Saturday, February 11, 2012

Postdoc flexibility

The much-lauded "flexibility" involved in a postdoc or adjunct position, of course, is all on the institution's side. My flexibility --- or more precisely, my stability, as I think pretty much every adjunct would take the guarantee of a certain number of future classes as a tradeoff over the flexibility --- has to come into play about now.

Sigh. I don't know what to do. Basically, my Intro to Fruit Studies class is actually a huge, much-coveted reward for the adjuncts here, who really like teaching it. I didn't even know this when I mentioned, at my arrival, that I would like some teaching experience in it --- another invisible privilege of being higher in the hierarchy than the adjuncts. My teaching it means that the course gets covered by someone with a grad certificate and 18 grad level credit hours (which is important to accrediting bodies, in case you didn't know) instead of someone who has previously taught it but has only a HS credential or is currently getting an English MA. --- Most of our adjuncts are former HS teachers or current students.

Anyway, the Fruit Studies coordinator needs to know, and needs to know now, whether I would like an intro class for fall, to try out the second level course (so 201 instead of 101), or no Fruit Studies, and she needs to know which time slot. I get (all the postdocs get) scheduled before the adjuncts, but the adjuncts are all chomping at the bit and harassing her for a chance at something more fun than intro comp.

Basically, I have to commit to my classes and schedule right now, or tell them that I'm not coming back in the fall.

Here's the thing. I've basically decided that I need to not come back in the fall.

But I don't want to tell them that yet and I can't even quite bring myself to make the decision for sure, because it means giving up on an academic job and that makes me sad.

But I have been looking at my monthly expenses and budgeting, and while I admit I am pretty bad at holding myself to a budget, my pay is only barely covering my necessary expenses and it comes out to less than a basic office or retail job by my parents' house, where you can't fill a position for less than 9 bucks an hour. I think I need to move home, back in with my parents, and begin a nonacademic job search. Siiiiiiiiiigh.

And I think it's hugely important for me to tell my department chair that they aren't paying me enough to make it physically possible for me to stay. Especially since half of the postdocs are going to leave at the end of their first year, because of money and workload, despite the fact that they have no job to move to. And they are having a hell of a time getting anyone new to sign on to this postdoc once they tell them the salary. So I really need to outright tell the chair this rather than just not show up come fall or accept and then back out. That kind of confrontational act, that kind of decision-making where I definitely close an avenue off, really doesn't come easy for me.

But I have four unanswered emails from the temporary Fruit Studies coordinator and I need to respond. Damn that Fruit Studies course! So much more fun than comp! It's making it hard to give up this crappy temporary job! Argh.

By the way, if you look at the google doc of adjunct salaries currently being compiled, my postdoc wages are about the middle of the road, and certainly better than many peoples'.  And I have health care and benefits. But I also have a $246-per-month student loan payment to make, and I can't afford to pay that but let the groceries or the vet bill pile up on the credit card.

Of course, postdoc city school, if you wanted to hire me as a permanent lecturer and have me teach 4-4 for about 40k, or even 35k, I would happily stick around permanently. But I bet that's what you're paying the tenure-track faculty --- I know you pay the full-timers here about 27k and the adjuncts much less than that, and I just can't stick around for those numbers.


recent Ph.D. said...

Maybe you should just tell them that about the numbers, about what it would take for you to stay, and see what happens. That's more or less what I told my department when I left -- that I wanted to continue teaching there, which was true, but just couldn't for what they were offering. Of course, they didn't offer anything more, said they " couldn't" and just found another adjunct (with a PhD), but it sounds like at your place they're having more trouble with staffing and your credential might mean more. No harm in trying, especially if you've decided you do need to leave if they won't offer more.

Contingent Cassandra said...

It seems to me you're dealing with two related, but separate questions:

1) Whether to set up a schedule for the fall, to keep open the choice of staying, and

2)Once you've made a decision not to stay, how and what to tell the chair.

Unless you're ready to talk to the chair right now, I'd say go ahead and put together the schedule that you would want if you do stay. As you say, it's a course people want to teach. If you leave, someone will pick it up, in whatever time slot you choose (and if the department then has trouble filling the less-interesting course that ze dropped to take it, or has to make an adjunct into a full-timer to fill the slot -- well, that's not a bad thing, is it?)

As for talking to the chair, the traditional deadline for tenure-track full-timers to resign is May 1. I'd say you have at least until then, unless you've signed something that says otherwise. Even if you have, I'd say that, for any contingent/"flexible" faculty member, the option to resign anytime but actually in the middle of a term is there (and I've seen people do it in the middle of the term because a much-better-paid spouse got an offer elsewhere, and the whole family needed to move right away). As you say, flexibility really does have to go both ways. Of course, doing so could burn some bridges, so short-notice resignations should only happen when a contingent faculty member has been offered a clearly better (more stable/secure, better-paying, better-located) job, and should be offered with sincere regret. If you're leaving to look for other work (rather than with a job in hand), then I'd say May 1 (or whatever deadline your contract specifies) is the deadline.

And yes, do have the conversation with your chair (or, if you're afraid you'll get emotional, lay it out as succinctly and neutrally as possible, with real regret expressed for leaving what you have enjoyed about the job, and thanks for the opportunities you were offered, in a resignation letter, and offer a follow-up conversation). It may go better than you think; I once told a chair that I was sorry, but I simply couldn't afford to switch from full-time non-TT to adjunct (a difference of one course). He came back with another course, and a full-time contract, a month or so later. I wasn't thinking of it as a negotiation, but it turned out to be. Given the difficulty in filling these slots that you've mentioned, you probably should consider the possibility.

And no, there's no reason (other than penny-pinching on key core/service courses) for non-TT faculty (whatever you call them -- "post-doc" sounds like a nice euphemism to avoid "visiting assistant professor," which might suggest you should get an entry-level assistant professor's wage) not to be paid at least as much as an entry-level assistant prof.

Good luck! I'd say you're smart to consider other options, especially since you've currently got a bit of a safety net while you're making/considering the transition.

P.S. Thanks for the link to the doc; that looks like a useful effort.

Anonymous said...

So long as they can get someone minimally qualified to fill it for that amount of money, it won't matter. And ftr, I make more than any of the numbers you quoted here teaching high school.

Dr. Koshary said...

It couldn't hurt to tell the chair this in the context of bargaining. I doubt the odds are great, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that their needs could push them to give you more money to keep your credentials put.

And if they don't, leave. You have to be willing to mean what you say, and pack it in if they don't come through. The math you mention is no trivial thing.

Apropos of Anastasia's comment, have you ever looked at the possibility of teaching at a high school — say, a good magnet school that might want a richer literature diet for its students than the basics? We had a few English teachers with PhDs where I went to high school, and they added some great enrichment to our coursework. I'm sure they also were paid more, on account of their professional credentials.