In response to this popular post, I am doing this AMA about college adjunct labor. As I say in my title, I taught six course sections over this past school year--five different courses in all--and made less than $20,000.

Proof has been sent to the mods.

Edit: OK, this has been fun and garnered much more attention than I could have ever imagined, but I've got to get to bed. So it's goodbye for now. Thanks for the discussion!

Comments: 1453 • Responses: 49  • Date: 

magiteker784 karma

How attractive are cash bribes given your financial situation?

20kadjunct924 karma

Hahaha! Well, I've never been offered one, and I've felt very uneasy about even accepting thank you gifts from students--like a $10 coffee shop gift card--after the semester is over. So I'd say that based on my system of values, I will never accept one.

xxam925476 karma

You know that is so unfortunate. I have had some AMAZING professors and am very active in extracurricular activities. One of my professors dedicates so much time to seeing his students succeed that it blows my mind. Not only does he give time for group study sessions for finals and midterms but he is also very active in assisting our club in outreach activities. This is a college chemistry professor and club so our demo's are pretty intense for safety reasons.

The course I am taking with him is two semesters long so at this point I feel it would be inappropriate to show appreciation. When the course is over it would be an honor to treat him to dinner, I hope he and the other professors accept the clubs invitation.

Although I cannot affect your monetary situation directly, please accept my thanks for doing what you do. Your profession is the most important aspect of our society.

20kadjunct520 karma

This past semester on the last day before the final I got three thank you cards, one with a long and heartfelt message that was very touching, as well as a cupcake. My day was made.

csprxn55 karma

As a student is there anything I can do to express my appreciation that ever won't be creepy? When I graduate there are a lot of professors I'd like to thank, but I don't want it to be weird.

20kadjunct115 karma

There are plenty of ways. Say thanks in person, or write a card or an email. Writing a favorable evaluation or a good RateMyProfessor review is one thing, but saying it directly to us is much more meaningful. A couple have asked if it was OK to give me a hug before they left, and I was totally OK with that.

redhockey391 karma

What subject do you teach? Do you work in research outside the university, do any consulting, etc?

20kadjunct553 karma

I teach a language and its literature, really two different types of courses. I am also a full-time PhD student (unfunded) and have two other jobs on the side to get by.

Redcorns579 karma

Unfunded PhD? Are you in the US? Why did you accept an unfunded offer of admission? Are adjuncts unionized on your campus? Thanks for doing this AMA/bringing light to an important issue in higher ed.

20kadjunct434 karma

Admittedly, it was not a smart idea and it's something that my university pretty much doesn't do anymore. At the time, I was just tickled to be accepted and thought that adjunct labor within the university was really a great job opportunity.

Mountebank170 karma

Yeah, from what I've read when applying for graduate schools, an offer for an unfunded position is like a polite rejection. They're saying that you're good enough to get in, but there's not enough money for you. You get to say that you got accepted to School X, but they don't actually expect you to attend, and if you do, free money!

20kadjunct162 karma

Actually, my tuition has always been covered, and my school, until recently accepted many students as unfunded, many in the same cohort as funded students. We are just as successful as the other members of our cohorts, so it does make you think twice about who the admissions committees value. It also begs the question about opportunities for funding at other stages in a graduate career.

Mountebank75 karma

I don't know how things work in the humanities, but is it up to you to find an advisor with grant money to fund you or does the department itself fund its student?

I wouldn't consider a tuition voucher as totally unfunded. You know when they really don't want you around when they start charging you tuition.

20kadjunct99 karma

In the humanities the professors are less likely than in the sciences to have money to fund their students. My advisor does not have a research assistant, for example, and it's not like he's in charge of a lab in need of workers.

StandardDeviation90 karma

Isn't being an adjunct professor without a PhD a bit unusual? I taught courses while I was a PhD student, for which I got squat, at the same time I was a research assistant. But at least it was helping to build experience and my resume.

20kadjunct183 karma

I am not an adjunct professor. I am an adjunct lecturer. There's a difference in pay and, for the most part, qualifications. But the courses are truly mine. I am not a teaching or research assistant.

