From an undergraduate student's perspective, they generally don't know the difference between full time or adjunct faculty members. Basically, an adjunct professor is a part-time professor who is not on the tenure track. You don't necessarily have to have a PhD. You are hired to teach a certain class for one semester, and are not necessarily guaranteed future employment. You generally do not receive benefits and most adjuncts are paid less than $5,000 per class. For all the hours you spend teaching, grading, planning, and doing office hours, this is a job you do for the love of it rather than for money. However, the adjuncts at American University recently unionized, so I am excited to learn more about the potential professional development opportunities and pay increases I can receive. As universities and colleges nationwide are experiencing budget cuts, more and more school are hiring adjuncts, so more teaching opportunities exist for your taking.
Know What You Want
As with anything in life, I strongly believe in the power of knowing what you want far in advance of it actually happening. For many of life's great accomplishments, you must dream your dream for many years, and take baby steps along the way to build your path. For example, in graduate school, I always knew I eventually wanted to teach, and participated in my school's Preparing Future Faculty program.
Know the Right People
I knew that many Washington, DC schools had adjunct opportunities, but I just didn't know how to connect to them, and thought I had to wait until I was older with more experience. However, one day I randomly received an email from a friend who used to teach saying her school needed someone last minute. I asked if you needed a PhD, or just a master's. She said all you needed was a master's degree. She recommended me, I quickly interviewed, my experience spoke for itself, and I was hired.
My other teaching opportunity randomly came through LinkedIn. A professor I did not know invited me to speak to her class. The students ranked me as their favorite guest speaker that semester. The professor and I began a professional relationship, and she gave me free executive coaching. When she was thinking about creating a new class, she invited me to apply to teach it.
All of my friends who are adjuncts all knew someone where they applied, and did not apply cold. The chair of a department generally does the hiring, so they are the right people to know. If you are not yet connected to an academic community, create those relationships now. Go to events on campus. Offer to be a guest speaker. Meet with professors for informational interviews. Introduce yourself to department chairs months before the semester starts and suggest classes you can teach.
Also know that many adjunct opportunities arise right before a semester starts. Look through the schedule of classes. If a class does not have a professor's name attached to it, they are probably still looking for someone to teach it.
Know Your Stuff
So in addition to knowing what you want and knowing the right people, to be an adjunct, you have to know your stuff! You really need to be an expert in your field. You generally have a have a relevant graduate degree. I have an M.A. in Applied Women's Studies. Prior teaching experience or working with students is valued. Publications definitely help. As academia begins to value scholar practitioners more and more, having significant professional experience and demonstrated leadership in your field is important.
Own your expertise! I became an adjunct professor when I was 28. You don't have to wait until you have decades of work experience to become an adjunct professor. While it is a demanding job, teaching is one of the most rewarding professions. Higher education needs more committed people wanting to teach!
More information about adjunct professors
Follow the adventures of my friend Michael Rodriguez as he follows his passion to teach architecture in Guatemala- Arch Abroad
Adjunct Professor Online