T.J. Ligouri/Guest Columnist and FIU Alum
I’ve been an adjunct on and off for the past twelve years, teaching over 50 classes and over 1,500 students as an adjunct. During this time, I’ve experienced bouts of homelessness and lingering health issues, all while co-parenting. In January 2009, as a 23-year-old with a FIU Master’s Degree, I began looking to pursue a doctorate.
Many of my plans were derailed by an automobile accident in May 2009, which left me with prolonged health issues. I had no health coverage for my lengthy stay at Jackson Memorial Hospital and subsequently required surgeries. The Affordable Care Act had not yet passed, so health insurance rejected me due to these pre-existing conditions.
I decided to apply to FIU’s joint MA in Asian Studies/PhD in International Relations program due to its proximity. The program accepted me with a Teaching Assistantship slated to begin in August 2010. The Affordable Care Act enabled me to schedule several much-needed surgeries over the next four years. During the time of my TA-ship, medical insurance was necessary for me given all of these physical issues, which were only further compounded by bouts of mild to moderate mental illness and somatic factors, which went undiagnosed and self-medicated, due to the lack of provisions for mental health treatment in my health insurance.
Unfortunately, mental health problems are common in academia, but this needn’t be the case. According to a Harvard study as reported in Scientific American, “graduate students are over three times more likely than the average American to experience mental health disorders and depression.”
In August 2014, my TA-ship ended. I was a co-parenting father trying to make ends meet on an adjunct income. At that time, adjuncting came out to a mere $2,500 over sixteen and a half weeks (about $151.51 per week). From August 2014 to August 2019, to say that I was eating hand to fist verges on the literal. I was living check-to-check during this entire time, earning an average of $19,020 per year. I had to move in with my family to afford expenses for myself and my young child. I did not own a car and borrowed vehicles from family members for the duration of my teaching.
I taught five classes in the Fall 2014 semester, two for the Honors College at $3000 per class, and three for Politics and International Relations at $2500 per class—opportunities for which I am grateful. However, the only progress that I was able to complete during this semester was actually just before the semester began. In 2014 and 2015, I was able to take a couple two-and-a-half-week self-funded field research trips to the conflict zone of Indian-administered Kashmir in between semesters.
While teaching provided a meager income, I had to teach so many classes that it meant less time devoted to my research— this would create another challenge. My time-to-completion “clock” on my dissertation began when I began the Asian Studies course work in 2010 rather than when I transitioned to the PhD International Relations in 2012. This meant that it was set to expire in 2019. Thanks to the good graces of an appeal, I was able to complete my dissertation in March 2020.
The whole catch with this is that you’re working towards your career, towards your profession. While adjuncting affords you experience along your career path, it is extremely tenuous given the exigencies of completing one’s dissertation, as well as basic life commitments (like parenting).
The level of anxiety from just basic living is overwhelming. To those of you who might respond, “well, why don’t you just find another job”— that would be fine, if I intended to throw away everything that I had worked for.
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