My recent posts have ranged over publications and interviews; it seems time to bring this back to me for an embarrassing confession: the common criticisms of adjunct faculty are becoming true about me.
That is to say, I’ve heard it said/seen it written that adjuncts don’t stay current in their field the way that tenure track faculty do. If we’re playing blame the adjunct, the reasons are a lack of initiative, other interests, a lack of discipline, or just a failure to really be a true scholar. If we’re looking at institutional and structural reasons, we might point to lack of time, lack of institutional support (money, time again, interest), etc. Whatever the causes, I recently realized that I’m guilty.
In graduate school, my scholarship was idiosyncratic at times, as I followed my interests down whatever path seemed appropriate. However, my standards were very high, even exhaustive. I thought little of reading 100 examples of something to make sure my points about it were well-grounded. I also sought out new faculty members with the conscious intent of making sure I knew where my field was going, what the latest research was, and what new theories or methods had emerged. A sense of excitement, even zest, accompanied this scholarship, and at peak times I felt a growing sense of mastery.
Now, my scholarship is exceedingly pragmatic. I research, and regularly, but for functional reasons. When I’m publishing, it is to find something that does what I need for a biography, a review, a study guide. I find what I need, and I stop. I have to, because I have to move on to the next thing, which is often unrelated to the thing I was just on. This rarely feels like my choice, as I’m researching whatever the next course preparation I’ve been given is, or whatever freelance assignment I’ve taken on. As I think about it, I probably do more research than I did in graduate school, and encounter more that’s new— but I do so in a more haphazard fashion. Rather than excitement, I most often feel anxiety, which translates into words as something like “I’ve gotta find this, and now, okay, on to the next.”
My research used to be intrinsic. Now it is, dare I say it, alienated at times? In a round about way, I suspect this makes me a better teacher. This is, after all, how most of my students experience research: as a series of tasks imposed from the outside, tasks that aren’t connected to one another.
But if you asked me what was new in my field/fields, I wouldn’t know how to answer you. And if I were a department looking to hire a cutting edge scholar, I wouldn’t hire me.
Can the rest of you adjuncts do so? If so, can you share a few ideas about how you keep your writing focused on that new edge of scholarship?