Am I an Early or Mid-Career Academic?

The other day I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this tweet asking, “Am I early-career or mid-career? A Memoir.” And, man, I felt that. I am arguably early-career, having only had full-time employment in higher ed for the past 2.5 years. On the other hand, I’ve been teaching college classes since 2009. My journey to this point might be classified as “atypical,” but as the replies to this tweet suggest, stories like mine are becoming increasingly normal.

Being both early and mid career is challenging. Most of the advice for early-career academics is focused on getting them through graduate school or beginning the tenure clock. It assumes they have limited experience working for institutions (or at all in any industry), limited time teaching, and even a limited understanding of academic publishing. Given this framework, I am also not an early and mid career academic. I finished graduate school years ago. I am not on the tenure track. I have over 10 years teaching experience, some experience with publishing, and a variety of other professional experience. Like Schrodinger’s cat, I simultaneously am and am not early-and-mid career.

What’s academia to do with this growing class of nontraditional academics? In my own institution/department, as we rapidly approach the majority type of faculty, questions emerge such as: What are we allowed to vote on? Can we be advisors to graduate students? Who should handle the service burden of “evaluating” NTT faculty if we suddenly become more numerous than TT faculty? Whose hiring requests should get priority?

If only we were adjuncts, it would be easier (for the TT faculty, to be clear) because none of these questions would even be on the table. But the extent to which I am and am not a fully-fledged member of this department/institution is…complicated. And I suspect I’m not alone. This is partly why I restarted this blog—to offer early/mid career folks advice not from the TT position of yesteryear, but from a liminal space that is vast becoming the norm in modern academia. We talk a lot about preparing graduate students for alt-ac careers—careers outside of academia entirely—but what about alt-TT careers that are inside academia? Those of you who are on the TT or who have tenure might be thinking, “but we don’t want to encourage the growth of those kinds of roles!! We need more TT, not less.” Agreed, my friends. There should be more funding for higher ed. More room for full-time teaching and research positions. But tailoring all academic advice to TT positions is like preaching abstinence-only sex education. It doesn’t stop the sex and just increases the likelihood of unwanted pregnancy.

When I was on the job market, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as NTT positions at institutions other than community colleges. I didn’t even know it was an option. All the advice I could get my hands on was geared toward getting one of those coveted, rapidly disappearing TT positions. Not to mention I had no advice whatsoever for navigating the adjunct job market—and yes, there is such a thing—or the adjunct career track. Again, you might be balking at the thought of an “adjunct career track,” but there are more and more of us, my friend. You can try to turn a blind eye or shove us out of academia, but we are still here and growing.

Is the only advice worth giving to NTT academics “how to get a TT job even though there aren’t any?” Or “how to abandon all your hopes and find a job that really doesn’t want-or-require your experience/degree?”

I’m here to call bullshit on all that. You want to stay in your current NTT role? Okay, I’m here to help. I’ll give you the dirt on surviving as an adjunct. I’ll tell you how I narrowly avoided a mental breakdown while finishing the PhD and being on this ridiculous job market. You want to leave your NTT role for greener, non-academic pastures? Okay, I’m here to help! I’ll tell you how I got my alt-ac jobs and how to strategize for non-academic career paths. I’ll do whatever it takes to ease your way, to share my hard-won lessons in the hopes of helping you not only survive your academic career, but also to find the path that works for you. After all, your life is more than a single, dwindling dot on a graph even if that dot has dominated your sleeping and waking life for the better part of a decade.

I don’t have all the answers, but I’m hoping to bring on some guest posters in the future to explore other facets of this dynamic issue. To pretend there aren’t a myriad of academic career scenarios necessitating advice and strategy is to erase the lived experiences of so many academics, especially those who identify as women and POC.

Are you in a NTT academic role? What kind of career advice do you crave?

Also, I am thinking of launching a biweekly newsletter which would contain a post roundup and Links I’m Loving. Would you subscribe to such a letter? Let me know in the comments!

Stay tuned for more posts this year about teaching, research, and academia. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @litambitions and Instagram: @ecacademic (where I really nerd out about planning). You can also follow this blog (see the email subscribe button on the home page).

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