How Do I Become an Assistant Professor?

Tara Barnett

An assistant professor is an academic professional who is on the path to becoming a tenured professor at a school. To become an assistant professor, you first need all the qualifications required to teach at the college level, which typically means that you need a PhD, although there are some exceptions in the arts. Next, you need to apply for and obtain a position as an assistant professor. This position, however, is usually only a temporary step toward the larger goal of becoming a full professor or other advanced instructor. As such, you should likely aim for a job that offers more prospects than simply becoming an assistant professor.

A Ph.D. is generally required to become an assistant professor.
A Ph.D. is generally required to become an assistant professor.

The first thing to do in order to become an assistant professor is to obtain appropriate qualifications. A doctoral degree is required for teaching and obtaining this degree can take many years. For a person who wants to become an assistant professor, obtaining strong recommendations and building good networks of potential employers during school can be extremely advantageous when looking for a job. Graduate students should take every opportunity to show future employers that they are valuable not only for their teaching capabilities but for their research skills as well.

Assistant professors might substitute in for other professors and give a guest lecture.
Assistant professors might substitute in for other professors and give a guest lecture.

Once a PhD has been achieved, the next step is to apply for jobs. This is often the most difficult and frustrating part of trying to become an assistant professor because jobs are scarce in many fields. Being willing to relocate can help job prospects immensely, as can getting a degree in a field where competition is less fierce. You may need to take a position at a school you do not intend to teach at for the rest of your life.

One thing to keep in mind when trying to become an assistant professor is that you want to be on a tenure track, even if you are not planning on staying at the school for long. Taking a position as an adjunct professor or lecturer merely shows future employers that you are willing to settle for less than the promise of later employment. Some people may find that taking these positions is a necessity, but whenever possible, it is best to avoid positions that are lower than an assistant professor.

If you manage to obtain multiple job offers from your applications, your final step is to choose which school best suits your future interests. The salary that the school is offering should certainly be considered, but other factors, like workload and research, must be looked at as well. For some people, the prestige of the school may be important, while for others, the location may prevail. Picking a school is not necessarily a lifelong decision, but it is usually best to try and find a place where you will be happy for at least a few years.

Assistant professors are usually on the path toward becoming a tenured professor.
Assistant professors are usually on the path toward becoming a tenured professor.

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