How adjuncts can work closer with tenure-track faculty

Forming relationships with professors helps you and your students.

June 9, 2015

If you’re an adjunct in an accounting department, you may find that you don’t interact much with tenure-track faculty. That’s not surprising, given that tenure-track faculty so often have different goals, schedules, and career expectations than adjuncts do.

Tenure-track faculty expect to teach at the same university for years, if not decades, so they’re committed to their departments’ administrative requirements—including attending functions such as staff meetings and retreats. They’re often heavily focused on research, and they spend a great deal of time on campus. Adjuncts, as part-time employees who often hold accounting jobs outside academia, usually have looser ties to their departments. They typically don’t engage in research, and they may have irregular schedules that keep them off campus during peak hours, making it harder for them to connect with colleagues.

But adjuncts and faculty still have much in common—like a shared interest in teaching and the accounting profession—and they can learn a lot from one another. Tenure-track faculty and adjuncts have different strengths that can complement each other, making for a richer classroom experience. For example, as current practitioners in the field, many adjuncts can bring a new perspective on practical accounting to the classroom. Tenure-track faculty, meanwhile, possess deep knowledge of accounting principles and typically have more teaching experience than adjuncts do—allowing them to mentor adjuncts who want to improve their teaching.

As Jennifer Dirienzo, CPA, a lecturer who teaches master’s-level classes in corporate tax strategy at the North Carolina State University Poole College of Management’s Department of Accounting, observed, “Practical experience doesn’t necessarily make an adjunct a natural teacher, and professors can help with that.” She added, “I think it helps you be a better instructor to talk to the faculty and find out what works and doesn’t work for them.”

Here are some ways adjuncts can reach out to tenure-track faculty:

Collaborate with them on developing or improving classes

Joe Weber, Ph.D., a professor of management and accounting at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, developed an entire executive education class with one of the adjuncts in his department, and said that the adjunct’s practical expertise improved the classroom experience. Having someone currently working in the profession in the classroom “enhanced the credibility” of the class, he said.

Scott Showalter is a CPA and professor at N.C. State’s Poole College of Management’s Department of Accounting who used to teach as an adjunct at the University of Illinois when he worked at KPMG. He suggested that an adjunct who has recently worked for a firm can recommend ways professors can augment their classes with real-world case studies and examples.

But adjuncts needn’t wait for an invitation to collaborate with tenure-track faculty. You can just as easily look for professors who teach the same courses you do and find common ground, said Jack Zook, CPA/PFS, an assistant professor of accounting at La Salle University. “Ask them how they approach the class: what they test, what they’re looking for,” he said. “Get their syllabus. Get their outlines.”

Become more involved with research projects

Weber said it would be helpful for adjuncts to take more of an interest in the research faculty is doing. You can express interest by attending seminars and other research activities on campus, where you can contribute by giving real-life examples that can help improve research projects.

Spend more time on campus

One of the biggest barriers between adjuncts and faculty is their schedules. Adjuncts tend to teach a class or two and then leave campus. They sometimes teach at night or early in the morning and can’t get as involved with other activities that tenure-track faculty participate in. Fight against that tendency and do your best to be on campus, even when you’re not teaching, Dirienzo suggested.

Adjuncts also can try to attend department staff meetings, Zook said. You probably won’t be formally invited, so contact the department chair and ask to attend. Though you won’t be able to vote, Zook said, the meetings will give you a better idea of what’s going on in the department—you feel more like a part of the team, both to yourself and to the tenure-track faculty.

Help save them time

Christopher Noe, Ph.D., a full-time senior lecturer (though he’s not on the tenure track) in accounting at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, said that adjuncts can add value to courses that have multiple sections being taught at the same time. Usually, Noe said, one faculty member serves as the lead, coordinating all sections of one class. It’s a time-consuming task, especially for professors who need to do research to achieve tenure. That’s where adjuncts come in. They can serve as the course head for the section, saving faculty valuable time.

Showalter said that adjuncts should think about how they can serve the department. One way to do so, he said, is to volunteer to be a guest speaker. Professors are always in need of guest speakers, and adjuncts can save them the trouble of going outside the university to find speakers.

Stay modest

Showalter cautioned that adjuncts should steer clear of flaunting their practical experience. A bad attitude won’t garner any good will. “As an adjunct, you want to come in and you want to add value, but you don’t want to come in and be a know-it-all,” he said.

These are just a few of the strategies you can use to connect with tenure-track colleagues. As with many things, being open and outgoing with your colleagues will go a long way. Now that you have a few tools under your belt, it’s time for you to reach out to your tenure-track colleagues and see what you can do to help them further the accounting profession.

Alex Granados is a freelance writer in Raleigh, N.C.