StandardDeviation56 karma

So tell us why you are willing to work so hard for so little (per hour). Is there a union on your campus that you're a member of and if so, what are they doing to try to remedy this? Also, for those who may have little idea, estimate the dollars per hour you are earning, counting not only class time, but prep, office hours, grading, etc.

20kadjunct133 karma

Great. So I work hard because 1) I love teaching, and 2) I hope that adjuncting now while I am a grad student and doing my job well is a step towards becoming a tenure-track professor one day.

I am a member of the union for my university. Currently they are negotiating a contract that seems to value the contributions of the full-time workforce more than the adjuncts, although we have been pushing back against that and stating our case for a significant movement on their part in support of us.

My official hourly rate is a little bit more than $60, which sounds great, I'll admit, but I only get paid for the hours I am in the classroom as well as one office hour a week. I'm not sure exactly, but I think for each three-credit course I typically put in between 12-15 hours a week in teaching, planning/research for class, answering student emails, writing exams, grading, writing letters of recommendation, tutoring students, making copies, attending meetings, etc. So that averages out to $12-$15 dollars an hour depending on the week.

staticwarp38 karma

12-15 an hour with tuition vouchers is really great in todays job market, especially if you're doing something you love. being able to subsist while enjoying your work and life is a very respectable and fulfilling way to live. your passion is evident and the students and university are lucky to have you.

20kadjunct38 karma

your passion is evident and the students and university are lucky to have you.

Awww. Thanks!

baobei19481 karma

What's the difference between a professor and a lecturer? Is it that a professor teaches and goes in depth about the subjuct, while a lecturer only discusses the subject but not in detail?

20kadjunct9 karma

Not at all. The difference is money. Ok, money and that a professor has been hired by the university to that position and typically has a PhD or other terminal degree (MFA for Fine Arts, for example). Currently, I have an MA in my subject and have completed all my coursework towards my PhD but have not yet completed my dissertation. As far as classroom obligations, a professor and adjunct's work is the same. I have taught upper-level courses only taken by students majoring/minoring in my subject and have received less than $3k for the semester for that course.

StandardDeviation9 karma

Professor : lecturer :: stallion : gelding

kwaaaaaaaaa4 karma

No idea what a gelding was, had to look it up according to Wikipedia:

A gelding is a castrated horse or other equine

Man, I hope the analogy isn't that literal for OP's sake.

20kadjunct7 karma

I'm doing just fine, thanks. I think I'm a mare, if I remember my equine young adult literature well.

1310459821039 karma

You should not do an unfunded PhD--no one should. Sorry, but you're paying to do a job.

20kadjunct73 karma

Actually, I suppose that unfunded is the wrong word, as other commenters pointed out. My tuition is covered by the university.

dogfish21185 karma

Do you even want to teach after your Ph. D. Program?

20kadjunct292 karma

Definitely! I taught my subject in middle and high school before I began my PhD program and teaching is something I love. I can't imagine myself not doing it.

Edit: Accidentally added a word.

Naznarreb168 karma

Do you grade on a curve? And will there be extra credit? Also I'm not going to be here for the exam next Friday; can I get an extension on that?

20kadjunct243 karma

Of course! I will drop your lowest test and quiz grades as well, but not like it'll matter because they'll all be open book. You can turn in homework at any time throughout the semester for full credit. And I'll gladly administer all students' exams for them whenever they feel prepared to take it... :)

Edit: Is there a way to format to indicate sarcasm?

MadeInWestGermany104 karma

I think reddit's hint for sarcasm is an '/s' at the end of your post.

20kadjunct87 karma

Thanks! All these years on reddit (this is a throwaway, obviously) and I've never caught on to that.

herpderpherpderp146 karma


20kadjunct85 karma


Iburnbooks90 karma

How did you end up with this position rather than a tenure-track one?

20kadjunct133 karma

I have not yet completed my PhD, so I am not eligible for a tenure-track professorship. I suppose it's the dream that one day I will hopefully achieve.

christopherrcooper69 karma

I am also an Adjunct at a major university. It's not at all my primary job, I do it for the pleasure of teaching. What are your thoughts on the fact that your "competition" may often be folks like me?

