Be a Psychology Professor: Career Information and Requirements

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become a psychology professor. Research the job description and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career as a postsecondary psychology teacher.

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Becoming a Psychology Professor

Degree Level Doctoral degree; master's degree isufficient for some positions
Degree Field Psychology
Experience Teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant is helpful
Key Skills Critical thinking, communication, and writing skills
Median Annual Salary (May 2018) $76,710

Sources: O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

A psychology professor instructs students, mediates classroom discussions, grades papers, and creates lesson plans. Professors who teach graduate-level courses may also supervise students' dissertation research. In addition to teaching psychology, professors in this field may also seek licensing to offer services as mental health counselors or family therapists. Most professors also conduct research and publish their findings in scholarly journals, though it can be difficult to balance research time with teaching duties. Postsecondary professors typically have the summer off, unless they teach summer school. And, the median salary for professors as of 2018 was $76,710.

Those who teach at 2-year colleges may only need a master's degree, though it's recommended that you pursue a Ph.D. for 4-year colleges. Key skills held by psychology professors include critical thinking, communication, and writing skills.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in psychology is ideal for would-be professors in this field. Although most psychology Ph.D. programs don't require applicants to have a major in psychology, they do prefer students with strong psychology backgrounds gained from coursework, research, or work experience. Some programs require applicants to have a minimum number of credit hours in psychology, statistics, and math.

Success Tips:

Take the GRE seriously. Psychology graduate programs consider GRE scores as part of the application process. Although they may not set minimum scores, performing well on this test can boost an applicant's chances of admission.

Maintain a high overall GPA. Since psychology is a discipline that requires competence in writing, mathematics, and laboratory research, it's important for applicants to maintain a high GPA across all subjects, not just their psychology classes. Most programs prefer at least a 3.0 GPA for admission.

Get research experience. Published research is a key component of success as a psychology professor; applicants who can demonstrate experience in this area are viewed favorably. It's especially helpful if applicants can present recommendation letters from professors with whom they've worked on research projects.

Step 2: Get a Ph.D. in Psychology

Although a master's degree may be sufficient for some positions at community colleges, you'll need a Ph.D. in order to pursue a tenure-track position at a 4-year university. Some Ph.D. programs require students to formally earn a master's degree as part of the program, while others don't. In either case, the practical requirements for earning the Ph.D. are very similar.

Students generally select a specialization and complete the required coursework for that area. Then, they're required to demonstrate their preparation for formal Ph.D. candidacy by passing a written comprehensive examination and preparing a thesis or research project. Next, students take another written exam in their area of specialization and gain approval of their dissertation proposal. After completing the proposed dissertation research and performing satisfactorily in an oral defense, the student is eligible for the Ph.D.

Success Tip:

Respond to calls for article submissions. Published research is important for anyone who wants to be a professor. Once psychology professors are hired, particularly for tenure-track positions, they are expected to publish on a regular basis, so potential employers view job candidates with strong publication records favorably.

Step 3: Career Advancement

Tenure-track psychology professors at 4-year colleges or universities must hold a Ph.D. They typically begin as assistant professors without tenure and work their way up to the full professor level, with tenure, after a number of years. Tenure requires being evaluated by other faculty members in several ways: perception of collegiality with other department and university faculty, number and quality of publications, and quality of teaching.

In summary, to become a psychology professor, you must earn at least a master's degree, and to further advance your career, you should earn a Ph.D. for tenure-track positions at a 4-year university. Additionally, candidates with teaching and research experience, and those with strong publication records are viewed favorably.

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