional teaching opportunities available are not worth it. They aren’t going to give you experience you need, and they’ll take too much time away from other things that are more important to your career development.
What are your options?
Other ways to build your CV
The academic job market is pretty tight right now. Part-time or contract work might be a good way to explore other career options. If you can find something relevant to your research area, it will be useful whether you stay in academia or not. After all, academics are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the relevance of their research. Having good relationships with think tanks, government departments, non-profit organizations, or private industry might actually be beneficial.
Don’t forget about all the non-academic jobs in the university itself. Being a professor isn’t the only way to make a difference in higher education. And knowing more about how the university works from the administrative side can prove useful.
Think broadly. The job you do to pay the rent might not be drawing directly on your research knowledge and skills. The thing to consider is whether it opens up opportunities for you to learn more about career possibilities and make connections with people who could help you.
Something that just earns you money
Working in a coffee shop, waiting tables, bar tending, grocery store cashier … There are plenty of places that hire part-time staff. Some of them even offer benefits.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these jobs require no skills or are beneath you. It will be easier to get this kind of job if you have some experience of doing this kind of work in the past. Although you might have gone to university, and on to a PhD, to get out of a certain kind of work, going back to it temporarily may be your best strategy for paying the rent while you build up your CV.
The benefit of this kind of work is that it doesn’t require the same kind of intellectual activity as your research. If you can swing it, try to work hours that aren’t your best thinking big thoughts and writing hours. If you write best in the morning, ask for afternoon or evening shifts.
Worried about how that’s going to look on your CV?
Increasingly employers are not looking for a linear progression of relevant jobs. There are a lot of ways to present your experience, and while you’ll use reverse chronological order within various categories, you are probably going to organize your work experience under headings that relate to skills, knowledge and abilities that you want to demonstrate.
For an academic job search, I can’t imagine a scenario in which working in a restaurant is even going to end up on your CV. And finishing your dissertation and/or getting publications submitted (and even accepted) is going to look great on your academic CV. For other kinds of job searches, this kind of work might very well demonstrate skills that you need to get the job: ability to work with people, ability to work as part of a team, ability to make decisions in a fast-paced environment, etc.
The fact is, that if you are doing work because you need the money, it should be work that enables you to do something else that looks good on your CV.
This post was edited 8 November 2018.