I wrote a good bit about my own experience as an adjunct professor, if you're interested.

20kadjunct81 karma

I've never thought of any other adjunct as competition and I think it's great that there are people who want to adjunct for the pleasure of teaching. There should be better compensation and greater job security for all adjuncts, not just the ones who make it their primary job.

KatyCowbelter50 karma


20kadjunct60 karma

Excellent question and something that I, as well as my colleagues, feel very apprehensive about. I am lucky to be in a program with a record of graduating students who have received tenure-track jobs right away. I also have an excellent and well-known advisor, which may be a boon when I go on the job market. I think that the critical-thinking aspect of the humanities is, well, critical for educating successful students, and I try to be optimistic about the value that universities will place on my subject matter in the future. Fingers crossed!

GoldGloveStatus48 karma

What's your living situation like?

20kadjunct131 karma

I live in a large and very expensive metropolitan area so it's definitely a struggle. I'm lucky enough to have a partner with a job and together we can pay our rent on a one-bedroom apartment, pay our bills, and buy our food and some wine. I couldn't do it without him, though, and all the support he has offered me over the years.


Marry him<3

20kadjunct68 karma

That's our plan!

foomachoo45 karma

If someone volunteered to help you as a "guest lecturer" for free, on a specific topic they are expert & passionate about, for 10-20% of the class time, would you see that as helpful (giving you a bit of break, while still keeping you as the leader, & freshing/mixing up the content for the students), or would you see it as a threat to further erode the pay of your work?

20kadjunct69 karma

I have been invited as a guest lecturer for classes about my specific area of expertise by my tenured colleagues at my school and it's been really fun. In literature, I think there are great advantages to have notable or expert guests come in for a day, but I think that it's not something that I would want to have happen more than once or twice a semester.

ChargerEcon22 karma

What is your degree in?

What do you want to do with the degree when you finish?

What can you do with a doctorate in your field that isn't academia?

20kadjunct30 karma

I have a BA in Education and my subject (a language) and an MA in the subject.

My goal is to be teaching as a professor when I'm done. I like teaching the language courses and I LOVE teaching the literature.

Teaching is the most obvious career path in my field, but working at archives or a cultural institution might be possibilities.

ChargerEcon15 karma


So... let me ask a couple dick-ish questions, but why are you getting your PhD in that subject? I'm almost certain that you'd make more money and work less if you stopped now and taught at the high school level instead of going to the collegiate level. PLUS, far less departmental politics (take it from a guy who has taught at both the high school and university levels, albeit in economics).

Or why not go to wherever they speak that language and teach english?

What's the job market for people in your field from your school? How many people graduate each year with a PhD from your program? How many get jobs and how much do they get paid?

I know you said you're not an economist, but what I'm asking you to do is figure out the return on investment. Don't get me wrong, I love teaching college kids much, MUCH more than high school kids. But I'm not going to make myself suffer to do so.

Some quick googling revealed a few reports in what I'm guessing is your field (here's one: Basically, roughly 60% of people graduating with a a degree in a language other than english go on to teach at the university level. The other 40%... don't. Average salary of those 60% is roughly $57k/year. Now, this goes up if you reach the rank of full professor to about $80k/year. But you said that you wanted to be a teacher, not a researcher, so getting up to that 80k average mark is unlikely. And realistically, you're almost certainly going to be paid below the market average as an assistant professor.

20kadjunct22 karma

Well it's not about the amount of money I'd make. It's about my passion, which is to teach literature in my language. That option is rarely available at high schools, and if it is, there's probably just one class of it a year.

I don't want to teach English. I've lived abroad and taught it, but it's not as fulfilling to me as a really amazing discussion on a great novel with students who have some startling and illuminating insights on the work.

Terryclaw21 karma

I am completing my masters in criminal justice and have recently applied to a variety of adjunct faculty positions. I have taught a few classes here and there for some of my professors but nothing full time. I am a bit intimidated about teaching a full semester course and was wondering if you could give any tips or suggestions as to what I could do to be more confident in my teaching abilities as well as how to keep the class from being bored? I want the class to feel engaged and want to avoid simply giving a boring lecture that would likely make the class uninterested. Thanks!

