What Is a Part-Time Lecturer?

Renee Booker

Universities, colleges, and technical schools often employ both full-time and part-time faculty. Although the requirements and benefits of teaching at the post-secondary level will vary throughout the world, in the United States, the primary difference between the two is that a full-time faculty member is generally tenured while a part-time lecturer is not. An institution may employ a part-time lecturer to fill a temporary shortage in faculty, to teach a special class not frequently offered, or to supplement the regular faculty.

A part-time lecturer is usually hired on a class-by-class basis, and has no benefits.
A part-time lecturer is usually hired on a class-by-class basis, and has no benefits.

Most universities and colleges in the United States have a number of full-time tenured faculty in each major offered at the institution. Tenure refers to the employment status reached by the professor where he or she may not be terminated without just cause. A tenured faculty member usually earns more than a part-time lecturer, has additional benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan, and may have first choice when deciding which classes to teach. On the other hand, a part-time lecturer is usually only hired on a class-by-class basis and has no benefits.

Lecturers prepare lessons and engage with students.
Lecturers prepare lessons and engage with students.

On some cases, accepting a position as a part-time lecturer is a stepping stone to a full-time faculty position. Many aspiring professors start out teaching on a part-time basis and eventually gain the experience and reputation required to be offered a tenured position. Offering an individual a part-time, or adjunct, position is also a good way for the institution to determine whether the prospect is a good fit for a permanent position when one comes open.

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Other people choose to teach as a part-time lecturer, or adjunct professor, as a way to make additional money or simply because they enjoy teaching. Many adjunct professors are professionals who are currently working in the field and therefore offer the students firsthand knowledge and insight into the subject matter. Lawyers, for instance, are often asked to teach a specific class in the area of law in which they specialize as it affords the students a unique perspective into the subject area.

An adjunct, or part-time, lecturer is usually only under contract to teach a specific class for a semester at a time. In some cases, an adjunct may teach more than one class, or may return on a regular basis; however, he or she is not guaranteed employment as a tenured faculty member is. Depending on the circumstances, a part-time lecturer may be required to follow an outline and therefore have less freedom to structure the class in a way he or she chooses. If, however, the adjunct was asked to teach due to his or her expertise in the field, this is not usually the case.

Discussion Comments


@mor - I can see you point, but I don't think every great researcher should have to do that. We are getting to great heights of knowledge in science and other subjects at the moment and some of those heights are only going to be obtainable if you have a bedrock of knowledge that the average person does not.

Which is why part time lecturers who are experts in their subject are important. They can spend some time teaching what they know to the top students who are following after them.


@croydon - The problem is that a part time lecturer's salary isn't going to be great compared with someone who works as a full professor. And often positions where you are able to research are tied to full time jobs. You can't get the one without the other.

If you want to research without teaching, you're better off working for a company, rather than at a university.

But there is so much value in being able to teach people what you are doing. Not only can it give you more ideas, I also think that every scientist should strive to be able to competently explain their subject to the public in simple terms. The inability to do this renders the research somewhat pointless.


It would be pretty ideal to be a part-time lecturer if you were interested in research, just because you would have that much more time to commit to whatever research you were doing at the time.

I actually think it would be better if more professors were part time or even just allowed to do research alone, because I've noticed a lot of them are brilliant at their subject, but very poor teachers. I don't think knowing how to do amazing abstract mathematics yourself necessarily qualifies you to teach it to someone else.

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