Alternative Career Options
Rita Nakashima Brock
Founding Co-Director of Faith Voices for the Common Good
You may not want to work full-time for various reasons, such as raising children, caring for parents, running a business (i.e., consulting), wanting more time to research and write, or engaging in a consuming hobby. Or, you may not need to work full time. Couples sometimes take a single full-time position, share the work, and negotiate benefits for both. If your financial circumstances do not require you to work full-time, a half-time job split can be an interesting option.
If you can find another scholar in your field who shares a similar interest in half-time work, you may want to consider submitting a joint application for one position. The advantage gained by the institution at the expense of one extra set of benefits is the additional perspective and voice to the faculty, department, and committee. Given that people of color are always asked to serve on committees to "diversify" them, having two instead of one on a faculty provides added value.
Here are things to consider when deciding to try a job-share arrangement:
- Is the person comfortable to work with? You will need to negotiate hours, workload, contract, tenure etc., so it is important that you trust your job-share partner and know him/her well enough to work with him/her. Whether the person is your life partner, a good friend, or a colleague, you will need to be able to labor closely with the person negotiating contracts and dividing up the work.
- Discuss what will happen if one of you wants to leave or work full-time. Peopleís lives and circumstances change, often for unforeseeable reasons, so it is a good idea to have some idea of what either of you will do in the event one of you has to withdraw from the job-share arrangement. You should consider having your share arrangements in writing, regardless of the relationship you have outside of work.
- Be sure you understand the hiring institutionís rules about outside work. They may not have policies that cover job-share situations. If not, negotiate how this will work and GET THE AGREEMENT IN WRITING (itís always a good idea to get any rule exceptions in writing, since administrators can change and new ones will not necessarily honor your oral agreements with past administrators).
- Is the position tenurable? Some institutions will give tenure to a job-share situation, but with a slower tenure clock or some other caveat. Be sure to ask about this possibility and negotiate for it if you want tenure. Same with sabbatical arrangements.
- Negotiate for benefits for both. This may require you to offer some extra work beyond a full time position. Such extras might include committee service beyond the expectations for one person, some extra student advising, one extra course every other year, or something similar. With your partner, work out ahead of time your ideas about extra work and what you plan to offer, so you can both negotiate from the same page.
Adjunct work has its cons and pros. The cons are that many institutions have turned to increased use of adjunct professors because it is easier to hire per course than fund an ongoing position with benefits and tenure, and most institutions pay too little per course for the time required (sometimes below minimum wage, if you actually put the number of hours in required for good teaching). Adjunct positions mean a reduction in the availability of full-time, tenure track jobs. The pros are that there are more adjunct positions available, and not everyone wants a full-time position, with all the work involved.
Good Reasons for Taking Adjunct Work:
- You need teaching experience on your vita. The type of experience gained from teaching your own course is different from being a teaching assistant to a professor. Your own course means you have to determine content, structure, and requirements, construct the syllabus, and administrate the entire course. People who hire junior faculty are often reassured about your ability to handle the first year on a job if youíve taught before.
- You want to develop collegial relationships outside your graduate program. Find colleagues who can write letters on your behalf and who have related to you as a professional, rather than as a grad student.
- You love to teach and are willing to work for very little pay, just to stay in the classroom. Or you donít need the income and prefer to teach without demands for advising or committee service.
- You want to experiment with innovative, alternative teaching methods that might put you at risk in a full-time, tenure-track position.
- While working in another profession, you want to keep a teaching line active on your vita so you can continue to seek full-time teaching positions.
- You believe, if the institution gets to know you and your work in teaching, they may become interested in hiring you for something full time, if it develops. This is a gamble, but perhaps worth it if you do not want to move. In the meantime, you should keep working on publishing and research.
That scholars of color have been in the field long enough to consider becoming administrators is good news. Those with an interest in it or talent for it should seriously consider taking on administrative responsibilities, beginning with chairing committees, departments, or boards, or serving on administrative boards. It also doesnít hurt to develop some experience with fundraising and grant-writing.
If you are considering such a move, find an administrator you trust and admire for their work and ask them about the work. Most are happy and willing to serve as a mentor.
Good Reasons to Choose Administration
- Administrators manage funds, which are a source of institutional power and a means to put your ideals to practical use by designing or supporting good programs, influencing faculty hires, helping deserving students, etc. Skillful administrators can do enormous good for institutions, especially those with both vision and practical skills, such as fundraising or program implementation.
- Youíve already done some volunteer work on boards and committees and have developed experience observing administrators in action, supervising the work of administrators, and understanding institutional structures and politics.
- Administrating widens the world to which you relate and to which you are responsible. You are likely to become knowledgeable about things that escaped you as a faculty member, knowledge which can be useful as you negotiate institutional politics and change.
- Relating to a wider world also means your responsibilities shift. You become accountable for the well-being of the whole institution, and, though your heart may be with a particular group or person, you may have to make decisions that go against where your heart is. This can result in your support group or friends regarding you as the enemy, especially when legal matters are involved and you are not free to be transparent about what is happening. For example, say that you are an Academic Dean and a colleague of color who is accused of a crime has organized an advocacy group on her or his behalf. You may feel this colleague is falsely accused, but you may have to suspend the person until the case is resolved, or, if she or he is found guilty, you may be required to institute a process of termination, even if you still believe the person is innocent. In another case, you could chair a board in which a good friend is head of the organization, but you have not interacted with this friend as an administrator. Over time, you begin to see that your friendís performance, even with suggestions and support, is increasingly incompetent, which leads to you to ask for their resignation. Or, your school declares financial exigency, and it becomes evident that you will be required to terminate senior faculty. If such scenarios are too painful a prospect to consider, you should think carefully about what it will take out of your soul to fulfill your responsibility to the whole.
