In the comments section of our most recent "How can we help you?" post, Recent Grad writes:
Given that the job market is about to start-up again, I have a question I'd love to hear some views on. I just graduated from a lower-ranked Leiter program without any publications (I know!). I have two papers under review (including one that is approaching a 12-month review time) and am currently drafting more. Given my low Leiter rank and current lack of publications, I expect I'd be most competitive for visiting positions, if that. My question is about taking high-teaching load visiting positions--let's say high prep 4/4's or low-prep 5/5's--vs. low teaching load adjunct positions that leave time for research (there's plenty of adjunct work to be had where I am). I've heard advice going both ways. Younger faculty tell me it's always worth it getting a VAP position on my cv, even if that means teaching something like a 5/5. Older faculty warn me against the, well, dismal prospects of life under something like a 5/5. Any thoughts?
Excellent query! Here are a few of my own quick thoughts.
First, recent hiring trends suggest to me that R1/research jobs can be really tough to get unless you come out of top-ranked program. Since Recent Grad writes that they are coming out of a lower-ranked program, this suggests to me they would be best served aiming for a job at a teaching institution.
Second, getting a high-prep teaching VAP would likely improve their attractiveness for teaching jobs (provided they teach well--as they would get a ton of teaching experience).
Third, I've heard that a candidate's apparent "career trajectory" may play a role in how they are perceived by search committees (viz. a VAP indicating a positive "upward" career trajectory, whereas adjuncting may lead to perception of a "stalled" or downward career trajectory). Important note: I don't mean to say this is how candidates in different types of jobs should be perceived. I'm just noting how I have heard through the grapevine they may be perceived, for better or worse.
All of this suggests to me that a person in this position may be better off in a high-prep VAP. For my part, I got a renewable VAP at a high teaching-load place, and it served me well. In fact, it was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me professionally, as I only learned after accepting the job that it could be renewed for seven years--which gave me a lot of time to develop as a job-candidate. Although my VAP was "only" a 3/3, it was in actuality more like a 4/4--as our course meetings were 4 hours a week per class instead of the standard 3, and I also taught a 1-credit "transition to college" course each semester that was quite a bit of work. Despite having a high teaching load, I found enough time to publish--and the teaching experience I got was invaluable (my number of interviews at teaching schools skyrocketed after several years on the market).
Anyway, I think that's another important question: is the VAP just for one year, or is it renewable? I'm strongly inclined to say--on the basis of my experience--that if I had to choose between adjuncting and a high-teaching-prep VAP, I'd choose the VAP every time...and I would especially choose the VAP if it were renewable.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours?