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What does an Adjunct Professor do?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Also known as an adjunct instructor, an adjunct professor is an education professional who teaches at colleges, universities, and technical schools on a contract basis. Unencumbered by the departmental and administrative tasks that full-time educators face, he or she has the ability to teach as many or as few courses as desired. In some areas, adjunct teaching professionals contract to teach specific courses during the term and are not considered employees of the educational institution. Other areas require that the professor be considered a part-time employee and expect the educator to accept a minimum number of teaching assignments each term in order to maintain that status.

The main function of this professor is to teach. This involves complying with institutional standards in terms of following the designated curriculum, and making sure that students are exposed to the material required for successfully completing the course. He or she is usually free to develop his or her own technique in presenting the curriculum materials. As long as the method is effective in conveying the information to the students in a manner they can grasp, it is unlikely that administrators will step in to manage the teaching process.

An adjunct professor does perform several other functions that full-time educators are expected to provide. Adjuncts some times sit in on faculty meetings, and may participate in any discussion that takes place. The typical adjunct teaching position requires instructors to keep meticulous records in relation to grades and attendance. In some universities, this professor will meet with students outside the classroom to discuss issues relevant to the course.

Adjunct jobs are found at most colleges and universities. In cities where several institutions of higher learning are in operation, a qualified candidate may accept adjunct assignments at more than one school. With the advent of distance learning programs, he or she may also function as an online adjunct. This allows the professor to work as much or as little as desired. While he or she does not enjoy the protection of tenure, a competent professor can normally secure as many teaching assignments as he or she likes, making it possible to simply discontinue accepting assignments if problems arise with one a particular school.

One major drawback to adjunct teaching is the lower salary and lack of benefits. It is not unusual for an adjunct professor to earn less than half the salary paid to a tenured professor for the same duties. Adjuncts normally provide their own health care coverage, and do not receive paid vacation or sick time, unless those issues are specifically addressed in their agreement. Still, many educators who want to avoid university politics and the duties that come with full time university employment find that this type of teaching is an ideal situation.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including Practical Adult Insights, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Sep 10, 2012

I never thought about adjunct professors working at a community college. It seems like that would be a good opportunity if you like teaching, because you wouldn't need the Ph.D. you might need elsewhere.

When I was in college, we had a few adjunct faculty who were very influential in the department. They were able to advise graduate students and have research programs like a normal professor without having to worry about tenure.

There were also some professors who were considered adjunct who had their home in another department and just had a specialization that let them teach classes in our department.

By cardsfan27 — On Sep 10, 2012

@kentuckycat - I have worked as an adjunct professor for the last 10 years or so. My best advice would just be to get your name out to the people in charge of hiring. I was in a good position, because one of my friends worked in the department already and was aware of openings. If you just contact the head of the department that you're interested in working in and give her your name and resume, hopefully they will keep you in mind for future opportunities.

Working as an adjunct professor can be a great way to earn some extra money outside of your normal job, so I would definitely keep pursuing it. I'm sure since you're looking for these jobs that you're also interested in teaching, and it can be very rewarding.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 10, 2012

How do you even find adjunct professor jobs? It is something that I have always thought about doing, but I don't know how to get into it.

I think it would be great to have the opportunity to teach one or two classes every semester at one of the local junior colleges. I don't know of anywhere that actually has the jobs posted, though. When I do find a job, it seems like they are always looking for a permanent faculty member.

I should be qualified, I just don't know how to get the jobs in the first place. Does anyone have any experience with this?

By jcraig — On Sep 09, 2012

@ceilingcat - I know that is what a few of my professors did. One used to work for the state as a researcher. He also worked for the university teaching a couple of classes every semester.

Eventually, a position opened up that he was qualified for, so he sent in an application and got the job. He was very qualified to begin with and was already familiar with the university system, so I'm sure it made the decision easier.

By ceilingcat — On Sep 05, 2012

@LoriCharlie - That's nice your friend was able to get her job without having a Master's degree. I wonder if the school she works for might eventually pay for her to go back and get it?

Anyway, I know the salary for adjunct professor positions is lower than that of fulltime professors. But I wonder if some people use an adjunct position as a stepping stone to become fulltime, and then get tenure. Working as an adjunct certainly sounds like a good opportunity to get your foot in the door at a university if you're interesting in that kind of career.

By LoriCharlie — On Sep 05, 2012

A good friend of mine was working as an adjunct professor for awhile. Most colleges usually require you to have a master's degree to work as an adjunct. My friend only had a Bachelor's degree and some work experience in her field. However, she knew someone at the college who gave her a good recommendation, so they waived the usual adjunct professor requirements for her.

By Azuza — On Sep 04, 2012

@eidetic - I think most people had a least a few classes in college that were taught by an adjunct college professor. I always thought it was unfortunate for the professor that that they weren't fulltime, but looking back, I think it was kind of good for the students.

Most of the adjunct professors I had were actually working in the field they were teaching in. So they had a lot of real world experience to offer their students, which I thought was really valuable.

And I hope all of them were getting health insurance through their other jobs!

By eidetic — On Sep 03, 2012

I had a few professors when I was in college that were adjunct faculty. As the article said, from what I remember most of them had other jobs. Obviously most people can't support themselves on an adjunct professor salary, so this wasn't really surprising.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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