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A career in academia can be highly rewarding.

It is an opportunity to spend your working life in a stimulating environment, teaching and researching a subject you love. It is also a chance to pass on your knowledge to others, helping to nurture younger generations in the process. As an academic, you can enjoy comfortable pay and rewarding professional relationships with like-minded people in your field. You will also have a chance to make your mark on the world with new ideas, theories, and research.

One of the various career routes within academia is the adjunct professor. If you are considering this role, this overview will give you a picture of what is involved.

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What is an adjunct professor’s role?

Adjunct professors teach at higher education and community colleges part-time and contractually. As they are not full-time or tenured professors, much of their schedule is spent preparing courses and teaching classes to students. Often, they create their syllabi or update existing ones but might not be heavily involved in the decision-making side of faculty life.

In general, adjunct professors work on developing syllabi, delivering classes, devising assessments, and evaluating students. They can also be experts in a particular subject area, meaning they might get hired for a single semester to deliver a specialist course.

Adjunct professors can teach at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with higher pay opportunities available for the latter. However, to teach at a graduate level, many adjunct professors are expected to have a Ph.D. or some form of terminal degree. It depends on the course or college.

What are an adjunct professor’s responsibilities?

An adjunct professorship is a job that can appeal to academics at both the beginning and end of their career. The former might find it valuable, as it allows them to gain experience in academia before committing to a full-time position. And for the latter, it’s an opportunity to continue teaching on a semi-retired basis without the demands of departmental responsibilities.

While adjunct professors are usually expected to have a publication record, they are not expected to publish papers on an ongoing basis — or to conduct research — as part of their role. This is because their position is part-time and mainly centers around teaching.

Regarding course delivery, adjuncts might be asked to teach either face-to-face or online courses or a mixture of both. As the demand for distance, online and flexible learning grows, there will likely be an increasing expectation to deliver classes virtually. This means that the role could require a certain amount of tech-savvy and the ability to adapt teaching methodologies to different settings.

In general, adjuncts tend to spend around eight hours a week teaching. At the same time, their schedule comprises syllabus planning, creating assessments, marking exams, supporting students academically, and consulting with colleagues. Some adjuncts also juggle roles at more than one institution.

While being an adjunct professor can offer greater freedom than a tenured role, it is also a career with less job security and lower pay. That said, it also provides opportunities to broaden horizons and forge connections at various institutions.

Also, some adjuncts can move on to assistant or associate professor roles, becoming a more permanent part of an institution.

What are the key duties of an adjunct professor?

An adjunct’s role can vary and depend on the institution, faculty, and department. But here are some typical tasks and responsibilities:

  • Creating and updating course syllabi
  • Delivering lectures, seminars, and workshops, both face-to-face and online
  • Selecting reading materials and texts for courses
  • Devising lesson plans that cater to a range of different learning styles
  • Creating and marking assessments
  • Evaluating the abilities of students, both collectively and individually
  • Monitoring individual student progress and dealing with any issues
  • Offering additional instruction and support, where needed
  • Serving on academic panels
  • Attending departmental meetings
  • Consulting with departmental colleagues

What qualifications do you need to be an adjunct professor?

Usually, adjunct professors will have a Master’s degree and, for some positions, might also be expected to have a doctorate. Adjunct professors can also teach at community colleges and might only be expected to have a Bachelor’s degree for these roles.

Also, adjuncts are usually expected to have prior teaching experience, including being a teaching assistant while doing a Master’s or Ph.D. program. In some cases, adjuncts are expected to have experience in a particular profession or industry before entering a role.

What qualities and skills does an adjunct professor need?

