The Term or Temporary Position and Making the Most of a Short Time (Part 1 of 2)
By Laureen P. Cantwell
Editor’s note: the second part of Cantwell’s article will be published in the July 2012 issue of Library Worklife.
As my position at Grinnell College as a Term Research & Instruction Librarian comes to a close, I have had cause to reflect upon my time as a “term” faculty member. The common stressors that I have identified, among my colleagues in departments within and beyond the library, have been (1) relocating, (2) job hunting, (3) networking, and (4) the inside candidacy and your references. While these are common stressors for many job-seekers, particularly in our current employment climate–the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 12.7 million unemployed persons in April 2012, an 8.2% national unemployment rate (2012a, 2012b)—the employment vibe somehow always feels a bit different in academia, where sabbaticals, leaves and other scenarios breed term or visiting positions, simply for the consistency of the curriculum.
Yet the shift in academic hiring practices has exacerbated the employment situation as well. For instance, Elizabeth Olson of CNNMoney.com reported in May 2011 that, between 2008-2011, “the number of tenure-track university jobs in America, which provide greater economic security and academic freedom, decreased by 4% while non-tenure track faculty hires rose 8%. Non-tenure track positions now comprise about 75% of faculty, a notable increase from the 66% registered in a 1995 survey, according to the [American Association of University Professors]” (2011). The AAUP also states that the “number of full-time non-tenure-track appointments is growing even faster than the number of part-time non-tenure-track appointments (2003). Furthermore, the sad truth is that, while opportunities have been declining or stagnating, Master’s and PhD programs have seen no compulsion to reduce enrollment. Library Journal’s Placement & Salaries 2010 report finds roughly twice the number of graduates per opening in the field, with “permanent, professional placements continu[ing] to decline, from 75.8% of the number in 2007 to 61% in 2009, while temporary placements increased once again (from 7.8% in 2008 to 10.6% in 2009)” (Maatta 2010).
If you are determined to go the route of academic librarianship (as I am), carving your place in an atmosphere of dwindling hope for “permanent” or tenure-track placement, against bigger and bigger pools of qualified individuals, will present you with a definite uphill battle. Perhaps also like me, you find the statistics above useful or even interesting, but you are determined to keep yourself out of the “boring” unemployment discussion by avoiding unemployment altogether. (“Andy” 2011; Yelton 2011) If you pursue this track, it is quite possible that you may find yourself accepting a “contingent appointment” at an academic institution—where you are part-time or full-time non-tenured faculty—a position with minimal investment from the institution and an overall environment of high turnover (AAUP, 2003).
So how can you, term/temporary academic librarian of the 21st century, navigate and alleviate some of the biggest stresses that come up during your contract?
Getting a Move On—Relocation Stress
I should preface this section by stating two things—(1) moving is always stressful and (2) I was given about two-and-a-half weeks to do so for my position at Grinnell. Here’s why:
Due to a late-in-the-academic-year vacancy in the Libraries faculty, they needed to hire a librarian before the beginning of the academic year, someone who could hopefully arrive before New Faculty Orientation (or NFO) in early-mid August and stay for the academic year as they began a search for a “permanent” replacement. I applied in May, had a phone interview by mid-June, received an offer to visit campus mid-July and had an offer by the week following my campus visit.
To be on campus for NFO, August 10th-11th, I would need to notify my landlord I would be moving while hoping I wasn’t breaking the terms of my lease and therefore losing my security deposit; decide how much of my belongings to move to Iowa, and how much of my belongings to store or relinquish before moving to Iowa; give notice at my various part-time jobs while trying to work until the bitter end to maximize paychecks before and during the move, to last me until my first Grinnell paycheck; and coordinate moving essentials such as packing, movers, U-Haul contracts and reservations, car repairs and maintenance appointments, farewells and loading and unloading. No small feat.
Many have kinder timelines for their move into a term academic appointment but as my preface states: moving is always stressful. Yet, you can move less stressfully, or at least attempt to do so. For example, a Google search (I searched: moving less stressfully) brings a result set of over forty-one million. If we agree that relocation as an inherently stressful process, you might as well see how other folks try and accomplish moving while keeping their sanity. Some sites have five tips, some have nineteen; some focus on packing or ecofriendly-ness, some on managing your kids or pets during a move, some on moving-day stress; some are hosted by moving companies, some are hosted by real estate agents, some are hosted by newspapers or savvy bloggers. There are going to be tips out there for you—whatever your triggers, woes, or concerns may be.
Or maybe you have a friend or family member who has moved around a bunch and can give the conversation about your upcoming move a personal touch. I did. My sister has lived a number of places and wasn’t always so talented a mover but learned through necessity. You’ll likely find that your friend’s/family member’s advice overlaps with much of what websites will tell you:
- Get rid of what you won’t use. Charities, friends and your moving expenses will thank you for it.
- Eco-friendly packing can be as simple as getting discarded boxes from a Home Depot, or gathering weeks of newspapers and magazines for packing.
- Consider moving on a weekday—services like post offices, banks and other offices will be open.
- If things are going to storage, let the movers pack those items—they’re insured and, by extension, so are your possessions.
- Find out if you need a loading permission from your city well in advance—you can be fined or ticketed if you don’t.
- Make a packing schedule and a checklist—checking items off a list is very satisfying, you’ll want to have a process or a plan for tackling everything and it will better enable you to delegate work if you have helpers.
- Label. Label. Label. (The mover’s equivalent of location, location, location.)
- Keep some essentials with you—movers can arrive later than planned, plus it’s always best to have a few clothing items, toiletries and household necessities within reach, regardless of whether you’re waiting for movers or moving yourself.
