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Posts Tagged ‘adjunct

No, Really: What does a Philosopher do?

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When Adjuncts Escape

Helen De Cruz has done a fascinating and very readable series of blog posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) tracking the migration of philosophical thinking from academia into the rest of life. As low-paid, temporary workers (that is, “contingent faculty” or “adjuncts”) take over more and more university teaching duties (50% of all faculty hold part-time appointments); smart, degreed people are also starting to find their way out of this system that rewards increasingly narrowed focus with low pay and a kick in the butt at the end of the semester.

Ms. De Cruz has a number of excellent interactions with her sample of former academics (at least one of whom left a tenured position!). I love that Ms. De Cruz named transferable skills. What would a philosophy Ph.D. bring to a start-up? Or a tech position? The answers she arrives at may surprise you.

Why the Nichols Station Apartments look different.

Why the Nichols Station Apartments look different.

I’ve always felt we carry our interests and passions and skills with us, from this class to that job to this project to that collaboration. And thus we form a life of work. Possibly we produce a body of work. We once called this a “career,” but that word has overtones of climbing some institutional ladder. I think we’re starting to see more willingness to make your own way—much like Seth Godin described his 30 years of projects.

The notion of “career” is very much in flux.

And that is a good thing.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion Ms. De Cruz had with Eric Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan found his way out of studying phenomenology (and philosophy of language with advisor John Searle!) at Columbia and UC Berkeley to writing television comedy (Letterman, Flight of the Conchords, and Big Bang Theory, among others). If you’ve watched any of these, it’s likely you’ve witnessed some of the things a philosophical bent does out loud: ask obvious questions and produce not-so-obvious answers. And that’s when the funny starts. It’s this hidden machinery that will drive the really interesting stuff in a number of industries.

Our colleges and universities are beginning to do an excellent job dispersing talent. That thoughtful diaspora will only grow as time pitches forward.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Why Teach?

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Teaching is an epistemological playground

tumblr_miips3VALd1qbcporo1_500-02202013Yesterday I posted under the title “The unbearable sadness of adjunct.” I hope you read on to see it was a larger discussion about the price anyone pays to live a thoughtful life. I tried to show the realities of teaching as an adjunct (often agreeing with Burnt-Out Adjunct), especially noting the counterintuitive reality that some advanced degrees still offer jobs that force you to choose between buying groceries or paying the mortgage.

But there are also good reasons to teach. If you can afford it (counting the work you do to earn a living and/or opportunity costs of time spent on teaching), it is work that is full of meaning. Here are a few reasons I continue to seek opportunities to teach as an adjunct:

  • There is a thrilling something about developing a coherent idea and presenting it to a class of students. Even more thrilling, when you see that they see the utility of the idea.
  • Class times often become incredible conversations. Not always, but often poignant things get said that help move my thinking (and humanity) to a new level
  • To teach is to learn. And learning is great fun. There’s nothing like trying to explain something to someone else to show how little you really know. As I explain, synapses fire and brand new stuff happens in my brainpan. Teaching is a kind of epistemological playground.
  • Students are amazing. At the college I teach, I remain deeply impressed by the devotion and care and passion many (not all) bring to the work. I often encounter excellent writers and I want more than anything to help those people move forward.
  • Faith and work belong together. Every year I teach I see this more clearly and I labor over (and yes, I pray about) how to explain the connection. My own work as a copywriter highlights and dovetails into this connection. I am very pleased to bring with me ancient texts that explicate the meaning of work and life.

Naturally, there is more to say about this. What would you add?


Image credit: Kelvin Okafor via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 20, 2013 at 9:39 am

The Unbearable Sadness of Adjunct

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The Price of the Life of the Mind

tumblr_mhwfl0rYaL1qmylbao1_500-02192013I’m having a lively conversation with PissPoorProf about the value of a Liberal Arts degree. He maintains that liberal arts should be corollary studies in college while I think they should be central. Others are chiming in. It’s a discussion I welcome because the topic goes well beyond the choice of undergrad studies. As Burnt-Out Adjunct so ably points out (in his many posts) the life of the mind does not come with an income. In fact, it requires an income to satisfy those lower elements in Maslow’s hierarchy, just to get to the point where one can, well, buy time to think/read/write/converse.


Also agreed: the treadmill that is adjunct work, with day and night responsibilities (Honest: preparing lecture/discussions, delivering those educational events, responding to questions and grading take way more time than I would have ever believed when I was a cubicle dweller with a steady paycheck) is relentless and seemingly possible only when you have another income. So when PissPoorProf describes adjunct teaching as “about as soul-sucking as a wage-slave job can get,” I tend to agree.

And yet, we agree that the life of the mind—whether taught or caught or pursued or scrimped and saved for—is a thing of value. Maybe part of our equipping for undergrads, as well as for those later in life who want to think, is to help each other understand we need to pay your own way to join the larger conversation.

There is so much more to say about this.


Image credit: BORONDO by Arte urbano Madrid via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

How I had to stop working to love my work.

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I don’t have to work. I get to.

People are endlessly interested in work—though not exactly in the stuff they toil at daily. Every week I talk about work with lots of different people. Students looking for work. Careerists suddenly thrust out of (formerly) safe positions. Adjunct professors disgusted with poverty-level positions. University lecturers trying to fit research together with teaching and coming up short.

Work says a lot about who we are as individuals and what we like to do. It’s says things about our priorities and talents, but work could never tell the whole story of who we are. It is only a starting place for that question.

Roughly 15 years ago I realized I was hiring and paying expensive ad agencies to do the very work I wanted to do. So I quit to find a way to do the work I was hiring away. That was the beginning of a journey toward a new way of thinking about how I spend my days. It became less about going to a place and more about solving real problems that bothered real people, using ideas and words strategically. It felt great to jettison the internal politics of a large corporation, though I miss the great fun I had with friends in the workplace. That’s why I relish my current client teams.

But like the hero in the commercial below, being perfectly suited for something doesn’t mean someone will give you the chance to do it.


Just because someone says you don’t fit the job, doesn’t mean you don’t fit. This is how you find your work: the thing you won’t stop doing just because someone won’t pay you to do it.

Today, even on a Monday, find a way to start doing the thing you love. And don’t wait for a company or boss or faculty chair to recognize your genius. Start the process now to expand and hone your particular genius. Don’t get to the end of a career only to realize you missed the opportunity to work.


Written by kirkistan

June 11, 2012 at 5:00 am

Posted in What is work?

Tagged with , ,

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