The Problem With Being an Adjunct

When I earned my doctorate, I honestly was so through with academia that I planned on walking away from it and becoming a journalist. How hard could it be to take to find that work? I knew how to research, write, and put together a story. I would adjunct for a couple of years until I found that journalism job and then move on.

It turns out that journalism was having the same industrial meltdown academia enjoyed.

Why? I won’t get into that.

But instead, I’ll stick with academia.

I then decided that the only person who could actually send the work I did in my dissertation into the universe was me. I would, at a minimum, start writing and trying to be published in academic journals. Further, I would enter the academic . . . job market (screams ensue!).

Considering that I wanted to stay in NYC, I likely sent no more than 10 applications around and got one interview. Not bad, but I didn’t get the job.

My thoughts turned to “now what” because it was clear to me that no matter how much I loved to write and teach, that adjuncting was not a sustainable business long-term.

I was in the bathroom and wished that I could earn money with the skills I had acquired in a peer-counseling organization of which I am a part. Back in my bedroom while checking my email, I saw that there was a coaching program with available spots. I jumped on it.

I never looked back.

I still teach part-time, but it’s clear that this is bridge work. I know that at some point, I will only teach one class per year or per semester. I will continue to do academic writing. I do not have the pressure of tenure. I can take the time I need to continuing honing this set of skills.

Which brings me to the following set of questions.

Why do we adjunct? Why do we allow higher education to exploit us? The more willing that we are to do this, the more they will use us and defund higher education.

Sooooo, here is where I paraphrase what I tweeted in a Twitter thread.

Working as adjuncts tacitly approves of (myself including) the corruption of higher education, given that they do not want to fund the core part of their mission – teaching and research. They use adjuncts because there is a glut of us.

Granted, some adjuncts teach because they want to do more with their skills. Others of us do so because we seemingly have no other choice. The number of adjuncts who teach because they want to increase their skills are declining. We are becoming the people who hold down the teaching load in U.S. colleges and universities, yet we are unable to shape the way that departments shape themselves or provide feedback about the state of the students we teach.

Some of us adjunct because we are hell bent on landing a tenure track position. Some of us will succeed at doing this.

However, given that there are fewer of these positions, fewer of us will likely succeed in this endeavor. How long do you try?

For those of us paying the bills, some of us take on activism to increase adjunct pay and benefits. But after we have the wages we seek, how much impact can we have in the industry to return higher education to its core mission?

How much power can we really attain with part-time and seasonal teaching status? It does not help that the federal and state governments have withdrawn huge amounts of funding for teaching and research, hence the rising tuition bills and the marginal profits that go into the pockets of administrators.

How long do we try the activist route? What is the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish? Remember, the Koch brothers, for example, are trying to buy research favoring their corrupt environmental outcomes.

For those of us who adjunct to pay the bills and see little other ways forward, is it easier to just pay the bills? Is this what you REALLY want?

We can’t afford this anymore.

Higher education can’t afford this anymore.

Nothing would kill contingent teaching faculty faster than saying NO MORE. We won’t do this.

But we can’t just walk out, we have to plan for ourselves and have a way forward.

Our PhDs are worth so much more than this, aren’t they?

I am certainly committed to working with adjuncts who want to sort out some other way. Some of you will do the social change work necessary to force higher education to stick with its mission. Others of you will bail. Please contact me if you’re interested.

We need all of us on deck.


The Joys of Failure . . . Sort of

As we take on bigger things in our lives – writing books, building businesses, going for a promotion where we work (partner if you’re a lawyer), and many other things, visibility if of prime importance.

And the problem with visibility is that it won’t always go well.

So I’ve decided to push myself to be really visible. To be visible when I feel like it. To be visible when I don’t.

The week before Thanksgiving, I got egg on my face.

The reason why I built Michelle Dionne Thompson Coaching and Consulting Services is so that I could help women non-fiction writers, including academics and lawyers, build the world they write about. They often have common sense ways of making our world a much better place.

No, my website doesn’t say that now . . . that’s a 2018 project.

But I digress. The importance of doing that was so I can be an artist. I sing (opera and sacred music), I knit and crochet, and I write.

Knitted lace scarf

Clearly, I don’t put my artistic stuff on hold, I do it as I do everything else.

And yes, I consider any writing art. Including the academic stuff.

So the weekend before Thanksgiving, I decided to go for a small part in a local opera company. When I would be auditioning didn’t become clear until the morning of the audition.

Real pros would have immediately thought about what they were singing and used their routine to get in the right headspace.

I didn’t do this. I got distracted by stuff at home. I didn’t meditate that morning. I didn’t do yoga. I didn’t warm up. I was fully ungrounded.

I selected the song that I didn’t practice that day right before the audition. I couldn’t get my nerves together. I had to start the song twice and I had moments where I was out of tune.

It ended well. It started terribly.

Yep, this was a fail.

While I feel like hiding under a rock, I have decided to keep going. I did get a part – it is a part without dialogue or singing. I will be singing in the chorus (again). But in addition to knowing that ritual before something like this is CRITICAL to being focused, I also know that I will be more visible.

And THAT was the purpose of all of this. Visibility.

Yes, reframed, I snatched success out of the jaws of failure in spite of my pull to do the opposite.

It sucks, but get out there and get egg on your face! Nothing changes if you don’t!

How to Recover From Flunking the Bar

It is the time of year where I remember what it was like after taking the bar exam and  finally working as a lawyer! It was exhilarating! I wanted to be a lawyer since I was TWELVE and I was finally doing it.

