Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Blog LVII (57): Teaching and Your Career

Teaching. It is something all of us that do history do. And we do a lot of it. It is also probably a major reason most of decided to become historians. Someone reached us through their work in the classroom. I know that was the case for me as it was.

It is also something that new scholars do a lot of. So how does the new scholar make teaching part of their career plan? This question is one that this blog has ignored for the most part. The only thing that has been discussed the plight of the adjunct, but what about teaching itself?

Since I mentioned adjuncts, let me discuss that subject for a moment or two. Does working as an adjunct help make yourself a stronger candidate for a full-time position? To a degree, the answer is yes. Working as an adjunct is good in that it gives you an opportunity to be the instructor of record and gain some experience in teaching. Some graduate programs are very good about preparing their students and some are not. In an ironic twist, those grad students that are awarded fellowships that free them up to focus on their research are often at a disadvantage in pursuing many jobs because these positions often are at institutions that emphasize teaching. Those type of jobs are far more common than those at a Research I or Research II University.

I even saw this happen once. I was on a search committee and a newly minted Ph.D. from Princeton applied for a job. He had a good dissertation that clearly had was going to push the historiography along in his field. He, however, had letters of recommendation that were less than helpful. They were not bad, but his professors thought their names and the Princeton degree would in and of itself get him a job. The problem was another Princeton grad applied for the job as well. I should also add that Ph.D.s from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Chicago put in applications as well. This Princeton Ph.D. was teaching at community colleges in Dallas and had his supervisors write letters of recommendation for his application file. They were excellent. They were positive, but also described his record of teaching, his philosophy and his contributions as a good departmental citizen. These were constructive and useful to a committee that was made up of people that did not even know the name of his supervising professor. Really, none of us did, but it was clear that the guy was a big shot in his field.

Now, there is a downside to working as adjunct, and it is not the near subsistence level salary and lack of benefits that do not come with these positions. The shortcoming is that you are teaching the introductory classes: western civilization or U.S. history I or U.S. history II. That type of work does not give you an opportunity to show that you can develop classes in your own field or that you can supervise graduate students. In short, there is a utility to working as an adjunct but it is limited.

Oh, some might be wondering what happened to the Princeton Ph.D. He made our on campus interview list--but turned us down because another school made him an offer before we did the interview.