- Ask for help! Pizza, beer, music, free/discarded items and other bribes are often enough to get friends and family members excited to engage in manual labor, even in August.
These are just some of the basics—but they didn’t steer me wrong and there are tips from sites and sister alike. Tips for those taking a position in academia would include: be conscious of your moving allotment and reimbursement policies—for instance, some car-related costs may be covered and some may not; inquire about faculty housing options and/or local realtors or listservs, and even contact your department to see about any “inside scoops”; and save your receipts!
It’s Back!—The (Re)New(ed) Job Hunt
Roughly a month into my job at Grinnell, the position for a Humanities Librarian was posted on their Human Resources website. I was encouraged to apply and noted they would accept applications until early December.
In some ways, this is a common experience within academia—you’re hired for a contingent appointment and, it seems, moments after you arrive, your hunt needs to begin all over again. Job hunting, by itself, has it’s own stresses: (1) job hunts affect your professional identity, your self-esteem, your self-confidence and sense of security; (2) whether hunting while working or hunting while unemployed, it affects your routine, activities and lifestyle; and (3) negativity or self-deprecation, isolating behaviors, loss of motivation, loss of balance in your life and even grief can ride on the coattails of job search-related stress. Luckily, lots of resources exist on working through your job-related stress and they’re worth looking at, particularly for their tips on coping and positivity.
One of the ways to manage the stress of job hunting is to accept reality—this tip stands for the emotional rollercoaster of unemployment, too (Smith and Segal, 2010). I’m of the opinion that those who job search while in contingent appointments engage in defensive job hunting—trying to avoid unemployment—and share a seat on the same rollercoaster. In academia, many faculty positions open up in the fall when your first semester there has just begun—a frustrating reality to be sure. So you’ve just started your job and need to begin the exhausting process anew, with only a few weeks or months into your new position to bolster your qualifications.
I put considerable time and energy into developing characteristics and practices in the fall semester, hoping this would provide ample meat for my updated CV and cover letter. Other faculty members I knew, those who were also very aware of their professional “reality”, seemed to use this angle as well. Some, like me, knew that tenure-track or “permanent” positions would be opening up in their departments this academic year; others knew that they would be moving on from Grinnell whether they wanted to or not and they needed positive references and new things to say in their cover letter—no matter how long they’d been at Grinnell, they’d need to talk about that experience and their impact. The traits and habits I and others seemed to emphasize included: (1) being a team-player, (2) offering to pitch in, (3) diplomacy and collegiality, (4) participating in brainstorming and programming and (5) not shying away from or turning down opportunities for more responsibility.
All of these come with added stress. You may start questioning yourself or your abilities. If you’re team-teaching, are you holding your own or do they think you can’t do it alone? If you offer to pitch in and they don’t need it, have you done something wrong? If they do accept, can you actually be helpful? Who can you go to if you need to vent or talk without risk of campus politics getting in the way? Will your opinion matter to your school/department? Will they let you pursue your own programming ideas? If you need to publish in your field, as some librarians and many academics must, how on earth will you find the time with a full course-load or full-time job and an ongoing job hunt?!
With all the questions milling about in your brain, how could you not succumb to at least a few of the job search stresses? Despite these questions, fostering the traits and habits noted above will play an important role in how your institution reflects upon your time with them in their letters of recommendation and reference requests, as well as how you write your cover letter and update your CV if you find yourself in the position of internal candidate and, if not, when you apply elsewhere.
American Association of University Professors. 2003. “Contingent appointments and the academic profession.” In AAUP’s Policy Documents and Reports. http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/policydocs/contents/conting-stmt.htm.
“Andy.” 2011. “Reader Mail: Unemployment in Libraryland.” Agnostic Maybe (blog), January 21, 2011. http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/reader-mail-unemployment-in-libraryland/.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Department of Labor. 2012a. “Librarians.” In the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm.
—. 2012b. “News Release: The Employment Situation—March 2012.” http://bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf.
Connell, Mary Anne and Frederick G. Savage. 2001. “Does collegiality count?” Academe (Nov-Dec). http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/pubsres/academe/2001/ND/Feat/Conn.htm.
“Karen.” 2012. “What inside candidates persist in doing wrong.” The Professor Is In (blog), January 5, 2012. http://theprofessorisin.com/2012/01/05/what-insider-candidates-persist-in-doing-wrong/.
Maatta, Stephanie L. 2010. “Placement and Salary Survey 2010: Stagnant Salaries, Rising Unemployment.” Library Journal (17). http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/ljinprint/currentissue/887013-403/ljs_placements__salaries_survey.html.csp.
Microsoft Corporation. 2012. “Troubleshoot Network Connection Problems.” Microsoft.com. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-vista/Troubleshoot-network-connection-problems.
Olson, Elizabeth G. 2011. “The rise of the permanently temporary worker.” CNNMoney. http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/05/05/the-rise-of-the-permanently-temporary-worker/.
Smith, Melinda and Robert Segal. 2010. “Job loss and unemployment stress: tips for staying positive during your job search.” Helpguide.org. http://www.helpguide.org/life/unemployment_job_loss_stress_coping_tips.htm.
“Terry from Tucson.” 2012. “Job misery: foiled by the internal candidate,” College Misery (blog), February 8, 2012. http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2012/02/job-misery-foiled-by-inside-candidate.html.
Yelton, Andromeda. 2011. “For Andy: Librarian Entrepreneurship.” Across Divided Networks (blog), February 6, 2011. http://andromedayelton.com/blog/2011/02/06/for-andy-librarian-entrepreneurship/.
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