“It’s Not Just The Low Pay—Adjunct Teaching Often Involves Low Morale”

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Lecture hall packed with students

And they’re all looking at you.

Should you go to grad school? What should you study? What’s the career path like for social science majors? Aaron Weber talked with an anonymous young professor to get the real scoop on paying for grad school, osteology (the study of bones), and suffering academic survivor’s guilt. Check out what this person had to say. 


How I Got Here

Undergrad, I double-majored in Latin and classical archaeology. The year after I graduated, I enrolled in a master’s program in Anthropology. I’d always wanted to study osteology, but I didn’t know until late in undergrad that that would involve a Ph.D. in another discipline. I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in classics, and after a year switched to an anthropology Ph.D.

How I Paid For It 

I had a fellowship for my first MA that included tuition, health insurance, and a modest stipend, which is kind of unheard of at the master’s level, at least in anthropology. In the classics Ph.D. program, I got a stipend but no tuition or insurance.

The anthropology Ph.D. gave me tuition, insurance, and a modest stipend. So I was funded throughout grad studies—except for the semesters I was in the field, which weren’t covered. The funding wasn’t great, but it was there. I also had the advantage of being married to someone with better funding.

Searching For A Job

I did part-time adjunct teaching for 2 years, which paid less than my grad stipend and didn’t come with benefits. It’s almost expected that new Ph.D. grads will toil in underpaid, underappreciated positions for several years post-graduation because of the sluggish academic job market.

You roam from school to school, trying to remember names of students you will never see again and whose futures you have no real stake in, and attempt to make connections with permanent faculty who know you have a time limit. It all goes against good teaching and good research. It’s not just the low pay—adjunct teaching often involves low morale.

To be honest, I got burned out on the adjunct scene after three semesters. I then took a semester off from teaching to work, unpaid, on writing and research, facilitated only by the fact that my spouse’s job could financially support our family. I eventually landed my current position, which is full time and tenure track, and I feel pretty lucky about it. Plenty of my classmates are doing interesting work and yet haven’t found permanent jobs. So there’s a bit of survivor’s guilt.

Advice For People Considering Grad School

My advice to students is to talk to as many people as possible before, during, and after graduate studies. Find out who’s working on questions you’re interested in, who’s using methods you could apply to your research, and who knows whom (networking is always useful for finding a job). It doesn’t have to be at a conference—those things are terrifying. An academic-focus Twitter feed, blog, or social media account can help you find a community that will help you succeed during and after grad school.

Being a public academic is incredibly important these days, because most people have no idea what professors even do. Talk frequently about what you do, and find new and different ways to present your research and ideas to the public.

Did you go into academia? Share your experiences in the comments.

(Photo: willrich)

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