What Does an Assistant Professor Do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

In their first few years of teaching, university professors are often known as assistant professors. These teachers may be attempting to establish themselves as potential candidates for tenured professorship, and thus may have a very full docket of responsibilities beyond simply teaching classes. In the course of a day's work, an assistant professor may teach courses, spend time on research projects, serve on faculty committees, and serve as an advisor to students.

Grading papers is one job of an assistant professor.
Grading papers is one job of an assistant professor.

Teaching is naturally an essential part of an assistant professor's job. Newly minted as professionals, an assistant professor often teaches between two and four classes per semester. These classes might include introductory survey courses for freshmen, multi-disciplinary classes with fellow professors, and advanced, specialty courses in the professor's area of expertise. Teachers may also spend much of their time preparing lectures, writing the syllabus for a class, and grading papers and tests.

Assistant professors can often be very valuable resources for students.
Assistant professors can often be very valuable resources for students.

In the competitive world of university teaching, an assistant professor must often work hard to establish him or herself through research. Since most new professors have recently completed a dissertation or thesis, they may choose to continue their research on the same topic; others may choose to branch off in a different direction, choosing a new area of research in their field. As they produce papers, conduct experiments, or perform field research, an assistant professor may devote considerable time to finding scholarly journals that will publish their findings. By distinguishing themselves in the research field, assistant professors often hope to favorably impress the tenure review board at their university.

Most academics begin their first few years of teaching as assistant professors.
Most academics begin their first few years of teaching as assistant professors.

In their pursuit of a permanent teaching profession, assistant professors may also be expected to serve on faculty boards and committees. These committees allow faculty members to work together to enhance the reputation of the school, improve student life, and provide exciting new programs for the institution. Working on a faculty committee is often a good way for an assistant professor to give back to the school, while indulging a passion for a scholastic pursuit.

Assistant professors may be more likely to offer one-on-one tutoring than a tenured professor.
Assistant professors may be more likely to offer one-on-one tutoring than a tenured professor.

Assistant professors can often be very valuable resources for students. Since many were students themselves quite recently, they may have a better understanding of the challenges and trials current students face. As an advisor, an assistant professor can help freshman plan out their degree program, aid struggling students, and serve as a mentor for seniors or graduate students completing a thesis. While the demands on the time of an assistant professor can be enormous, serving as a student advisor can give a professor the chance to make a significant impact on the lives and futures of promising scholars.

An assistant professor may serve as a mentor to students.
An assistant professor may serve as a mentor to students.
Assistant professors typically teach between two and four classes per semester.
Assistant professors typically teach between two and four classes per semester.
Assistant professors may be potential candidates for tenured professorships.
Assistant professors may be potential candidates for tenured professorships.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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