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Subject:Re: An inquiry for academics From:Karen Schriver <ks0e -at- andrew -dot- cmu -dot- edu> To:TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com> Date:Tue, 14 Sep 1999 17:47:06 -0400
I think there are many possibilities for teaching but few permanent
positions for someone with an M.A. This means if you really want a position
with some degree of job security, you'll have to get on your pony and look
hard. Start with the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing Web site
and discussion list. If you don't have the info, drop me a note.
Two-year colleges, business schools, and state colleges often hire people
with an M.A. You should realize, however, that these places are changing
and many are under evolving mandates which say "get as many PhDs on their
faculty as possible." So good leads one year may dry up the next. You could
work full time on a year-to-year contract basis but there is always the
possibility of getting the ax when money falls short or if a department
Chair or Dean decides that technical communication is a worthless money
grubbing activity that prepares students to sell out to corporate agendas.
As my former department chair told me "You just teach students to be little
corporate tools, a mindless narrow vocationalism."
1. Stay out of California! They have the worst reputation in the country
for being rotten to their writing teachers, especially those assocated with
the University of California system (Berkeley, Irvine, Davis, Los Angeles).
I'm not kidding and there is ample data to support my assertions, including
my own unpublished interview study with over 55 professors around the
2. Go to a large stable program where they need people every year every
semester. Small programs come and go along with their teachers.
3. If you opt for a nontenure-line position, do not take it until you find
out how they treat their untenured people. Places differ dramatically--from
treating you like scum to treating you like you deserve to be treated. This
is something I'd recommend to untenured tenure-line faculty as well (i.e.,
untenured assistant and associate professors). Tech com faculty are among
the most exploited and unappreciated groups in departments of English and
this is especially so when the program is staffed by M.A.s without any hope
of tenure. For some historical backing for these remarks, please see
Chapter 2 of my book "Dynamics in Document Design."
4. Get in writing how the terms of your contract will be negotiated for the
year after the first one (if you end up taking a year-to-year contract).
Don't let them hire you for one thing and then promise only to rehire you
if you change what you're doing to suit the fad of the moment.
I could go on... Despite the problems there are many opportunities. There
are now more than 80 programs around the U.S. and a number growing abroad.
Many of these programs would welcome someone with an M.A. and some of them
would turn you into a permanent hire, especially if they knew you were
working on a PhD.
If you would like someone to read your resume, I will. As the former
co-director of the technical communication, professional writing, and
document design programs at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA),
I've interviewed many folks and can tell you how your resume and
experiences could be interpreted.
After earning my M.A. in English Lit, I regretfully decided that earning
a Ph.D. in English Literature was probably not going to land me a
tenure-track position. After seeing several of my fellow graduate
students complete their doctorates and embark upon the life of a gypsy
academic, moving around to accept a series of temporary instructorships,
I left academe and came to technical writing.
Over the past ten years, I have held positions in technical
communications up to Director of Documentation. At this point in my
life, I realize how much I miss teaching and working with students. I am
interested in returning to academics in some capacity, and I hope that
some list members might have insights and suggestions to offer.
My understanding is that the job market for universities remains very
tight and competitive. I wonder if that is also true of technical
schools and two-year institutions, places that might have a need for
courses like "business communications" or "technical writing." I feel
that I could do an excellent job working with these students.
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 teaching?
Another opportunity that might be worth investigating is some sort of
secondary education, having an opportunity to work with students at a
critical time of their lives. Does anyone know of technical
communicators who have returned to/entered teaching? How did it work
Are there any listservs I should join? Any web sites I should frequent?
Anything else I can or should do?
Due to work-related considerations, I requested that Eric post this
message anonymously. If anyone has information to share, I would be
happy to contact you off-line.
TIA! I hope to read some interesting comments and ideas.