Since I became an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas 3 years ago, an interesting thing has happened: People have started approaching me about how I got the job and how they might do the same thing.
I have to admit–I didn’t see that coming.
But, it’s been a fun thing to talk about with some new friends–and some people I’ve known for a long time. I love seeing more interest in adjunct professorships–our students need the life-line we provide to the real world now more than ever.
And, as the frequency of these asks has increased the last 6 months, I thought I’d get some of the thoughts I’ve been sharing with people in-person down here in case YOU are thinking of this as a potential thing you’d like to do down the road.
The discussions I’ve had usually boil down to 3 big questions:
QUESTION: How did you become an adjunct professor?
ANSWER: The short answer: it took 5-7 years and wasn’t easy. The long answer: I started guest lecturing at Betsy Andersen’s class at UST way back in 2010 (or so, I can’t remember the exact year). I instantly loved it. The connection with the kids. Being on campus. All of it. And Betsy kept asking, and I kept saying yes!
Then, my friend Shelli Lissick introduced me to Dr. Tom Grier, former professor at my alma mater, Winona St. University. I would speak at his class down there once/twice a year, making the two-hour drive and often staying overnight to enjoy my time at WSU. I spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I spoke at Metro State with Rose McKinney and Greg Zimprich’s students. I probably did this for 3-4 years and started to think, “hey, maybe I could actually teach one of these classes at some point.”
I started to tell people I was interested in doing that. I even had an interview with UST in (probably) 2016 or so. But, was denied due to the fact that I didn’t have my MBA. Then, in (roughly) 2018 my friend Aaron Zaslofsky introduced me to then-professor, Bruce Moorehouse, a wonderful human being. We hit it off. And I told Bruce of my desire to adjunct–specifically at UST. He graciously introduced me to the Dean.
Then, just a few months later, he informed me he was retiring and that UST was looking for someone to fill the social media class he was teaching. The new Dean didn’t mind that I didn’t have an MBA. I had the job–7+ years after I started speaking to classes at UST.
QUESTION: What do you like most about being an adjunct?
Many reasons! First, who doesn’t love going on campus in the fall/spring? To walk on the St. Thomas campus in April/May when it starts warming up is pretty sweet. You just feel 10 years younger doing it! So, that’s a huge plus.
Second, the students are great. And, I usually end up learning as much from the as they do from me! Plus, many of these kids are really great. I’ve only been teaching for 3 years, and I’m already getting notes from kids who graduated saying thank you and telling me how much they learned in class.
Finally, I’d also say it forces you to stay on top of your industry. I mean, I’m teaching a class in a niche (social media marketing) that literally changes EVERY DAY. So yeah, gotta keep up. Now, I’m doing a little of that anyway for this blog, for the podcast, and for my e-newsletter. But, it forces me to look at different things in different ways, too. I think that’s something I love about it, too. I’m constantly looking for interesting case studies and examples from social media to discuss in class–things that sometimes happen that same day!
QUESTION: What are the challenges?
Well, let’s just address the elephant in the room: The pay sucks. I’m sorry–it just does. If I do the math, and I treat St. Thomas like a client, they are easily my smallest client. In fact, I think my 17-year-old son makes more hourly at Life Time than I do teaching at St. Thomas. That’s not good. And I’d love to see that change, but that’s not my problem to solve. Anyway, you need to go into the adjunct thing knowing you’re essentially going to make very little money–especially when you consider how much time you’ll put in.
That leads me to the second challenge–it’s a TON of time! And it’s great–a lot of it you will probably love. But, if you have a stressful or super-busy job (especially one that requires a lot of travel), being an adjunct probably isn’t for you (at least at this point in your life). I budget 7-10 hours a week (counting travel time).
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the teaching. You probably won’t know what you’re doing. I know I didn’t! I’m not a trained teacher. So, you feel like you’re kinda making it up as you go along–which you really are! But, that’s OK. They most likely didn’t hire you for your teaching expertise–they hired you for your real-world experience! So, I try to play to that. I design the class to play to my strengths. We talk about case studies. We have a lot of hands-on learning with a project where the students develop a social media plan for a real-world client. Don’t worry as much about the teaching thing–the university knows you don’t really know how to teach. And I think that’s perfectly OK.