This role is very varied, meaning various abilities and attributes are required. In terms of teaching and academic skills, these can include:

  • An understanding of curriculum design
  • An understanding of different teaching methodologies
  • An understanding of different assessment methodologies
  • Robust knowledge of their subject
  • Passionate and enthusiastic about their subject
  • Commitment to keeping up to date with advances in their subject
  • Able to motivate and inspire students
  • Able to make complex materials accessible
  • Able to provide constructive feedback
  • Able to deliver information to individuals, small groups, and large groups
  • Able to cooperate and collaborate with colleagues
  • Able to take guidance from departmental and faculty chairs
  • Able to follow faculty and college guidelines
  • A relevant publication record
  • A record of attendance at relevant conferences
  • In some cases, experience in a professional field

And in terms of personal or ‘soft’ skills, these can include:

  • Written and oral communication skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Technical skills, e.g., able to deliver classes online
  • The ability to multi-task
  • The ability to take initiative
  • Time management and punctuality
  • Self-discipline
  • An eye for detail
  • Patience and empathy
  • Flexibility and adaptiveness

In short, it is not enough for an adjunct to have academic knowledge — they must also be well-versed in teaching and assessment methodologies and demonstrate good communication and interpersonal skills.

What opportunities are available for adjunct professors?

When it comes to adjunct roles, it all depends on your niche. In some subject areas, the demand for jobs is much higher than available positions, meaning competition can be fierce. In other areas, there can be a wealth of opportunities.

The good news is that, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrolment in post-secondary institutions in the USA is projected to increase over the next few years. More specifically, it is expected to rise by 8% by 2030, from approximately 16 million to 17 million students.

As a result, this could lead to even more adjunct roles opening up. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for post-secondary teachers are expected to increase by 11% by 2028.

Moreover, the BLS also projects that most of these jobs will be part-time. So while it depends on the particular subject, it seems clear that adjunct roles are growing. This is particularly true within health and nursing, with teaching roles in this area set to increase by up to 23% by 2028.

What are the advantages of being an adjunct professor?

This career has quite a few key benefits, including the following:

  • It is a path to full-time and even tenured positions
  • It is more flexible than full-time or tenured positions
  • It is an opportunity to network and build a reputation
  • It is a chance to stay focused on a particular niche or specialism
  • It is a way for younger academics to try out teaching roles
  • It is a way for industry professionals to enter academia part-time
  • It is a way for older academics to semi-retire while still teaching
  • It is a chance to focus fully on teaching and building relationships with students
  • There are fewer faculty and administrative duties than for full-time professors
  • There is usually no requirement to conduct research or publish papers

What are the disadvantages of being an adjunct professor?

Of course, no job or career path is perfect. So here are some of the potential drawbacks of the role:

  • It pays less than full-time and tenured positions
  • There are usually no added job benefits, e.g., healthcare or retirement plans
  • There is a lot of job insecurity
  • You usually don’t have your own designated office space
  • You usually have less departmental clout and influence
  • You don’t have the same employment rights as full-time or tenured professors

How do you find a job as an adjunct professor?

Adjuncts can find work at both higher education and community colleges. Some might find employment in their existing college after completing a Ph.D. or Master’s program, with teaching assistant roles opening doors to this.

In some cases, adjuncts might be headhunted from industry positions, particularly if they excel in their field. Other jobs are filled by going through a standard application process, which might include several rounds of interviews or even a request to teach a sample lesson. This process can also include providing evidence of previous papers published.

What are some key statistics on adjunct professorships?

According to a 2018 study by the TIAA Institute, approximately 70% of adjunct faculty are over 40. 56% have a Master’s degree as their highest qualification, and a third have a doctorate. Around 20% teach at two or more educational institutions.

Other studies show a fairly equal split across the sexes in the role, with 48.5% of adjuncts being women and 51.5% men. However, there is a pay disparity, with women earning approximately 5% less than men.

How much does an adjunct professor earn?

This role’s salary can vary according to location, type of institution, subject, and experience level. Yet, in general, the average salary seems to range from $51,000 to $73,000.

That said, payment arrangements can differ. For instance, adjunct professors are not always paid an annual contracted salary — instead, they might be paid by the course or the hour. Hourly rates vary widely from $26 to $95 per hour, while the average payment for a course is $3,000.

A varied and rewarding career

While adjunct professorships have drawbacks, they also offer flexibility and a route into academia. If you are considering a career in education, they are also a good way to dip your toe in the water and decide if it is the right path for you. Or, if you are an academic near retirement, this role offers an opportunity to continue teaching while freeing up your time for other pursuits.