How to become an adjunct faculty member

This column, “How to become an adjunct faculty member” was previously published in Dr. Lynn Friedman’s Carnegie Mellon University blog.

Dear Dr. Lynn Friedman:

How do I become an adjunct faculty member at a university?

I am a history teacher. I read your column on “how to make a good living, doing the job you love”. Specifically, you suggested to a secondary school teacher that they consider teaching at the college level. I have a BA in History and a masters in Education. I am wondering how to become an adjunct faculty member? How do I go about getting a part-time teaching position at the college level? Do I need a Ph.D.?

Unschooled in the Art of Job Finding

Dear Un:

First identify those colleges at which you would like to teach. Find out whether there are other faculty who do not have a doctorate. If there are none it will be a harder sell and unless you have a truly unique background I would suggest that you start by pursuing those schools who do have “masters level” faculty.

Then set about the business of credentialing yourself. You already have teaching experience. Now you need to demonstrate that you are fully prepared and qualified to teach at the college level. Obtain catalogues from the schools in which you are interested. Identify those courses which you feel that you are most qualified to teach. Search the web to obtain relevant course syllabi from colleges elsewhere; in this way, you will be knowledgeable about the kinds of approaches faculty are taking with the topic at hand. This information will prove most useful when you interview for teaching positions. Become an expert in one topic and offer to serve as a guest lecture at several of the local colleges. After doing this for a term or two, you will have college experience and you will be prepared to apply for a teaching position.

Now put together a Curriculum Vitae (an academic resume) describing your teaching experience–at both the college and high school level. Find out who does the hiring within your department of choice. After reviewing their catologue and department mission, send a cover letter describing your experience guest lecturing at their college. Note that you enjoyed the experience and describe how you feel you can make a contribution. Incidentally, you should be sure to make the faculty for whom you guest lecture aware of your interests in teaching just in case an opening should arise. Good luck.

Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. Lynn Friedman:

I am a third year graduate student. I am very interested in teaching when I graduate. Ideally, I would like a post at a research school. However, I am willing to teach anywhere. Currently, I am supported by an NIH grant. So, I devote all of my time to course work and clinical research. My publication record is coming along nicely. But, do I need to do anything to make myself marketable as a teacher? Federally funded

Federally funded

Unschooled in the Art of Job Finding

Dear Dr. Friedman

I entering my third year student in a doctoral program in clinical psychology. I just completed my masters and I am trying to decide whether to complete my Ph.D. I would like to teach at the community college level and I am wondering, can I teach with a masters? Also, as I have done no teaching yet, what can I do to prepare for this sort of career?

Burnt out

Tips for Finding a University faculty position

Dear Federally Funded and Burnt:Federally: Many research universities will hire you for a faculty appointment without much teaching experience. However, despite this fact, there are several reasons why you should seriously consider seeking out teaching experience. If you are competing with a candidate with comparable research qualifications, it will give you a competitive advantage. If you are successful in landing a faculty appointment, when you are required to teach, you will already have experience. Your teaching experience will lead to your feeling more confident in your new job. Also, it would be wonderful if you happen to be asked to teach a course that you have already “prepped” elsewhere. Finally, you may discover that you hate to teach and that you don’t like undergraduates. It would be great to learn this prior to committing yourself to a teaching career!

Burnt: Yes. Many colleges, and not just community colleges either, hire people with “only” masters degrees. In fact, many even hire people who have not yet completed their masters degree! But, as you can imagine, you are more likely to succeed in securing a position if you have solid experience.

How to become an adjunct faculty member and/or to make yourself a competitive for a full-time position?

So, how do you get experience? Many universities allow or even require graduate students to teach. If this is true at your institution, I would encourage you to consider teaching a summer course in an area that you enjoy. If possible, you may want to teach a course in an area that makes you marketable. For example, if you have the requisites, consider teaching statistics and/or methods. Many universities have trouble finding faculty who are willing and able to teach these courses. Introductory Psychology is a course that is taught everywhere and is often in demand. Alternatively, you may want to serve as an adjunct faculty person at a local college.

If your university does not allow graduate students to teach, or if you can not obtain an adjunct position, or if you are too busy, you may want to consider putting together a series of 2-3 lectures. For example, if you are a clinician or a neuroscientist you may want to put together a series on the biological basis of psychopathology. Be sure to select an area that you love that is taught within a course that you love. Then, you can “pinch hit” for a colleague or two. If you are at a large institution. There may be as many as 7-8 sections in which you can teach these lectures over and over again. Becoming very practiced and skilled at teaching a few lectures will come in very handy if you are required to teach a course as a part of a job interview process!

If you are interested in remaining in your current locale, you may want to take your show on the road and teach within each of the local institutions. If you do this, be sure to have coffee with the instructor beforehand. In this way, you can learn more about how to integrate your materials into their course. This type of networking will allow you to establish relationships with faculty at other local institutions. Be sure to let them know if you are interested in teaching a course, should an opening occur. If a course opens up unexpectedly, they will be aware of you and they will be familiar with your skills. By the way, I would encourage you to write them a thank you note via email and to keep in touch afterwards. Let it be known that you are willing to cover for them if the need should ever arise.

Good luck. Please keep me posted and let me know if any of these suggestions are helpful.


Dr. Friedman

Dr. Lynn Friedman

Dr. Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., FABP, is a Clinical Psychologist, a Supervising and Training Analyst, and a Clinical Supervisor in full-time, private practice. She provides evaluation, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as supervision to psychoanalysts-in-training and other mental health professionals. Beyond this, she is a board certified, psychoanalyst who teaches at Johns Hopkins University and the Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis.

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