- Your time will be much more structured than your time as a professor was. You will have many more meetings to attend and far less, or even no time in the classroom. Most major administrative positions are 12 month contracts, so you may no longer have the summer months to do research and writing as you may have before. You will have to find ways to carve out time for your own scholarly work. Such time constraints require a fair amount of personal discipline or the demands on your time will spin out of control.
In addition, you will be asked to perform or donate administrative work outside your institution, for example on accreditation teams, national associations, etc. You should not neglect these wider responsibilities, but be judicious about which ones you choose to accept.
- You can stay too long in an administrative position. Most of us run out of ideas, burn out, or go stale if we stay too long. Few people can stay more than about 10 years. And, if you follow someone who has had a long tenure, you will have to do some of the work interims must do to clear space for your own leadership style and goals.
- Some institutions have rules that prohibit sabbaticals for administrators, or that do not grant full sabbaticals to administrators. You should consider posing questions regarding such restrictions before you decide if you can do such work.
Things to Consider
- How much do you love teaching? Will you be happy teaching less or not at all?
- Can you discipline your time so as to keep the resulting stress as low as possible? If stress in your personal life is high, administrative work will not help, and you wonít want to take out personal stress on people at work.
- Are you good at stress management? Do you have good ways to relieve stress in your life now? Whatever you do now, stress relief will be harder to maintain and it will become more crucial that you find healthy ways to deal with it.
- Negotiate for as much as you can, such as adequate sabbatical time, vacation time, writing time, salary, benefits, etc. As is the case with faculty hires, you have a great deal of power to negotiate when the job is offered, not after you have taken it.
- Talk to an administrator you know and respect at another institution in a similar job, or someone retired from such a position, and ask them what to expect, what to negotiate for, etc. Find someone like this to mentor you as you take a new position.
- Keep a support system and life outside the institution and job - take the time needed to maintain these. This is important for your own sanity and sense of perspective, and you will model healthy work habits for those you supervise. It will help you not to take what happens at work personally, and also help you stay honest to who you are.
- Keep or develop a sense of humor about yourself and your work. Humor helps relieve stress and ameliorates the dangers of taking on too much personally. It helps to remember that what people do is about them, not about us, even when their behavior impacts us.
Being a program officer in your field of expertise can be interesting work, as in helping other scholars in academe or organizations do important work in the society. The work is administrative, requires astute judgment and ability to assess feasibility of proposals, and calls for a willingness to tell many people "no." It also helps to have vision about creative programs. It is satisfying to see projects and organizations flourish with support. Talk to a program officer you know about this kind of work.
If you run a grant-giving program, you will need to be willing to be firm about applying policies to make sure applicants get fair consideration. You will find that people want to talk to you in order to lobby for their agenda, get around rules, or stretch deadlines. It helps to have policies for how you handle lobbying and you should apply them as consistently as possible.
Starting a Non-profit
If you are a self-starter, can handle a fair amount of uncertainty and chaos, have fundraising skills, and are nimble at handling change, you may have the entrepreneurial skills for creating a new organization. You may want to work or volunteer at a similar kind of non-profit before you launch your own.
You should consider whether or not you have the financial means to support yourself as you get a new organization on sound financial footing, or consider starting one while you are employed. The paperwork for filing nonprofit status takes approximately 100 hours, or more if this is your first try at it. It is worth hiring an experienced lawyer to do this, if you have the resources.
You should begin by creating a list of people who can help you. You will need to put together a board with relevant expertise in areas you will need help, create by-laws, develop financial policies, compile a donor base, write grants, hire staff, etc. There are many good websites with advice for managing a nonprofit, for example, Starting a Nonprofit Organization has detailed information. The Alliance for Non-profit Management has an active People of Color Group and offers management advice and conferences.
If you want to make substantial money or a living as a writer outside the textbook market (textbook markets can be lucrative), you will need to do several things:
- If you havenít already, take some writing courses for the kind of writing you plan to do and read the work of a lot of good writers in your area to find out what is already out in the marketplace. Successful trade writing is a skill, and, training in academic prose is counterproductive to good trade writing. The more you read academic prose and work in that world, the harder it is to write for trade.
- You should consider hiring a trade editor to help you write for trade, if you donít know how to do this. If you know an author whose writing you like, ask them if they use someone. Rates for editors run about $40-60 an hour, depending on the part of the country and the kind of work you want done.
- Get an agent. If you know any of the writers you have read, ask them whom they use. You will need to prepare a good book proposal, include a sample of writing, and present the package to an agent to see if they want to contract to sell your book. Reputable agents work on a percentage commission, not a flat fee. An agent will shop your book to publishers and try to get you the best deal. Many trade presses actually prefer to work with agents, rather than writers directly. Of course, religious publishing houses and non-profit presses canít afford big advances most of the time and prefer to deal directly with authors. There are a number of websites for agents, if you donít know a writer.
- Regardless of whether you have an agent or not, you should consider the following things:
- You will need to decide on whether you think the press you select will pay attention to your work and promote it. Large trade presses publish many books, and only the big stars or sure money makers get the full court public relation press. A smaller, less comprehensive press might give your book more attention and be better for its sales, but be sure you work with a press that is experienced at handling trade books.
- Consider hiring a publicist, if your publisher isnít doing enough to promote your book. Learn to talk in sound bites and seek out interviews with the media and press.
- You will need to work aggressively on marketing and public relations for your book. Write op-eds, letters to the editor, or otherwise put your ideas out to a readership. An author is always the best sales agent for her or his own book.
Consulting is something some academics do as part of their work outside their institutions. If you are successful it can turn into a career, but, as with other forms of contract work, it is not as reliable a source of income as salaried work. Talk to other consultants or explore consultant websites for how to set up such a business related to the services you want to offer.