Working from home as a translator or adjunct professor
June 1, 2010 1:18 AM   Subscribe

Over the next couple of years, I'm interested in transitioning from my current job to working from home as either a translator, an adjunct professor, or both. I'd love to hear from anyone with knowledge of either of these careers.

For option one, Translator, I speak French fluently and have many years experience working in France. I have a masters degree in a specialised subject (Environmental Sciences) and a lot of IT technical writing experience. I'm planning to take some classes in translation and get a certification. But I'm wondering how much work there is out there, especially as my language pair (French->English) is so common.

For option two, Adjunct Professor, as I mentioned I have my master's degree and three years experience in the field. I don't have any experience teaching Environmental Science but I do have experience teaching English to adults. Would it be possible to get a job with just these fairly slim qualifications? What could I do between now and the next two years to strengthen my applications?

Luckily I have the right to work in the US and UK but I'm only interested in jobs I can do from a distance since I love where I live now but there aren't really any jobs here. Thanks in advance for any insight and advice.
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When you say you want to work from home as an adjunct professor, are you talking about teaching classes online? Most ads for professors teaching online want people who already have experience teaching online. In general right now the academic market is so tight that it is quite hard to get a job, adjunct or otherwise, without a PhD and extensive teaching experience, and even then it requires luck more than anything else. I'm in Ecology, so I can speak from direct experience of the jobs you might be applying for in Environmental Science. Yes, it is frustrating. No, there's really nothing you can do, other than getting more teaching experience and a PhD. And hope that in a couple of years the economy will be better and more universities will be hiring.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:06 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can only talk to one of your points (adjunct), and only peripherally as I'm in a different field.

hydropsyche is right about the market being tight now but if you've got some niche skills / expertise it may be possible to find an adjunct. I'm in banking but left about two years ago to finish another degreeĀ (MBA). I also have an MSc, and between the two degrees, as well as about 25 years in the Capital Markets, have managed to secure three adjunct positions.

A few points: first of all, almost every University these days is looking for people who have experience in virtual learning environments used to deliver content. If you don't have expertise in these tools you probably wouldn't be considered.

Second how would your skills slot into the field overall? I've got a strong background in Capital Markets in general, Risk Management / Credit / Trading specifically, and it seems many Universities want this type of "real world" expertise on staff to augment the deeper theoretical knowledge their Doctorates have. If you can slot into a similar type of role, perhaps bringing some hands-on experience into the classroom, it might make finding a job easier.

Third, you're going to have some face to face involved in the teaching. For example, at one University we augment a relatively low number of classroom lecture hours with a fairly high number of contact hours delivered online. Its not all online, rather the majority is. And even though I'm delivering a majority of the material via the internet, course design and other admin type activities require face time with University management. I think you'd have to factor in some face to face, direct type of interaction which may limit you somewhat geographically.

Fourth, is there anything you can do to your CV to set yourself apart? For example, I've got a strong background in publishing (I wrote market commentary at tier 1banks for several years) and I'm currently writing a book on finance; each of these points detailed on my CV and seem to be of interest to each University I've interviewed with. Anything you can add under publications or a similar section would probably help.

Finally I'd suggest you start to scope on academic jobs, see what the market is and evaluate what changes in your background you'd need to undertake to render yourself more marketable. is the portal I've seen most of my peers use.

Hope this helps!
posted by Mutant at 2:48 AM on June 1, 2010

Nthing for UK university job postings. For distance learning, Open University might be a good option to consider, you might also want to look at ICS for distance learning. If you're thinking of "adjuncting" in the UK (it's not really called that here, you should be looking for "sessional/causual lecturer/teaching fellow" type of job), these positions usually get filled by in-house PhD students and through word of mouth, so might be worth to get networking, but sending your CV to the head of learning and teaching/head of the department at a couple of local universities won't hurt as hourly-paid teaching is usually last-minute sort of thing. As for translating gigs, check out the fora at, these folks will be quite knowledgeable. Good luck!
posted by coffee_monster at 3:00 AM on June 1, 2010

I've beeen out of the translating field for some time now but through various contacts would say French-English even with a speciality will not pay the bills even if you literally build a niche yourself.

Building aniche with your skills: , look though all the specialist journals and publications and find a few French researchers, especially their research units. E-mail them to ask if any colleagues need help with the translation and prep work for international conferences. Always assume THEIR English is so superior as to need no help whatsoever and couch it that they might have minions/mentees who would benefit from this kind of prep work.