I was seeing clients and checking on whether I spotted the right legal issues with colleagues.

I was writing arguments to the Social Security Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (now ICE) on behalf of my clients.

I was attending continuing legal education classes and PRESENTING at them at the DC BAR!

I moved to a new city and was putting together a community that included lawyers and non-lawyers. I was dating.

It was soooooo exciting.

However, by late October/early November, I received my Bar results. It wasn’t good news. I actually think I felt the blood leave everywhere but my feet.

Never one to wallow in sorrow, I told my supervisors, who assured me that I would not lose my job. I would simply have to take it again. I registered for the course. Again. If you are reading this post, you may be in the same situation. What should you do?

  • Take time to mourn. Connect with your community.
  • Remember why you did this to start out with. What doors were going to open because you were a lawyer, and don’t forget it.
  • Remember that your value is not determined by this test. Or any other one. Your value is determined by how you respond to it.
  • Yep, go ahead and register to take the Bar and the Bar Exam course again.

Once the course started just after Christmas (or was it New Years . . .), I dragged on doing some of the same unsuccessful things I did the first time. Then a friend of a friend changed my life. He said “thirty questions a day keeps the flunking away.”

Phew, because this time, I was working full-time and studying for the Bar.

I learned a lot from that experience. So if you want more information about what “thirty questions a day keeps the flunking away” means and other ways to stay sane, look no further.

A System for Writing

I had made a half decision to go on the academic job market. I applied for Visiting Assistant Professor positions. I had seen an ad for something in my field in a different city that was in commuting distance. They required a 20-page writing sample.

I balked.

I had a dissertation chapter, but there was no way I could reduce that to 20 pages in four weeks. So I didn’t apply.

At that point, I realized that I couldn’t stay stuck in this cycle, or else I wouldn’t stand a prayer of ever getting an academic interview, never mind the job!

Not that much later, a colleague of mine posted the link to a book that provided you with a SYSTEM for revising your longer work so that it could be a publishable article. I couldn’t find it in her FB posts, so I asked her for the source.

I never looked back.

To this day, even after I get feedback from a journal about something I submitted, I turn to How to Write Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks to respond to their feedback. I have learned so much about writing and how to structure your article around your argument. I have a system by which to attack my work.

The author’s name should be St. Wendy Lauren Belcher. Really. Maybe she could be beatified!

I no longer start at my computer wondering where to start as I try to whittle down something. I wish I knew about this when the posting for the job went up.

She’s an advocate of social writing. That makes me nervous every single time. I do it anyway.

But you may not want to have to wrestle with finding someone to read your thesis statement or abstract. Wouldn’t it be nice to have this sort of support built in?

I agree. Get a Life and Write could do that for you. For more information, click here!

The Price of Distraction

I’ve been negotiating jet lag longer than I thought. I returned to the US almost 3 weeks ago and still wake up at 3 in the morning.

I think I sleep better when I go to bed really late. Like 1 or 2 in the morning. And then I wake up reliably at . . . 6 a.m.

Lately I’ve been taking melatonin before going to bed and I go to bed much earlier. This has been so much better.

What is the price I pay in terms of distraction when I go to bed so late?

In order to stay up late, because I’m fighting tiredness, I eat all kinds of crap. The night before last, I ate THE ENTIRE PINT of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Vegan “frozen dessert.”

Chunky Monkey

Yep, it felt good going down, but my waistline . . .

Writing has been difficult. I. Keep. Yawning.

Writing my syllabi? PULLING TEETH!

Changing my sleep around helped shift other challenges. Yesterday, no super sugary snacks. This morning, writing was BOSSSS!!!!

It’s not just a price tag. It’s the other parts of our lives that fall apart when we don’t have the self-care we need and it impacts how we focus on our work.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s a step at a time. I see that I take 2 steps forward and three back. That’s alright, I will move forward!

You can too!

Things Have Got to Get Better . . . Right?

Are you a woman in law or academia who has this gnawing feeling that something is OFF?

You are a passionate woman who:

  • Feels like everything is high stakes;
  • Can’t prioritize what’s important personally or professionally;
  • Feels like you have to please everyone for professional success be it making partner or climbing the academic ladder;
  • Feels like you still have to be affable and attractive to be successful.

Yet, given how the world is going, it seems that nothing matters, including your dreams and goals.

Continue reading

Whew, you made it

So you've just finished taking the Bar!

I hope it went well for you.

I remember taking the Bar and then diving in head first into the exam for professional responsibility. I had no clue how to manage that test (I hadn't learned what I know now about taking the Bar), but somehow, I did well enough on it that if I had passed the Illinois Bar, I would have made it.

Turns out it was good enough for the DC Bar.

But now that you've finished taking the Bar, get some rest. Step away from the busy grind as your working life is about to ramp up like nothing before.

Take some time to think about what went well about that experience (something did. Really!).

Take some time to think about what you hope never happens again!

Take some time to think about how you want to apply that to your legal career, because one can practice law in a way that makes you as tired, harried, high stakes, and burned out as studying for the Bar exam. Seriously. This is why so many lawyers are so profoundly dissatisfied with their careers have have high rates of addiction.

Your ability to focus and love your work is directly connected to making sure you take care of yourself, no matter the competition.

Get off the hamster wheel now where you exist on fumes and caffeine.

Set up a five-year work plan that details not only your professional success, but your personal goals for health, community, and happiness.

Stay tuned. I will be posting lots about self-care and distraction. I am here if you need a hand.