I’m glad I asked last week, as I happily received many thought-provoking questions and comments, and I look forward to getting to each one. This week, I’ll tackle a question from Renata, a doctoral student with much life and work experience, who asked me about a career track I often discussed at the university career center: community college teaching. Here’s (part of) what Renata wrote:
I am a “mama” who returned to college in 2000. I obtained my second bachelors, then on to the masters, and I am beginning my dissertation. What a wonderful journey. … I have owned several very successful businesses, lived and worked in Europe for over 15 years, and have an abundance of talent and experiences to share…
I have tried to break in the academic field and wisely, I thought, at the community college level. I am rather limited in this area, and since I am very familiar with distance education, I have also tried that direction. To no avail. Help. Otherwise, I head for the convent and I am not Catholic.
First of all, I think the community college (and distance education) route can be a wise one for many academics, especially those whose skills and passion lie mostly in teaching, and those with families as well. Compared the four-year institutions, at community colleges there is often more flexibility and support for family time, less (or no) pressure to publish (and less pressure in general), more diverse student bodies, and an opportunity to help shape the paths of students in transition.
None of these perks are a big secret, thus the competition for community college jobs has stiffened immensely in recent years. Many a teaching spot at these institutions has hundreds of applications, with many applicants holding PhD’s, although only a Master’s is usually required. Still, people do land these jobs every year and someone with a great deal of diverse experience as you have would make a great candidate.
I must say up front that I am most familiar with the ways of community college hiring in California, so I would love to hear from readers in other states (or countries) about their experiences in this job market. Still, I think there are some common traits of getting hired at a community college across the board, such as:
- Do some part-time community college teaching, but not too much.: From what I’ve heard and read, there is a fine line with community college teaching on which you must find balance. Teach some classes at this level, to show your interest and aptitude. But, don’t stay part-time too long, or you get stuck in the category of forever-adjunct. I know that’s easier said than done. But, if you haven’t taught any courses at a CC or distance learning institution, now is a time to take on one. Grad students often have a flexible enough schedule that you can take a morning class that may be hard to fill. Take one class, even if it isn’t ideal, to get your foot in the door. Then try to get to know people there, and let them know about your enthusiasm for working full-time in their world.
- Get involved in community college credential or mentoring programs.: Here in Southern California, there are two little-known but highly effective inroads to landing a CC job. Firstly, our university extension program offers a certificate in community college teaching, which features not only classes on targeting your teaching to CC populations but also offers mixers with CC administrators each semester. The extension program also has a separate series of classes on distance education -- even if you are familiar with the field, taking some of these classes can connect you with people looking to hire, and the classes can further show your commitment to this kind of education.
- Show commitment to the kinds of populations community colleges teach.: Community college hiring committees can smell a PhD who sees their job opening as a “fallback.” Someone whose whole CV touts their research experience, their top-ranked universities solely attended and taught at, and whose cover letter reads as if she is applying for a tenure-track position at Yale. If you want to teach community college populations, get some experience with these populations.
- Tailor your CV, cover letter, and interview strategy to community colleges.: On a similar note to #3, your application packet should not look like the same packet you submit for that tenure-track, Ivy League job. Highlight teaching over research, and those volunteer gigs and life experiences that may never make it onto a typical CV. Discuss the populations of the community college district in your cover letter. (This, of course, means do your homework.) Put together a teaching portfolio to show the kind of teacher you are. Practice interviewing with the kinds of questions CC’s ask, which are different than those you’ll get at a four-year institution. In short, be sure your job search strategy is targeted to CCs or distance learning, not just slightly adjusted from your four-year institution strategy.
- Keep applying!: Last but not least, don’t give up. You may have to go through a few rounds to find the right spot, to get to know people, and to learn the system at these institutions. Persistence can pay off here. And another perk of CC and distance learning jobs is that you can start applying for full-time positions without a dissertation in hand (or even a ways off), which gives you more time to land a job. Start early and keep trying; the more experience you gather toward this kind of job, the better your chances.
I hope this is helpful to you, and I wish you the best in your pursuit! Again, I’d love to hear from readers who have tips to add or experiences to share with Renata and others interested in this alternative and rewarding career path for academics.
Thank you for the great question, and I look forward to more reader questions in weeks to come. As always, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing You Your Own Vision of Success,
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