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QUESTION: Hi Dr. Converse,

My question involves obtaining a post-secondary teaching position. I have my BA in English, and I'd love to teach English and writing at the college level. But I need some advice before enrolling in grad school.

My chosen degree, MFA-creative writing, is offered at U of Texas totally online. Word is, the program is fantastic; each professor is a published author, and the curriculum is intense. I'd love to earn this degree. But I'm concerned that earning my MFA online will disqualify me from teaching positions after graduation, because institutions won't hire someone who studied online. Is this true? I've studied under many professors, and none of them earned their degree online.

Many schools near me have near-constant job postings for "full time, tenure track English adjuncts. Benefits package, etc. Requires a Master's degree plus two years teaching experience at the college level." How might I gain the necessary college teaching experience if I need experience to get hired as a teacher in the first place?

These schools also require letters of reference and a curriculum vita. Can these letters come from my professors, or must they come from past or current employers? Can you give any advice about composing an excellent curriculum vita?

If there's any further information I should know, please feel free to share. I appreciate your time and effort, thank you.


Alex

ANSWER: Hi Alex,

All good questions, and I am happy to be of help.

You don't say if you have had any previous teaching experience (or experience at any professional level) so it is difficult for me to give you practical CV advice.  What I recommend you do is attach a CV to an email and send it to me at the address below.  I will be in a much better position to help you with that part of the situation once I see what you have in place.  If you have not yet constructed a CV, you can let me know and we can proceed on that basis.

One detail of your inquiry is a bit of a mystery to me.  You stated that many of the job postings advertise for "full time adjuncts "  That is actually a contradiction in terminology.  I'm not sure what that means.  By definition, any faculty member at any college or university (at least all of the ones I have been associated with) is either full time or adjunct.  "Adjunct" being academic-speak for "part time."  So, in my experience, you're either full time or part time but not both.

Your question about getting experience if you can't get hired to gain that experience is a familiar one.  Here is the bottom line: if the job announcement requires college teaching experience and you don't have it, you are applying to the wrong job.  You cannot be considered if you do not meet the minimum qualifications (i.e. two years of experience).  You will need to find a place (community college for example) that will allow you to gain the experience you need before you move up the academic ladder.  If you think about it, a lot of people have been in your situation.  I know because I was one of them.  I started as a community college adjunct, moved into the position full time, then began to look at university positions, did my Ph.D., and then I was in a stronger position to compete for the job I wanted.  You will likely need to take the same track.

As to online vs. traditional degrees, it is true that many schools will not consider online degrees with the same seriousness as those done in the traditional manner.  Whether that stigma is fair or not isn't the issue.  You simply need to weigh the benefits of the online degree vs. the downside and make your decision based on what you think is best for your career path in the long term.  An online MFA will not necessarily disqualify you from  teaching positions, but it may make it more difficult for you to obtain the job you want since many institutions have a bias against online degrees, particularly graduate degrees.  Again, you need to make that decision as to what you think will benefit you most.

Finally, letters of reference can come from anyone who is familiar with your work/school history and abilities.  From what you have told me, it sounds like you have little to no work history, so the letters can certainly be written by professors familiar with your ability to do the job for which you apply.  Many, perhaps most, new graduates face this same issue so reference letters from professors are perfectly fine.

Send me your CV or contact me further at the address below.  I am more than happy  to help you in any way I can.

Best wishes,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi Dr. Converse, thanks for your fast reply.

It's true, I don't know the first thing about composing a CV, and I haven't attempted it yet. To my mind, this is the least of my worries...but I'd still like to gain knowledge of composing one properly. This way, I won't have to make poor guesses about doing it right.

My mistake--the job listing isn't for "adjunct". It's actually for full-time. It says MINIMUM grad degree and two years of teaching experience. So to me, this means "Has a grad degree, and has taught for at least two years as an adjunct". Thanks for pointing that out to me. I feel much better about it now. My confidence is renewed.


"I started as a community college adjunct, moved into the position full time, then began to look at university positions, did my Ph.D., and then I was in a stronger position to compete for the job I wanted."

Aha, now it's all starting to make sense. So really, most community colleges probably do NOT require 2+ years of teaching experience--just the grad degree and good references. Excellent. So my plan should be: get my grad degree, become an adjunct, teach for a few years, and THEN start looking for full-time professor positions--possibly while pursuing my Ph.D. Right?


"You simply need to weigh the benefits of the online degree vs. the downside and make your decision based on what you think is best for your career path in the long term."

