So when I left off, I was accepting a visiting position in a distant state while still ABD. I then finished my dissertation very quickly. It had taken me some large number of months of work to turn out two chapters, and I finished the remaining chapters (three or four, I don't want to look up how many right now) in about four months. In retrospect, the diss would have benefited from some more time and thought, I think, but I knew I wouldn't be able to work on it while preparing new courses from scratch.
Thus began my six years of contingent teaching, in which I had five different teaching jobs. Some were actually full-time, others were one course. If there are any graduate students out there reading this to get a sense of what things could be like, I feel that I should stress that I was extremely lucky in at least two respects:
1) I spent a while living in a place where many colleges had phenomenally good adjunct pay. Most schools do not pay more than $1500-2000, and I often did much better than that.
2) I have a spouse whose full-time salary and health plan meant I did not have to go without groceries or medical care.
Since I worked at a number of different colleges in somewhat different capacities, my experiences were fairly varied. At some places, I felt pretty well integrated into the department; at others, my office was isolated in a different part of campus, and I hardly saw anyone else from history. At some, I shared an office; at others, I had space to myself. One of the positive aspects of these experiences is that I had the opportunity to see how different colleges and departments work. A lot of my colleagues at my current institution have never worked anywhere else, and I think I have a broader perspective on how higher education works.
A second positive aspect is that I gained a lot of experience. When I finished graduate school, I was rather raw in some respects. I had never taught my own course and I had no publications. That first year, in particular, was something of a crash course (experiential) in teaching. I also did two conference papers that year and started preparing an article for journal submission. In my various jobs, I got a lot of practice prepping new courses, and a lot of opportunities to observe faculty politics. These things have enabled me to step into my current tenure-track position more easily than I moved into my first post-grad-school job.
Things that sucked:
There were quite a few, but I'm going to highlight just three, I think.
- Very little mentoring. New t-t faculty may get formal mentors; new contingent faculty, not so much. I corresponded with my grad school advisors, but couldn't have one-on-one meetings. I had to figure out a lot of things about teaching, publication, etc., more or less on my own. I asked for advice, and did often get it; but I had to form relationships and ask for help on my own initiative.
- Double job searches. I spent much of every fall preparing applications for the tenure-track job market. I spent much of the spring making lists of colleges in my area, phoning people, and mailing off copies of my c.v. This was a successful strategy, which did get me hired on several occasions, but it took a lot of time and a heavy emotional toll.
- Feeling like my life was on hold. It was hard to make plans more than a few months ahead. I avoided making commitments in the area where I lived, because I thought I might be moving in a few months. I seldom had the right combination of money and available time to do more research (again, I often couldn't plan on a summer research trip, because I might need to relocate...). I often felt socially isolated, and I wish I had been more open to developing relationships while living in places I thought of as temporary.