Assistant Professor: Education Requirements and Career Info

A career as an assistant college professor requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree, job duties and experience needed to see if this is the right career for you.

A job as an assistant professor is often the first appointment held by someone who has recently completed a Ph.D degree. No matter your field of expertise, if you are interested in balancing teaching and research duties in an academic environment, you may consider an assistant professorship.

Essential Information

An assistant professor ranks as a junior faculty member in a college or university. Although the title appears to suggest a position of subservience, in academia it indicates a full-time faculty appointment (tenure track or non-tenure track), albeit entry level. Recent Ph.D. graduates are eligible for this position.

Required Education Doctoral degree
Other Requirements Teaching experience
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) * 13% for all postsecondary teachers
Median Salary (2016) ** $62,713

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

Education Requirements

Undergraduate Degree

The student must first earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. For an aspiring assistant professor hoping to teach at a selective university, the applicant's undergraduate grade point average must be high.

Graduate Degree

After a baccalaureate degree has been earned, the prospective assistant professor will choose an area of specialty for graduate study. Often, but not always, the area of specialty is closely related to the student's undergraduate major. Once the student has acquired a master's degree, usually within two years, the candidate may enter a Ph.D. program in the field for another 3-4 years or longer.

Doctoral Degree

Earning a doctoral degree entails rigorous coursework, extensive research and successful completion of a dissertation. The latter requires a broad knowledge of virtually all scholarship in the field as well as an original contribution to the arena.

Additional Skills and Experience

Additional prerequisites for a faculty position include excellent presentation skills, keen analytical skills, a clear focus and the discipline for continued research. Candidates must also have teaching experience with excellent student evaluations. Because faculty positions in many fields are limited, prospective professors should be willing to relocate in order to broaden their chances for securing this position.

Career Information

Duties and Responsibilities

Assistant professors are hired as either tenure track or non-tenure track. Faculty who accept the position on a non-tenure or temporary basis are often offered the appointment for 1-3 years or more. They will be expected to teach 3-4 classes per semester, serve on various academic committees and contribute to the academic milieu. In turn, they will gain teaching experience and the continued opportunity to publish in their fields.

Those who are hired as tenure track faculty will have the opportunity to apply for a permanent faculty position after 5-7 years. Becoming tenured includes a formal presentation to a review board, along with evidence of published credentials, conference participation, in-service projects and an immaculate teaching record.

Assistant professors must learn to balance a heavy teaching load and general university-related duties with their own research endeavors. They can expect to work 45-70 hours per week during the school year. Some universities also require summer session teaching.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects an about average growth rate of 13% for postsecondary teachers over the 2014-2024 period. The market for a full-time assistant professorship is highly competitive. A willingness to relocate will afford the applicant a greater chance for employment. Salaries for an assistant professor vary widely by the location, endowment, size and type (public or private) of the college or university, as well as by the specialty the professor is teaching.

According to a January 2016 search on PayScale.com, assistant professors in general made salaries ranging from $45,423 to $96,694. The BLS reported that a postsecondary teacher of English language and literature could expect to make a median wage of $61,990 as of May 2015; a postsecondary teacher of computer science could earn a median wage of $74,840 per year; and a postsecondary teacher of business could expect a median salary of $75,370 per year.

In summary, an assistant professor is a full-time employee of a college or university, who has to balance teaching duties with other institutional responsibilities. This is a career option to consider for someone who has recently completed a doctorate degree, and wishes to enter academia. Job growth is expected to be strong in the coming decade, and salary varies depending on the field of study and other factors.


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