Personally, I'd like to get my MFA in Creative Writing (I'd like to become a creative/fiction writing professor). No local schools offer this degree, but it's offered online at U of Texas. It seems I have no choice. Is getting my degree online really THAT big of a deal? I was in Honors in undergrad, and my GPA was 4.0...I'm confident I'll earn high grades and impress professors at U of Texas as well. Do these achievements count for anything? Is it safe to say that some schools will turn up their academic nose at online degrees, while others won't mind at all? How will the hiring school know I attended online unless I mention it specifically, while it doesn't say "Online Degree" anywhere on my transcripts? To me, this is THE most crucial aspect of my decision.

I have "work history"....but it mainly involves working at low-paying monotonous hourly jobs. I worked at a golf course in undergrad, then at a restaurant, etc...is this going to hurt my chances after graduating, or do schools generally expect recent grads (and adjunct applicants) to have unimpressive work histories? My sister is an English adjunct, and she didn't work at all through college (I'd put these questions to her, but we don't exactly get along).

One more brief question regarding salaries. They list something like "$750 per contract hour", or something to that effect. Clearly, college "hours" differ from "working hours" (teaching 12 "hours" per semester, etc). I'm having trouble figuring out adjuncts' average salary per term. Can you help me understand this? Her first year, my sister was earning about $50 per day teaching English 100, four classes per week. Does that sound about right, on average? Does this differ from online teachers' salaries? What's the deal with "contract adjuncts"..?


Thanks so much, Dr. Converse. Your answers shed so much light on the stresses and concerns I have regarding this topic. I appreciate it.

Best,
Alex

Answer
Hi Alex,

Yes, you are correct; getting to a full-time university position generally takes a gradual slope upward, not a giant leap right out of undergrad school - although that does happen to unusually qualified individuals occasionally.

As to grad school, are you only able to attend locally, or is moving to a school where the MFA that you want is available?  If you need to stay where you are, then the online option is the only one open to you.  You might want to explore other schools just to get a sense of what is out there and may fit your needs more closely.  No problem with UT, but there a number of excellent programs offered by small, regional schools that specialize in only one thing: MFAs in Creative Writing.  Before I wrote my second book, I was looking at some of those programs, but it turned out I needed to go in a different direction.  So, do a little research and then go where your instinct tells you to go.

As to online vs. traditional, I wouldn't be overly concerned about the online degree acceptance.  UT has a good reputation, so I am sure prospective employers won't have much of a problem in that respect.  All of your achievements count for something.  The degree to which they count is entirely dependent on who is doing the evaluating.  Just go with your gut and don't worry about it.  If a school really wants to know if your degree was online, they'll find out.  Otherwise, your coursework, grades, and the schools reputation will take care of things.

Do not put your "get by" jobs on a professional CV.  Unless your work had some direct connection with the job for which you are applying, do not include it.  Employers are used to dealing with newly-minted graduates, so this is no issue at all.  If you need my help preparing a CV, it is what I do full-time.  The company I founded helps job applicants from all over the world do this sort of thing every day.  I can't do it for free, but I will be happy to give you a quote if you like.  Since we met here on AE, I can do the work for you myself and not assign it to one of my writers.  If you want me to do that, contact me at the email address below; that is where my business mail goes.  This site is for complementary advice only.

The pay scale for adjuncts is all over the map.  You would have to contact each school and find out the rates they pay.  I'm afraid I can't give you much help in this regard since the pay varies widely.  I'm not sure what the question is when you ask me about "contract adjuncts."  If you are simply unfamiliar with the phrase, it generally means that an adjunct is under contract to a particular institution for a specified amount of money per credit hour AND for a specified amount of time.  Full-time faculty are on a contract that pays a yearly salary; adjuncts usually work with a contract that specifies work per hour (not per year).  And, again, online teaching does vary from on-site teaching as regards a salary scale, but the specifics are provided by each institution.

Hope this helps; contact me at the email below if you need a quote or want to continue the discussion.

Best wishes,

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.

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I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.

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I have interviewed for, and held, dozens of jobs in a career going back more than 42 years. I have taught at all educational levels including middle school, high school, community college, and university. In more than 42 years of experience on both sides of the job-search process, I have interviewed hundreds of applicants and have reviewed literally tens of thousands of job application packages. I am the author of 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them! I conduct workshops for job seekers in a variety of locations every year.

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Music Educator's Journal, Teaching Music, Music and American Culture (forthcoming, 2013), Last Teacher Standing: The Job is Yours Now! and 12 Mistakes That Got Your Job Application Rejected ... And How To Fix Them!

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B.A. New Mexico State University; M.Mus. Southern Illinois University; Ph.D. University of California and University of North Texas

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