Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor — Week 0. In which I make a plan.

This summer I received my PhD from a large research university, and in the fall I begin as a visiting assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. The VAP is an unusual position: definitely a full-time professor, but only there for predetermined and limited time. And VAPs tend to be common at liberal arts colleges, where departments are smaller, so if a specialist in an area goes on sabbatical or leaves unexpectedly, someone needs to be brought in to cover his or her classes. This means that many newly-minted PhDs (like me) are not only starting a new job with vastly different responsibilities, they’re also in an environment that can feel very different.

When I looked for advice on how to approach the coming year, I found surprisingly little. I have a few friends who have been VAPs, and they offered some helpful tips. But I found myself wanting something a bit more comprehensive, and if it’s not out there, I figured I may as well write it. So for the next nine months, I’ll be keeping a public account of my experience as a VAP. I’ll post about every week or so about topics like:

  • Transitioning from graduate student to professor
  • Teaching a larger load of classes, and teaching upper-division classes
  • Keeping up with research
  • Being on the job market as a VAP
  • Getting to know a new department
  • Being an academic in a new city

Hopefully some of this will be useful to others, either other VAPs or graduate students considering a VAP position for the future. VAPs are, after all, becoming more and more common as a transitional stage to tenure-track positions.

If you’re interested, you can read about my background on the about me page, or take a glance at my vita. My background is literature and writing, but my sense is that VAPs from lots of fields — definitely the humanities, probably the social sciences, and maybe everyone — face similar challenges. I’ll be posting every week, and I welcome comments from others — especially other VAPs (past or present), graduate students, and senior faculty.

Until next time . . .


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