Is Adjuncting Better Than Temping While Looking For A Real Job?

This week I am temping again at The Skyscraper Office. It’s not that they like me; it’s that I’m the temp they know.

This is the place where every person who steps off the elevator and sees the view for the first time has a mental breakdown. It’s funny because most people cannot enjoy the view in mute stupefaction, as you might expect. They start oohhhing and ahhhing and taking photos with their stupid Smartphone like tourists and say, “isn’t that magnificent!?” It’s not a rhetorical question. They require confirmation. That is why, for those of us sitting in the reception area, a primary function of the job is pretending like we still give a shit about the view.

Here are some things that happened on the same day (or maybe on consecutive days, who can tell?) which will provide some information about my mental state as well as help explain why, in my next post, I need to address, rather urgently, the question: why did I quit teaching again?


The other day it was discovered by the Chef (yes, they have a Chef at the Skyscraper Office) that one of the VIPs would be eating two meals on site. (This usually doesn’t happen.) That day, the only protein the Chef had on hand was chicken. So – the horror! – the VIP would be served chicken twice in one day.

This was a terrible problem for the Chef and his staff. Urgent calls were made. Curses were uttered. There was simply nothing to be done: Mr. VIP would have to eat chicken twice in a single 24-hour period. Would heads roll? Would the Chef be fired? Would the world, in fact, end? We all hoped for the best outcome.

The day’s strangeness did not end there.


That afternoon, word went around the office that there had been a suicide at a building around the corner. Some poor soul had jumped from a $1,000/night hotel balcony (21 stories up) and landed on a parked SUV. It was awful.

The same guy who had to eat chicken twice that day (and whose opinion of the Chef’s blunder was still unknown) had never spoken a word to me before. Yet, on his way out the door, he said to me grimly, “Don’t walk by the [blah blah] Hotel on your way home.”

There you have it: The VIP of Chicken does not want the receptionist/temp to accidentally see the suicide thing happening around the corner on her way home. Isn’t that nice/weird?

What do these events have to do with each other, you ask? I have no idea, but surely it’s something. That, or I’ve become one of those crazed paranoids who thinks everything is connected, because of the CIA or the space aliens.


Further evidence of my growing insanity: There is another temp who sits next to me at Skyscraper. (They are having a hard time keeping full-time receptionists from quitting in disgust, it seems.) At one point, she and I became so loopy from the boredom of the job coupled with the terror of doing anything wrong (or maybe it was just the altitude) that we fell into a fit of uncontrollable laughter at the sight of an incorrectly placed question mark on an email we were about to send. It totally changed the meaning of the sentence, as question marks tend to do! And that was just so hysterical!

It’s a good thing no one walked into the office at that moment, because we could not have stopped almost peeing our pants for anyone, even the CEO.


That night, I arrived home and discovered that another smart, thoughtful person had commented on this post. Djuna has basically called me out, and for that I am grateful:

“I’m just a bit confused about the decision to temp at actual corporations instead [of teaching] which seems like even more demeaning work in a far less stimulating environment. I understand that you’re looking for a more promising permanent job while temping but why not do that while teaching?”

Ha ha, yeah, so there’s that. What am I doing anyway? I will attempt to write a response in my next post and, perhaps, by doing so, I can figure it out and reclaim a bit of mental clarity in the process.

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10 Responses to Is Adjuncting Better Than Temping While Looking For A Real Job?

  1. Caitlin says:

    Why you are temping at corporations instead of adjuncting:
    1. It pays better and has better perks and physical plant
    2. So you have evidence to show prospective employers that you can work in a non-academic work environment, and the references to prove it
    3. Because while you are temping, you are free to take a more promising permanent job as soon as it comes up, rather than being contract- (or just honor-)bound to finish the semester of teaching and possibly miss said permanent position
    4. So that you might possibly build a relationship with someone in a position to hire you, or to recommend you to someone who is. While adjuncting, you don’t meet anyone except your students and department administrators, and aren’t building your network
    5. Because despite the intrinsic interest of much of the material taught there, and the stated mission of educating a citizenry and pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge, universities are institutions that are often every bit as large, profit-seeking, hierarchical, demeaning and exploitative of their employees as for-profit corporations (and have equally cynical students seeking an employability-enhancing credential rather than to enhance their skills and knowledge)
    6. And at least at a for-profit corporation you get to acknowledge that

  2. Anonymous says:

    Caitlin’s comment above is absolutely brilliant and right on the money! I think I will copy your comment and print it out for safe keeping in my “leaving academia” folder as reference. I agree with everything you said and it gives me hope.

    • Anonymous says:

      And ditto on the “colleges and universities are big corporations who exploit their people”. The “love rhetoric” is sold in mass quantities but almost means nothing to me.

