5 Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Professor

By Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, Lehman College – August 30, 2018
5 Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Professor

By the time you’ve move up to the director level in your firm or company, you have, without a doubt, accomplished quite a bit both as an individual practitioner and manager of other individuals. You might be thinking, however, that there are more opportunities for you to explore, share and give back what you know to the next generation of accounting professionals. If you have the desire to give back, share and engage with up-and-coming accounting professionals, you might want to consider becoming an adjunct professor.

As an accounting professional who transitioned from a full-time practitioner, to a practitioner teaching as an adjunct while working full time, and now to a full-time member of the academic profession, I offer the following advice if you are thinking about becoming an adjunct professor:

  1. Consider teaching at your alma matter. One tactic I have used successfully myself, and have seen numerous other individuals use as well, is to, in essence, return to the source. Coming back to teach at your alma matter can be a rewarding experience in a number of different ways, allow you to become a more engaged alumni, and reconnect you with students who might be facing some of the same challenges you faced as a college student.
  2. Decide what kind of college appeals to you. Just like people, every college is different, has different students and may emphasize different areas. No one type of college or university is better than another, but each one is unique and may be looking for different things in incoming faculty. Like any other decision you have made during your career, doing your homework and research to make sure you are a good fit for the institution is an important part of this process.
  3. Research the department. After narrowing down your search for institutions, the next step is to look at the department in which you are interested in teaching. Every institution has an organization-wide website, and virtually every department has an individual website that lists contact information, mission statements and the courses that are currently being developed. Knowing this information will help you refine, tweak and customize your teaching proposal before submission.
  4. Speak with someone who has done it. When learning how to do something new, one of the most common methods is to talk to someone who has already done it. The adjunct professor route is no different. Professors are usually listed on the department’s website, so consider reviewing the contact information for those individuals; you might be surprised how generous faculty are with their time. Or, better yet, think about who you might know in your network who has already dabbled in the academic universe; your decision to enter higher education might not be as unusual as you think.
  5. Develop your academic pitch. Higher education and the corporate world are different. Your success and track record in the accounting profession are undoubtedly impressive, but colleges and universities are interested in different things than managing directors, shareholders or partners are typically focused on. One piece of advice I cannot emphasize enough is the importance of building up your academic track record to match your professional successes. Co-authoring pieces for practitioner websites is a great place to start, as is volunteering to speak at accounting and finance events. This increased exposure will help refine your presentation style and demonstrate to any university or college you are fully capable of developing and presenting complicated material to different audiences.

Moving over into higher education and becoming and adjunct professor can be a fun and interesting phase of your career, but like anything else there are things to consider, weigh, and think about as you make this move. Hopefully this article was helpful, and if you or someone you know, are interested in learning more please feel free to reach out.


Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean D. Stein Smith

Sean Stein Smith is a professor at the City University of New York – Lehman College. Sean also is the chairperson of the NJCPA's Emerging Technologies Interest Group (#NJCPATech). He serves on the Advisory Board of the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, where he co-chairs the Accounting Work Group. Sean is on the Advisory Board of Gilded, a TechStars ’19 company. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the American Institute of Economic Research.

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