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How do I get Started in a Professor Career?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Getting started in a professor career means committing to years of school. At minimum, a college professor will require a master’s degree and most times a higher degree in chosen field is needed to earn the professor title. This is often a PhD, Doctor of Philosophy, but it could be another terminal degree like the MD or the JD, Juris Doctorate. Once people have completed these highest degrees in their profession, they can begin scouting for jobs as professors.

The path to a professor career thus starts with a four year or undergraduate degree, and students should plan to get very good grades in their major, and have a strong grade point average (GPA) in general. Most doctoral programs will not accept students with less than a 3.0, and since programs can be competitive, GPA may need to be higher than this to get into the most reputable programs. Just before graduation, students might be required to take some standardized testing also. In the US, for instance, medical students take the MCAT (medical college admission test), and many other students take the GRE or graduate record examination test. There are both general and subject oriented GRE tests, and some students will need to take both, though this is dependent on graduate school requirements.

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Since graduate school can be competitive, it also helps to begin getting recognized. It’s not uncommon for upper division students to work on publishing or presenting papers at conferences. This would show any university that a student is already gaining competency and expertise, and will be able to continue this course at the graduate level. Additionally, participation in conferences may mean close work with present professors, which can result in glowing recommendations for grad school.

At the grad school level, students can expect to spend at least three years studying, and realistically, many students take about five years to finish a PhD program. Here, one opportunity often available to students is to teach or work in teaching assistance programs. Students are advised to take up this opportunity, since it helps garner teaching experience, which can then be listed on a resume for those who want a professor career. Teaching positions often come with some form of pay, an additional bonus that may reduce student loans and cut down on amounts owed after graduate school.

Some students get started in a professor career at the grad school from which they graduate. With a sterling performance at the school, it’s sometimes possible to be offered a job. Others will need to look elsewhere, but can certainly be helped by letters of references attesting to their skills and a growing list of publications in the field.

What will not happen for most graduates is getting an immediate job that offers tenure. Most students will grab a job as an associate, or they might even need to work as adjunct professors at first. Much depends on how competitive the field is, the area in which the person lives, and the economic status of each available school.

If people are aiming for a professor career that results in tenure, essentially a guarantee of employment, it’s best to seek out at least junior or associate professor jobs. To get tenure, people will need to be strong teachers and they will also need to continue to publish; even with these skills, it can take years to get tenure. It is sometimes easier to get tenure at junior or community colleges because there is less emphasis on publication, but this does mean only teaching courses that are equivalent to the first two years of college instruction.

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