How I Began my Career in Academia (and How You Can Too)

I received an e-mail from a reader of my blog asking for suggestions as to how she could “break in” to academia as an adjunct instructor.  Although I am far from an expert at navigating the potentially pitfall-ridden pathway to academic employment, I felt it might be helpful to relate some of my experiences so far.

Whether or not they will work for anyone else — or, to be brutally honest, me — is unclear.  However, I am a firm believer that by doing good I can do well, so here goes: Craigslist education and teaching jobs (seriously).

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I mostly use Craigslist for Los Angeles, but have also explored the sites for Ventura, Santa Barbara (which is how I found the opportunity at UC Santa Barbara Extension) and Bakersfield (which is how I found out about the opportunity at DeVry University).

I have found Craigslist to be a great source of leads for adjunct level positions and even some full time ones. In fact, with the exception of my position at Axia, every single adjunct teaching job I now have was the result of a posting on Craigslist.

I first ventured into education by teaching traffic school for nine months — and, yes, I found the job on Craigslist! Despite not being academic, teaching traffic school helped me develop my classroom management and curriculum development skills.

Mind you, I did this of my own free will (there were no court orders or community service hours involved!). I realize the mere thought of traffic school has already made some of you uncontrollably twitch and or gag, but I could not have asked for a more effective “entry level” experience.

It was a great way to test the waters of teaching — especially because those waters were full of sharks and piranhas. Think of it this way: what better way to prove that you are meant to teach than by putting yourself in the worst possible teaching situation and making a difference?

Knowing that everyone in attendance would have rather spent an afternoon at Gitmo or making human pyramids at Abu Ghraib, I went out of my way to make the class as interesting and engaging as possible. Granted, I still had to show the requisite outdated videos about road rage, traffic safety and related topics — but I found clever ways to stay within the DMV’s guidelines while managing to have some fun.

I even managed to show a few minutes of the campy 1985 film “Moving Violations,” starring John Murray (the lesser known brother of Bill Murray), Jennifer Tilly, James Keach, Sally Kellerman, Fred Willard and Clara Peller — the octogenarian actress best known for the 1984 “Where’s the beef?” ad campaign for Wendy’s.

One of the highlights of the day happened just after lunch when, as an introduction to the curriculum about drinking and driving,  I showed mugshots of celebrities arrested for DUI to the students and had them guess who everyone was. I knew it was working when the evaluator who showed up at one of my classes unannounced after lunch was laughing!

I am extemporaneomoving-violations-signsus by nature, so a good part of my “material” was improvised based on what was discussed in class.

I found that engaging the students directly and making them a part of the program made the day more interesting for me, but (big surprise!) it actually made them more interested in the class as well.

Of course, being “interested” in traffic school is a relative term — don’t for a minute think I was recreating scenes from Stand and Deliver! That being said, it was a rewarding and (to use a “report card word”) unique experience unlike anything I could have imagined.

Since then I have taught 15 sections of asynchronous online writing and business communication courses for Axia College of University of Phoenix. I have also taught ten sections of computer, English and management courses in a hybrid classroom/asynchronous online model at DeVry University in Bakersfield.

I have also taught one section of a buying behavior course at UC Santa Barbara Extension along with one principles of marketing course and one organizational behavior class at International American University, a private school focused on providing Asian students with an American education.

As for another resource, I have to give massive applause to the members of the Chronicle of Higher Education Forums — what a wonderful resource they all are! There are threads on all sorts of topics of interest to a aspiring academic — and a good number of the members are active and emeritus professors. Everyone is very willing to share their insights and experiences — often with an unexpected sense of humor (teachers are people too!).

I’ve asked (and had answered) questions about which Ph.D. programs to pursue to how I should format my CV. Its best to sit quietly and read many of the existing threads before jumping in head first — what until you get a flavor for the tone and temperament of the place.

If you want to avoid posting threads all together and just want to go straight for raw information, check out the following threads/resources:

I also found my way to a Facebook Group sponsored by The Babb GroupMake a Living Teaching Online — it is definitely worth signing up for; even if you just lurk and read the posts made by others the information is exceptionally helpful.

Hopefully these resources are useful to those of you looking for information on how to transition into a career in academia. Certainly, my experiences are not typical, but then I suppose they are not entirely atypical.

Happy teaching!