20kadjunct42 karma

Well, for starters, it sounds like you've got the right attitude.

Students will be more enthusiastic and less bored if you are enthusiastic and love what you do and the subject you teach. Be passionate! And don't feel ashamed about being a nerd for your subject!

I sing, I dance, I make awkward pictures on the chalkboard, I (try to) tell jokes and keep a light mood. Plus, when I'm teaching a language course, I can add fun group activities and games into the class. It's all worked out pretty well so far.

I_want_candyy21 karma

Have you read In the Basement of the Ivory Tower, by Professor X? If so, what did you think of it?

20kadjunct11 karma

No. Should I be adding this to my reading list?

vinesnare14 karma

whats one of your funny teaching stories?

20kadjunct42 karma

Oh, goodness. Well, my favorites are always the students who think that they can get away with using Google Translate or something similar to write essays on their homework and they will say something like "I wore a tie" but the word they use for tie will be the word that actually means railroad tie, or a tie in sports, or family bonds, all things that I've seen before. Moral of the story: Use a good dictionary and don't accept the first word that pops up in Google Translate. WE. ALWAYS. KNOW!

Edit: I actually thought of a better one. A day or two before an exam, a student once asked if I could push the test back to the following week for all students because this one particular person was pretty busy with other things.

woaishuijiao13 karma

Do you feel like you are not respected from other professors in the department because you are an adjunct/make less money?

20kadjunct18 karma

Not at all. I have wonderful and supportive colleagues at my school, some who are very active in also supporting adjunct labor. They delight in my successes, listen with interest about my own research and share their own expert wisdom. I have even been invited to guest lecture classes. The immediate community surrounding me is largely respectful and pleasant.

JackTerron11 karma

How many hours a week do you work? Do you have any TA's to help?

20kadjunct11 karma

As an adjunct, I probably work between 25-30 hours a week, more if I get three courses in a semester, as was the case this spring. I have no TAs, so all the planning, teaching, and grading are my responsibilities. Even though my courses tend to have a lot of each of those areas, I'm lucky to have a cap on student enrollment in each course so I've never taught more than 30 in one section. Typically there are about 27 students in each of my courses.

JimiSlew38 karma

Have you ever thought of going to the dark side (administration) and teaching on the side? I confess... it's what I did. I teach much less than I would like, work a solid 12 months, 8 hour + days and teach on the side. Of course with a PhD you're going to be in a better boat. Good luck!

20kadjunct12 karma

Thanks! I don't think administration is my thing, even with a side dish of teaching. The solution to the adjunct labor crisis is to pay adjunct faculty better, not to lose us to (economically) greener pastures.

pyr0t3chnician8 karma

If you become a full-time professor, with tenure or what not, what would you be making? Was the article accurate?

20kadjunct17 karma

In my area, experienced professors with tenure can make upwards of $90k/year. I'm in a large city with a high cost of living and excellent universities.

JackBrownDB7 karma

Do you really feel you deserve to make significantly more? If so, what's your reasoning?

20kadjunct17 karma

I really do. I have an MA in my subject (my BA was in the subject as well as in education) and I have completed all the coursework towards my PhD, but have not yet finished my dissertation. My reviews from students as well as official department observations for my teaching have all been excellent. I make less than $3k per course. I'd like to think that my time, experience, and expertise warrants more fair compensation.

igotthisone4 karma

Look into online teaching, which pays as well or better and requires much less prep time. I'm not saying abandon this, just consider picking that up on the side.

20kadjunct8 karma

Thanks, but I'm definitely more interested in face-to-face interactions with my students. They are much more impactful and helpful, especially in and language class.

FeloniousDart7 karma

Are you teaching at some for-profit somewhere? That pay rate seems to be in line for an ITT or a University of Phoenix.

20kadjunct14 karma

I teach a large, public university in an urban setting. We seem to be towards the bottom of the adjunct pay scale when compared to some schools, but we're definitely not in this boat alone.

