HOW TO BECOME A PROFESSOR
Career development at the highest levels of academia does not happen overnight. But how long does it take to become a professor? What steps are involved? What is your career outlook? In this article, you can learn more about the steps involved in becoming a college professor, as well as some of the different incentives and rewards associated with a career in higher education.
WHAT DO PROFESSORS DO?
First, the term professor refers to a rank in academia for those who teach in higher education, not the type of degree one holds. It is usually a level from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor to full professor, earned over several years through functional and/or promotional review processes. Professors usually work at a college or university, public or private, and perform a variety of academically related tasks. Specific responsibilities vary widely and generally depend on a person’s specific academic field, career path, and institution of employment. Broadly speaking, a college professor is responsible for working in three areas—research, teaching, and service. There may be some nuances based on one’s contract, but those three are pretty typical in the US.
Teaching may include designing curricula, creating lesson plans and syllabi, mentoring students, and teaching students at an advanced level within their chosen field. Teaching can take place not only in a typical brick-and-mortar classroom but also in other spaces, including online or in virtual reality.
In addition to teaching, there may be service requirements at your university, college/school, professional or community level. These roles typically support civic engagement efforts. Other service roles may be on committees related to your professions, such as serving on an editorial board or reviewing grants for an organization, or a volunteer leadership role in an organization.
Many professors are taking on research responsibilities, especially those on their way to tenure. For example, a Learning Scientist who specializes in the design of technology for learning may also maintain a lab researching how people learn and how best to design technology for people to engage in transformative learning. This would include interaction with teachers, students, and others as they engage with technologies for learning in a process that includes collecting, analyzing, designing, and presenting data from those interactions and a design-based research process for peer review and publication. Research can be sponsored or unsponsored. Research plays a central role in the lives of professors in exploring ideas related to their professional interests or their teaching or their service commitments.
Because there are different ways to enter academic and non-academic careers, and different career paths in academia to consider, not every professor will have the same credentials or responsibilities. Responsibilities range from whether someone has a doctorate or not, their contract, and the type of doctorate. For example, there are professional doctoral degrees such as EdD and research doctorates such as PhD, and there are tenured and non-tenured roles.
WHAT DEGREE DO YOU NEED TO BECOME A COLLEGE PROFESSOR?
There are several types of teaching positions in higher education; but these roles primarily differ in part-time and full-time responsibilities, compensation, and the courses you are allowed to teach. For example, becoming a professor with a master’s degree is possible within a few restrictions.
Many two-year schools require instructors to have only a master’s degree to teach introductory courses, while some four-year institutions accept these types of instructors on a part-time basis. However, most four-year institutions require a research or professional doctorate in the field you intend to teach. A doctorate also allows you to engage in different levels of work and stand out from job seekers with only a master’s degree.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO BECOME A PROFESSOR?
In addition to requiring a bachelor’s degree and occasionally requiring a master’s degree, the overall average time to complete a doctoral program nationally is approximately five to seven years, averaging about 5 years for US citizens and 6 years for international students. However, a number of factors can affect the time required, from your decision to attend full-time or part-time, where you choose to study, whether additional certifications will be required, etc.
7 STEPS TO BECOMING A PROFESSOR: QUALIFICATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS
Like any profession, there is a process to becoming a professor if that is your desired career path. Here are the qualifications and requirements mapped out for you to become a professor with a PhD.
Get a bachelor’s degree
Learning the basics of your field is essential before moving on to the kind of advanced analysis and application of theory found in graduate programs. There are rare cases where extensive professional experience may serve as an adequate substitute; but for almost everyone, a bachelor’s degree is the most basic prerequisite for entering graduate school.
Decide what field you want to specialize in
Someone who wants to become a professor will want to be deeply involved in their field; this can mean studying a subject independent of your career and education. It may also mean looking for internship programs that will allow you to gain applied career experience and confidence in your decision to major in one field over another.
Attend graduate school
If you want to teach at a community college or vocational school, you may only need to earn a master’s degree; especially if you don’t aspire to educate the next generation of PhD students. If you are pursuing a tenure-track position at a large four-year institution, your best chance will be to earn a Ph.D. This is especially true in cases where jobs are more competitive, as institutions often favor people with higher qualifications.
Become a teaching assistant
If you are accepted into a graduate program, you may be offered an assistantship program. Assistants are usually involved in research, administrative work, or teaching. In addition to the critical experience gained in these programs, you may also be able to reduce or eliminate the cost of tuition, receive a scholarship, and earn credits toward your degree. Becoming a teaching assistant is not the only way to gain this type of experience, but it is the most common.
Get a Ph.D
The most important step to becoming a professor is earning a doctorate. In addition to the required courses, most programs require a dissertation, which is your own work of original research. It serves as a demonstration of your ability to add new knowledge to your field and your ability to train future scholars. While many programs allow you to earn a doctorate without a master’s degree, others require you to take this intermediate step.
Gain teaching and research experience
Teaching assistantships and research assistantships are some of the best sources of career experience in teaching and research. But you can find a number of opportunities for professional development outside of graduate programs, which can be important because many PhDs enter the workforce in the final year of their program.
Depending on what you intend to teach, a professor’s qualifications may also include additional certification requirements. These requirements usually relate to professional fields rather than purely academic programs. For example, someone who teaches medicine may need to obtain RN (registered nurse) certification, while someone who teaches accounting may need a CPA.
HOW MUCH DO SENIOR PROFESSORS EARN?
According to the American Association of University Professors, the average salary for a full-time professor in the 2020-21 academic year was $101,810. However, earnings depend on many factors, including things like the subject you teach, the institution where you work, whether you have a full-time or part-time position, and how much experience you have. The numbers also depend on your job position and career path: lecturer, instructor, assistant professor, docent or professor.
JOB PROSPECTS OF A COLLEGE PROFESSOR
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for professors are expected to grow at a faster than average rate. As the number of students attending higher education institutions is projected to continue to grow over the next decade, there is a consistent and growing demand for these types of professionals. With new technologies in the workplace requiring workers to have more training, this employment rate is expected to remain high.
GET ONE STEP CLOSER TO BECOMING A PROFESSOR AT DREXEL’S SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
Becoming a professor can be equally challenging and rewarding. In addition to helping teach the next generation and expanding human knowledge, university professors can create personally rewarding and lucrative careers. But starting a career in academia starts with finding the right program for your current stage of advancement.
Drexel has programs for every stage of the process, from starting an undergraduate degree to completing a PhD. Begin your journey by requesting information from Drexel University’s School of Education today.