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Job candidate has seven years of adjunct teaching experience, no full-time experience. Proposed statement in a cover letter for a tenure-track position requiring teaching experience: "I have seven years of experience teaching XXX to undergraduate and graduate students." Notice that the word "adjunct" doesn't appear in the sentence.

The issue here is wanting to conceal the fact that the candidate has been been searching unsuccessfully for a tenure-track position for seven years, which is a common challenge for most new PhDs in today's job market. The question of research vs teaching isn't at issue here, only how to phrase one's adjunct teaching experience where teaching experience is required.

Which of the following is true, and what evidence is there to support your choice?

(1) Adjuncts should state the number of years of their teaching experience because a significant number of years makes them more competitive. Someone who has taught for seven years is far more valuable to the university than a recent PhD graduate with little teaching experience. The former has a better understanding of pedagogy; a portfolio of teaching activities; skills in classroom management, online and in-person teaching, grading, conflict resolution, mentoring, etc.; and broad cross-disciplinary teaching experience. These experiences are of the same quality as those gained from tenure-track teaching.

(2) Adjuncts should not state the number of years of their teaching experience in the cover letter because adjunct teaching is not highly valued and drawing attention to it and to the number of years spent as an adjunct without finding a tenure-track position will make the candidate less competitive. The candidate should only state, "I have taught XXX to undergraduate and graduate students" without stating the number of years.

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    Does anyone actually read cover letters? My guess is no. This should go on your CV.
    – Dan Romik
    Jul 28 at 19:51
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I don't see a possible way to "hide" how long one has been an adjunct. Surely that time is going to appear on the CV in some fashion; tenure-track hiring committees aren't going to stop at the cover letter.

I think it's best to be honest, but no need to be verbose or apologetic.

The emphasis on teaching versus research is very much going to depend on institution. At an R1 university in the US, faculty may be hired to teach a bit (maybe 20%-30% time to start, though field-dependent) but the primary hiring criteria for tenure-track is going to be research output and potential. If they were only trying to fill a teaching spot they'd be hiring an adjunct instead. It probably matters less how long you've been on the job market as an adjunct and more how you've been able to keep up research over that time. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to keep up a good research program on that schedule, and I think that's going to be a bigger contributor to difficulty finding a position than an implied "oh this person has been looking for a job too long, they must not be good".

At a primarily undergraduate institution where research is mostly a side-project for faculty and teaching responsibilities are primary (more like 80% teaching), then I think there would be a lot more emphasis placed on teaching experience, especially at a small institution where they are hiring you to be the instructor in some area and they're counting on you to stand on your own.

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    As an aside, I think most people are fully aware of the difficulty of landing a TT position in the current environment. There is no shame in working to keep connected to academia in bad times.
    – Buffy
    Jul 28 at 15:19
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I don't think this is really an answer, but only some observations that might help.

First, some adjuncts are highly valued and do it for the love of teaching, not because they need the money and are otherwise career blocked. Some of the best ones I know are highly valued industrial researchers who just want a connection to the university. The money is chump change for some of them, I think. If they wanted a full time faculty position, they would be welcome.

Second, times are hard and the pandemic ain't helping. It was already bad before 2020. People understand that. We go through cycles in this. I finished my degree in very bad times. I was lucky to stay in academia at all, but the position I first took was far below my expectations and the expectations of my professors and peers. But, I gave myself no options and was able to build a career. But it would have been impossible if I'd had to put together a bunch of adjunct gigs to support myself. People generally know how bad it has been and how few opportunities there are compared to the number of graduates.

Third, if you have been doing other things such as industrial research along with adjunct teaching, don't neglect that as a positive aspect of any application.

Fourth, see if you can't exploit some of the contacts you already have at the places you've been teaching. Make it known that you'd like a permanent position.

Fifth, there are a number of very highly respected universities (CMU, Duke, Stanford, ...) that offer a position (this is in CS) called, perhaps, "Professor of the Practice". They are non-tenured, but full time and with long term contracts. They don't require the same research that tenured faculty are expected to do, but respect it when done. Many don't require a doctorate, but most of the folks I know have one.

Last, stress your dedication to teaching (and academia generally). Whether you say "seven years" or "several years", don't lose track of the fact that you can do a quality job.

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  • I'm hoping that repliers will select option 1 or option 2, as that's my only question here.
    – Eggy
    Jul 28 at 15:59
  • If you think it has no value you can vote it or flag it as a non-answer.
    – Buffy
    Jul 28 at 16:02
  • People's explanations do have value, including yours about "no shame in working to keep connected to academia in bad times," thank you.
    – Eggy
    Jul 28 at 16:06

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