  3. Djuna says:

    I’m flattered that my comment and questions have helped (a bit) to inspire this recent post and I’m looking forward to reading your next one. I agree with Anonymous that Caitlin offers some good reasons to temp instead of teach while you look for something permanent. But I’m stuck on the themes of demeaning and boring work that come up in your posts and while teaching as an adjunct probably includes shades of this I would guess it’s not on the same level as temping. I also disagree that you will build your network in any meaningful way as a temp. Others will probably offer examples of how wrong I am but I remember working as a temp, a legal secretary and a plain old secretary and while I got marginally “better” work as a secretary out of this I would never have been considered for something more thought-provoking because everyone saw me as a secretary — saw all of us secretaries this way — no matter how intelligent, well-educated or capable we were. The only reason I made the leap from secretary to program manager was because I was working in a large non-profit at the time and the CEO I worked for kept inviting me out for a drink after work. After a series of rejections he had me transferred to the programs department and they invented a new job for me. I’ve worked both inside and outside the “ivory tower” and while both have drawbacks I’ve found I enjoy the challenge and creativity of teaching — even it’s not in a tenure-track capacity. I look forward to it. I think it’s a bit strange to choose to work in a for-profit corporation merely because it admits it’s only seeking to improve its investors’ profits and being demeaning and exploitative of its workers is accepted as par for the course. Maybe my comments are naive and one day I might have to temp again myself but I must admit I think I would choose teaching over temping when it comes down to it.

    • I think adjuncting is demeaning. Teaching is a wonderful, fulfilling PROFESSION. Doing it in an essentially freelance condition, with very little hope for full-time employment or respect coming from it? That is demeaning. I know someone who adjuncts at a school and has for years. She does not have an office. She has an outstanding reputation. She loves the work. She keeps getting promised a FT spot but nothing has materialized. Once, a prof encountered her in a colleague’s office and thought the office was hers. “Oh, good, you should have an office! You’re really just like a FT faculty, just without the security, pay, or benefits.” She said this with a straight face to a person who would love to make that her career, but has almost no hope of having that happen. That is demeaning. Which is why she will be looking, sadly, at non-teaching jobs. I moved out of teaching not because I prefer other work to it, but because I want to be employed in a place where advancement and quality work is recognized and rewarded. Not a place where the entire system is predicated on my continuous labor at the same level in perpeutioty.

  4. recent Ph.D. says:

    Well, there’s the money thing, too. I didn’t temp, but I left teaching for a pretty low level secretary job, largely because I couldn’t continue to support myself on my adjunct pay. My secretary salary, which was pretty modest in the grand scheme of things, doubled what I was earning teaching. I did enjoy teaching and I do miss it, but ultimately I need to earn a living. The nonacademic world acknowledges that most of us get up every day and go to work and do the things we do because we need to earn money to support ourselves. Also, loving what you do for a living is great, but there are lots of people in nonacademic positions who do love what they do as much as any professor. And a lot of them that I’ve met didn’t imagine 10-20 years ago that they’d be where they are doing what they’re doing now.

    So, that’s why I’ve chosen to walk away from teaching. And so far it’s worked out. A year and a half after leaving for the secretary job, I’m no longer a secretary. I’m doing something much more interesting and more closely tied to my knowledge and skills. And I’m now earning more than 3 times what i was as an adjunct. Win-win situation as far as I’m concerned.

  5. Caitlin says:

    Sorry to hijack your blog. Guess I feel more strongly on this topic than I realized…
    And (if you’re still reading!) Djuna, on the question of building a network as a temp, I realize that the plural of anecdotes is not data, but I have to say that I have never temped (or done non-adjunct contract work) anywhere longer than two weeks without being offered a permanent position (at 3 institutions, one corporate, 2 nonprofit). Though most of the time I have not temped through a big agency, but with places that had in-house temp pools. Conversely I have never been offered a post-academic job in any office in which I didn’t already have some significant relational capital (in these cases built through temping). And that was not through lack of trying. That said, I never temped as a receptionist. That might be a particularly anonymous hat to wear.
    And as the spouse of a union organizer, yes we talk lots about how this widespread sense of being able to network your way to better working conditions undermines solidarity and organized labor. False consciousness? Oh, sigh, I dunno.

  6. Pingback: Teaching in the Basement of the Ivory Tower « universityoflies

  7. Anonymous says:

    Caitlin – In past job hunts (before I went into teaching completely) I have had the same experiences with being offerd full time from temping jobs. I think we as academics have very strong work ethics which make us highly valuable to an employer. For us, the 9-5 is nothing compared to what we “used” to have to do on a daily basis. Couple that with smarts and solid reasoning skills and you’ve got a recipe for an ideal employee. I’m excited to start temping part time to see where it leads me.

    As for our dear Post Ac in NYC, I think you are a brave soul for doing what you’re doing. I think the skyscraper office is quite the anomaly and the kind of thing you could only see in New York. It sounds like the place is bordering on absurd in some regards. I believe that once you move on from that “temp job in the sky”, you will start to find yourself walking to the rhythms of a 9-5 city in a city that really never sleeps. Please continue to share your adventures. They help me dream of the day when I too can live with the rhythms of a schedule that allows me to forget about my job on evenings and weekends. The fact that your new career path starts out “in the sky” is quite the metaphor!

    Keep on Truckin’.

  8. Pingback: Teaching is a Job | A Post-Academic in NYC

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