Alexis Leanna Henshaw's blog

Reflections From a Visiting Professor

Being a visiting professor is a curious status. While the term “visiting” implies that one has come from somewhere to which they will eventually go back, in fact these positions have increasingly become the entry point for new scholars coming out of graduate school and headed towards an uncertain future in academia. In a 2012 report, the National Science Foundation noted that engineering and the social sciences saw the greatest growth in postdoc positions over the decade 2002-2012. Numbers from the American Political Science Association (log-in required) show how this trend has progressed in one area of the social sciences, noting a gradual decline in tenure-track appointments over the past four years, while non-tenure-track appointments hovered at just over 20% of all placements.

Yet these data also tell another story.

While the NSF classifies any temporary position as a postdoc, and the APSA counts all non-tenure track positions in the same category, the status of visiting professor is separate and distinct from that of an adjunct or lecturer. As other blogs on the topic have noted, visiting positions vary widely in terms of financial support for relocation and for research. Based on an informal analysis of her peers in visiting positions, Eliza Woolf came to the conclusion that not only is moving to a tenure-track position at the same university highly unlikely, but many visiting professors she knew did not move on to tenure track work at all. Job candidates with families, those who want families, or those with other special needs can incur significant financial and personal costs that may at least partially offset the benefits of taking a one- or two-year appointment. Further complicating the issue, the recent growth of visiting positions in many fields means that new scholars moving into these positions are unlikely to have advisers or colleagues who have served in visiting positions themselves. These scholars may find themselves without mentors to navigate them through uncertain waters.

In entering a visiting position, scholars are likely to face a number of gray areas. In teaching, for example, my experience at a small liberal arts college was that undergraduate students (unsurprisingly) made no distinction between me and other, tenure-track and tenured faculty in the department. This meant that, while I had no formal advising commitments, I was still asked to provide informal advisement, to supervise independent study projects, and to teach more rigorous honors variants of my courses. While I was not required to carry out any of these responsibilities, it was difficult to say no to students who came looking for guidance. As a scholar on the job market, I was also conscientious of the potential benefits of being able to say, for example, that I’d served on a student thesis committee. Similar views also informed my attitude toward research. While I had no research expectations and was ineligible for most sources of institutional research funding, not continuing my research was simply not an option. I set aside time for research by joining a working group with other junior faculty, but the financial costs of paying out-of-pocket for research materials, membership in professional associations, and most of my conference travel were not trivial.

Regarding service, visiting faculty should also be prepared to make strategic decisions. While visiting professors often face no service obligations, attendance at department or faculty meetings can be worthwhile for those seeking professional experience or who just want to feel like a part of the academic community. Visiting faculty may also find themselves in the position of determining how to handle service requests from well-intentioned colleagues who are unaware of (or who disregard) their temporary status. While these are decisions that will vary by individual and institution, I found that structure was key for me. In addition to dedicated time for working on research, I also had designated time set aside for applying for my next job. I sent out my first applications for the coming academic year the day before classes started at my then-current institution. During the fall especially, the new job search was time consuming and job-search time had to be preserved at all costs.

From the perspective of one who has worked as an adjunct, a graduate assistant, and a visiting professor, the visiting status has its rewards. Aside from the obvious, like salary and benefits, visiting faculty also have access to professional development opportunities that are not available to other types of contingent faculty. But the unique challenges of the position should also not be overlooked. Just as the individual entering these positions has to be prepared to be their own advocate, departments and institutions can help by examining their own policies regarding scheduling, research and travel funding, relocation assistance, and the like. Professional associations can also play a role. With visiting positions becoming a common training ground in many disciplines, less-experienced scholars could benefit from greater data collection about visiting positions, including the diversity of those in visiting positions and the success of one- and two-year faculty in subsequent tenure-track searches. Professional associations can also position themselves as advocates, offering recommendations to job seekers and institutions on how they can best make a visiting term a rewarding time that benefits the institution, the individual, and the students.

Alexis Leanna Henshaw is Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science at Bucknell University. She was previously Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and International Affairs at Sweet Briar College, and received a Ph.D. in Political Science with a certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona. She can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter at @Prof_Henshaw, or through her website.

Show on Jobs site: 
Smart Title: 
Reflections From <br>a Visiting Professor

Addressing the Syllabus Gap


I did not attend the meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) this year, but even from my home, I found it impossible to ignore the current debate about women in the profession of political science.