In my field surgical medical education the main names are often, second, thrid or fourth author of one of their stables output. They may read the work and even critique it in the original French but once the English translation is worked over they usually only give a cursory glance. And a shoddy presentation can reflect on them.

If you develop a good e-mail relationship, ( i.e. if they even answer you!), and you manage to spot some faux amies in a published work and can point out a better translation, you might get the name of a post-doc who is preparing for one of the big international conferences in the field.
You could offer either translation of the papers/research, proof-reading and copy-editing, or a prep session via Skype of the kinds of questions and answers a predominantly anglophone audience might ask.

CAVEAT: this would be a lot of work but eventually word of mouth tends to build a little practice. Discretion is everything (one Spanish English translator who gets aboput 30% of her income from this is never mentioned, meant to never tell whom she does this for, the researchers pretend they did it themselves) Secondly payment is a bitch. The majority cannot claim this from their grant or departmental funds and so pay it out of pocket so she has endless problems being paid.
posted by Wilder at 4:56 AM on June 1, 2010

Oh and the subscriptions to your professional enviornmental sciences body/main publications will be a far better calling card than any certification, especially if you wrote to them fluently in their own language.
posted by Wilder at 4:58 AM on June 1, 2010

As someone who made the switch to freelance translation less than 3 years ago, I can speak to the second of your options. I think there is plenty of work out there even in the common language pairs. More particularly, there is still a demand for, and shortage of, good translators: ones who are comfortable with specialized subject matters, write very well in the target language, and who are meticulous and professional about the work process.

I work in Spanish>English, which is an extremely crowded pair, and by the 2 year mark I was pretty much flooded with work and no longer had to make much of an effort to market myself or hunt down opportunities.

A strong background in environmental studies and technical writing experience is a great complement to your language skills. And if having the right to work in both the US and the UK mean that you have first-hand experience with both US and UK varieties of English, that would be another useful skill on the translation market.

With two year's lead time, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the world of freelance translation, from the point of view of those in the trenches. forums and articles are a good place to start.

IMHO, your earnings potential as a freelance translator is better than it would be as an adjunct online instructor. If you're able to pick up a few jobs and clients before you cut the cord on your full-time job, you'll be better positioned, but nevertheless, plan for a slow build in your business, with at least a 6-month cushion saved for the initial period of limited work.
posted by drlith at 5:07 AM on June 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adjunct professoring isn't a career ... it's a part-time side job. I'm currently a SAHM, I do a little adjuncting so I get to see grown-ups and make a little money. I get a little over $1500/class (I'm in a very low-cost-of-living area, so near you pay rates will probably be higher, but it's not a "living wage" when you adjunct anywhere), with a semester cap of four classes (2 in the summer). If I worked as many classes as I could get at this one school, that would be $15,000/year, and four classes in a semester is a LOT of grading and outside work.

There are people who make a living adjuncting at several schools and commuting among them. They usually teach around 8 classes a semester, earn just enough to keep food on the table and gas in the car, and it is very stressful. (Google "freeway flyer adjunct")

That said, you could probably get an adjunct job at a community college while working where you're working now; teach a night class once or twice a week. See if you like it and what the pay is like, get a little experience. There are far more people who want to teach than there are jobs -- even crappy adjunct jobs -- so chances are good (in the US) that your application would sit in a pool for a while anyway. A common procedure is for schools (or departments) to have a general application for adjuncts and to keep those applications on file for a period of time, and after they give classes to the professors, grad students, and current adjuncts, if they have any left unfilled, they start calling through the pool of applicants. Flexibility is important, since they're trying to fill classes, not hire "the best person." You'll get hired faster if you can do a daytime class; everyone is looking to do nights and weekends.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:15 AM on June 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

What Eyebrows McGee writes about adjuncting is basically right.

However, I'd like to stress the idea that if you want to teach several classes in 2-3 years applying for the job about 16-20 months before that date is a good idea. The department may want you to teach a single class as a kind of evaluation period before giving you several classes. The long lead time also accounts for the fact that if you apply in January, (for example) the earliest available open schedule won't be until fall (at best). If you apply in November thinking to work in January you will need to be extremely lucky.

Furthermore, in my school (a community college) they want all professors (even adjuncts) to have graduate level course work. Your experiences might mitigate that somewhat, but if you have the time getting accepted to and working with a grad program would help you a great deal.
posted by oddman at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2010

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