Pizzadude6 karma

A large portion of PhD students also teach, and make less than you do for it, but are called TAs. How is your position different?

20kadjunct16 karma

That's a great question. TAs are generally not the overall supervisors of their own classes. They follow a syllabus set by the supervising professor, grade work or tests assigned by the professor, etc. Adjuncts, on the other hand, are wholly responsible for the course, its planning, and carrying out the plans.

urajoke5 karma

Do you plan on switching jobs ever? Was this your dream job as a child, and is it your dream job now?

20kadjunct18 karma

My dream job as a child was musical theater. Teaching a language, really, is part acting.

Now, being a professor is my dream job and something I will pursue once I defend my dissertation.

Supermansadak2 karma

Why do you think tuition is so high?

20kadjunct6 karma

While I don't purport that economics is my strength--I'll leave that to this guy--I don't think that professors' wages are really the problem. There are multiple factors that lead to a rise in tuition across the board, including an increase in the administrative class at universities as well as significant increases in the salaries and perks for the top administrative dogs. This NY Times article is an interesting read about the relationship between presidents' salaries and student debt. And this Planet Money podcast, among other things, talks about the rise in tuition corresponding to the rise in assistance for students in the forms of scholarships and loans.

poundedout452 karma

My mom is in the same situation. After the Affordable Care Act, she had her classes slashed. Did you suffer the same consequence?

20kadjunct1 karma

No. I haven't heard of that happening and I'm not sure why it would.

KidQuestions2 karma

Sorry if this sounds personal, but how are you paying off loans and such with such a low figure?

I ask this because one of my dreams is teaching at a college level, but the high cost of tuition is scaring me away and leaning more towards a higher wage major.

20kadjunct4 karma

It's not too personal. I have no undergraduate debt, but I have racked up a considerable amount while paying for my Master's and the first two years of my PhD. Because I am still in my program as a full-time student I don't have to pay those right now, and I've been committed to not adding to it over the past two years by working two extra jobs to make enough to get by and even pay a teeny amount down on the loans.

If you are looking into a PhD, work as hard as you can to get fellowships to pay your tuition and give you some money to live off of (usually in return for teaching or research)!

PenguinPwnge1 karma

If you became president of the university, what changes would you immediately enact?

20kadjunct5 karma

Realistically? None except put up some great art in my office. A university president is just another administrator, not a dictator, so there are so many bureaucratic steps to go through to make even minor changes. It's a job I'd never want to do. But I am a firm believer in the university being for the students, so I'd be sure that there were direct channels of communication between me and them.

kindhuman-1 karma

why are teachers so high and mighty about their job?

20kadjunct5 karma

How did you learn to read this AMA?

UrbanToreador-20 karma

Supply and demand being what it is; if you're unhappy with your salary why don't you find work that pays more?

If your answer is "but I love what I do or I love the kids" then shut the fuck up because I've never had a job I like but I do it because that's what adults do to care for themselves and their families.

20kadjunct6 karma

Just because you love what you do doesn't mean that you are fairly compensated for it.

Edit because your question maybe deserves more than snark: A) I am a responsible adult and have two other jobs to help pay the bills. B) Before I became a PhD student, I had other jobs that paid more. Some adjuncts are current graduate students who find that teaching as an adjunct is not only something we are qualified to do and enjoy, but also a hopeful step towards becoming a professor after we graduate. That's not to say that there aren't tons of exploited non-student adjuncts out there who love what they do and aren't compensated fairly for their hard work.

WhoringEconomist2 karma

I'm adjunct faculty and have a second job where I make a considerably large income. I choose to teach because I enjoy it and while the extra paycheck is nice I could easily live without it.

UrbanToreador-11 karma

You're not here bemoaning your salary either

WhoringEconomist3 karma

Neither is he. He did mention it, but when your pay is significantly lower than the national average its obviously a topic of interest. Personally I don't agree that he should be paid any higher, but I get the feeling he may think the same way.

20kadjunct4 karma

Actually a she. Not that it matters at all for the sake of the AMA.