Non-Tenured Sessional and Lecturer Positions

Recommended if… you love teaching, first and foremost, and are financially flexible – for example, you can get by through periods in which you may have fewer contracts. Sessional instruction can provide additional income to those who have found other funding sources and have time for part-time teaching. It is an experience-builder for recent post-graduates. It also may suit those historians who have ties at home and are not able to move to take a job.

Requirements… The completion of a PhD, although positions are sometimes available for PhD candidates. Letters of reference and student evaluations from past teaching and teaching assistantships.


Non-tenured lecturers may work at universities on a part-time, full-time, or – if they are working at more than one institution – more-than-full-time basis.

The Organization of American Historians defines non-tenure track faculty “as adjunct, contingent, part-time, contractual, affiliate, special, irregular, fulltime untenured or non-tenure track and off-tenure track, and designated with titles such as Instructor, Visiting Professor, Professor and Lecturer.”

Part-time teaching positions in Canada are generally referred to as sessional, while adjunct is a term commonly used in the United States. Non-tenured sessional instructors are hired to teach a few courses according to a department’s specific and irregular teaching needs at a particular moment. They are paid by the course for teaching only, with no paid responsibility for research or expectations for service. At some universities, these positions are sometimes bundled into full-time, untenured positions, which at UBC are called 12-month lectureships. Occasionally, departments will offer full-time, short-term contracts (for two years for example) to cover a specific need or field.

Because of the growth of higher education over the decades, universities have been hiring more and more part-time, non-tenured faculty. In turn, fewer tenure-track faculty positions have been offered. Sessional faculty generally do not receive the benefits that faculty enjoy, including reliable benefits, opportunities for professional development and research, and the security of a permanent position.

Applying and Working

Sessional positions are usually publicly posted and involve a competitive application process. The rules about sessional hiring vary by university. At UBC, for example, the hiring and employment guidelines for all instructors –sessional, lecturers, full-time faculty – are part of a collective agreement established in a bargaining process between the Faculty Association and the university. This agreement, at UBC, establishes rules for the order in which courses are assigned.

Sessional teaching can range from as little as one course in a term, to teaching seven classes over the course of a year at one university, to as many as seven courses a term at a variety of local post-secondary institutions in an effort to make a decent income. Over a third of contingent professors in the United States teach at more than one post-secondary institution.

As part-time instructors, sessional instructors are paid on a course-by-course basis which means that sessional positions generally pay much less than what a full-time faculty member earns. The pay rate can be comparatively low for the amount of work put into creating the course, teaching, and marking – often without the support of teaching assistants. In the U.S., contingent staff make about a third of what a faculty member makes for the same work. In addition, while many universities have office spaces designated for part-time staff to share, that is not guaranteed. Access to resources may vary from one educational institution to another. Many sessional staff arrive on campus to teach their course or courses, and then do their preparatory and marking work at home.

Limited Contracts

Lecturers and/or instructors can hold more established positions in history departments, but here, again, the situation varies by university. The positions often involve ongoing interaction with departmental faculty and opportunities to participate in or even organize activities at the educational institution. These scholars are often given an office space and full access to an array of resources that benefit their research and teaching work. The downside is that these positions are often temporary, and once they are finished, the scholar may need to apply for new opportunities.

Part-time positions are not most people’s first choice. That said, for many recent post-graduates, sessional or adjunct teaching develops the practical experience needed to gain tenure-track position. The job market fluctuates with the economy, and this not only affects the number of tenure-track positions available, but also the extent to which adjunct and sessional jobs will be offered.

For the independent scholar, sessional positions can help fund periods in which they haven’t secured research funding, or help supplement their existing income. For those for whom income is not as much of an issue, sessional teaching work provides more flexibility for those who love teaching as sessional instructors do not need to fulfill the expectations of a tenured faculty member in terms of departmental administration and research. They can more easily set their own agenda.

Some starting points

Have a look at starting points suggested for all academic historians in the introduction to this section on academia. Conversing with non-tenured sessional instructors and lecturers about their experiences is highly recommended as a way to gain further insights into what is involved in attaining contract positions as well as the pros and cons of this type of work. Of particular interest will be Chapter 8 on Sessional Employment of the CHA guide Becoming a Historian. Also see Adam Beardsworth and Stephanie McKenzie’s “A Sessional Manifesto” in ESC: English Studies in Canada 37, no. 1 (March 2011), 26-30, for issues that are of concern to sessional instructors across the humanities.  A search of online news stories and articles pertaining to the issues of sessional work in universities will also provide useful insights. Among them, “The unappreciated plight of the underpaid ‘roads scholar’” in the Ottawa Citizen (2005) provides a realistic case study. For a more optimistic perspective, see Edward Rice-Maximin’s “Reflections of a Part-Timer,” Viewpoints column, Perspectives (April 2003). Also see Donna Binkiewicz and Arlene Lazarowitz, “Historians’ Contingent Workforce: Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?” and Standards for Part-Time, Adjunct and Contingent Faculty, both published by the Organization of American Historians.


Do you have further insights on working as a non-tenured sessional instructor or lecturer, or additional information that we can add here? If so, please contact us so we can refine this resource.