These discussions have particular resonance for me, not just because I am a woman in the profession entering my first full-time academic position, but also because I am a woman teaching political science at a women’s college. This fall, I am teaching international relations to 50 young women, many of whom are learning political science for the first time. In the wake of new research showing that women’s work is less cited and pieces addressing the disadvantages women face in networking, what do I tell these aspiring political scientists about their place in the profession?


After a summary of new citation-gap research appeared in Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education, I saw a lot of hostile commentary from readers. Many decried the idea of having to meet citation quotas or sarcastically proffered the suggestion of citing women more or less at random, with no regard for cite-worthiness. For me, these comments border on reductio ad absurdum. Closer to a solution, I think, is a suggestion touched upon by Dan Nexon and Kelly Kadera in their recent works. At the root of the citation gap, I believe there is a syllabus gap.


For example, it struck me a few weeks ago that the syllabus for my undergraduate course Introduction to International Politics included remarkably few women writers, especially for a course at a women’s college. The textbook previously in use—Henry Nau’s Perspectives on International Relations—does introduce feminism and discusses gender issues and our reader—International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, edited by Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis—includes several pieces by women, but none of those readings were currently in use in the course. Do I believe this was a malicious omission? Certainly not, but I do believe that we as academics tend to assign what we know. Reflecting on my own education, I was surprised to realize how many of the female political scientists whose work that I know I read in my spare time or in preparing for my own research, and not off of a syllabus. The works of J. Ann Tickner never appeared on any syllabus I had—graduate or undergraduate—nor did the works of Linda Camp Keith, Carol Cohn, Antonia Handler Chayes, Cynthia Enloe, Christine Sylvester, or a host of other names now familiar to me. Other recent works by female political scientists like Meredith Reid Sarkees, Mia Bloom, and Sara McLaughlin Mitchell appeared only on syllabi in courses that were taught by women.


I decided to revisit the reader from my undergraduate political theory course, which included not one single female author—no Mary Wollstonecraft, no Hannah Arendt. On works about women, John Stuart Mill was included, but excerpts from “The Subjection of Women” were not. As an undergraduate using this text, it’s a wonder I didn’t come away thinking that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were the only political theorists who had ever even discussed women. And, if I had to seek out so many of these works for myself or rely on female mentors to bring them to my attention, I wonder how many students of political science never read these works and, in turn, never cite them in their own research.


I believe the solution is to break the cycle by changing the syllabus. In fact, the inclusion of “cite-worthy” women authors on a syllabus should be easy, especially in those areas of political science where women publish more: human rights, international law, environmental politics, and in work with a constructivist or feminist focus. The challenge is motivating current political science instructors to go beyond assigning what they already know. In my case, because I had read so many works of female political scientists on my own or at the encouragement of female mentors, it was easy to change up the syllabi I inherited. Perhaps the readings I added will become permanent additions, but for other instructors, it may involve some work. Coercing instructors to add women to the syllabus is neither possible nor practical, just as it would be impossible or impractical to make authors meet citation quotas. However, if our undergraduate and graduate students (male and female) fail to complete their education with a knowledge of current or even the most influential works by female political scientists, we cannot claim our job as teachers of political science is done.

Sweet Briar, Virginia in the U.S.

Alexis Leanna Henshaw is Visiting Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Sweet Briar College in Sweet Briar, VA. She holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and a graduate certificate in Gender and Women’s Studies from the University of Arizona.


1.On the citation gap, see Daniel Maliniak, Ryan Powers, and Barbara F. Walter, “The Gender Citation Gap in International Relations,” International Organization (Fall 2013, Forthcoming).; Kelly M. Kadera, “The Social Underpinnings of Women’s Worth in the Study of World Politics: Culture, Leader Emergence, and Co-Authorship,” International Studies Perspectives (2013, Forthcoming).; Daniel Nexon, “The Citation Gap: Results of a Self-Experiment,” The Duck of Minerva (Aug. 16, 2013). On networking see, e.g., Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, “Part II: The Glass Half Empty: Gendered Problems in Academic Networking,” The Duck of Minerva (Aug. 27, 2013). (Part II) and (Part I); Erik Voeten, “Sex and Networking at Academic Conferences,” The Monkey Cage (Aug. 16, 2013).; Laura Sjoberg, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” The Duck of Minerva (Aug. 15, 2013).

2.Scott Jaschik, “If Men Do It…” Inside Higher Ed. (Aug. 30, 2013).; Beth McMurtrie, “Political Science Is Rife With Gender Bias, Scholars Find,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Aug. 30, 2013).

3.Kadera (2013); Nexon (2013).

4.Kadera (2013).

Show on Jobs site: 
Subscribe to RSS - Alexis Leanna Henshaw's blog
Back to Top