RE: An Inquiry for Academics

Subject: RE: An Inquiry for Academics
From: "George F. Hayhoe" <george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 11:29:31 -0400

Anonymous said:

<<I would appreciate any views from the academic trenches.
What is your view of the likelihood of someone with an M.A.
being able to locate something more permanent than a
temporary instructorship? I am flexible as to location, etc.
I am willing to work on a Ph.D. as a condition of
employment. Would those doing the hiring look favorably upon
someone who has worked as a technical writer returning to

I haven't been an academic for more than 15 years. Unlike
Anonymous, I did pursue a PhD in literature and was
fortunate enough to get a tenure-track job at a fairly
prestigious university. Like Anonymous, however, I
eventually decided to seek my fortune outside the academy in
technical communication.

Four years ago, I took a buyout from my company and started
my own business. With the doctorate, it was fairly easy to
land a part-time gig at the local state university teaching
freshman comp. Although I chose to teach only one course per
term, I could have taught two (a half-time load) if I'd
wanted. It's possible I could have gotten a full-time
appointment, but I wasn't interested in that. The pay wasn't
good even with a PhD, and there were no benefits offered. I
wasn't doing it for the money, though, so that didn't bother
me. It did help me get some teaching experience again after
more than a decade out of the classroom.

My guess is that Anonymous and others with a master's degree
in English could get part-time employment at a university or
college, and perhaps even full-time employment on a
short-term basis. But no US school that participates in the
tenure system may employ instructors permanently without
granting them tenure, and to put it bluntly, that isn't any
more likely to happen for the vast majority today than it
was when I entered the academic job market in 1977.

The situation is different at community colleges and
technical schools that don't participate in the tenure
system. It is possible to obtain permanent, full-time jobs
at such institutions, but most pay embarrassingly little.

What I've found is that very few schools offer enough
technical or business communication courses per term to
employ even one full-time instructor to teach such classes
exclusively. Most employ part-timers to teach the least
desirable courses--basic (AKA remedial) writing and freshman
comp--and save what are regarded as more advanced courses in
tech comm and business comm for their more senior people.
Last year, I was passed over for a tech comm course I'd been
scheduled to teach because it was shifted from the fall term
to the summer, and part-timers didn't get summer courses.
The person who wound up teaching the course had no
experience at all as a technical communicator. The situation
reminded me of the commercial--"Are you a technical
communicator?" "No, but I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express
last night."

If you live near a school that offers a degree or
certificate program in technical or professional
communication, if the program director is enlightened, and
if they need staff, it might be possible to land a
full-time, tenure-track position, given your master's degree
and your years of experience in the profession. You might
even be granted tenure after your probationary period. And I
might win the lottery.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic or cynical, but my
perception is that the job market--even for PhDs--has
changed little since the 1970s. My advice to anyone who
misses the classroom is to look into training jobs in
industry. The pay, the benefits, and even the job security
are incomparably better, and I think you'll find the
experience more satisfying in other respects as well.

--George Hayhoe (george -at- ghayhoe -dot- com)

George Hayhoe Associates
Voice: +1 (803) 642-2156
Fax: +1 (803) 642-9325

APEX '99 Grand Award for Publication Excellence

Awards of Distinguished Technical Communication
South Carolina/Carolina Foothills STC Chapters
1998-99 Technical Publications Competition

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