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How to Become an Associate Professor: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 04, 2020

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

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  • 0:02 Should I Become an…
  • 0:48 Career Requirements
  • 1:24 Career Path Steps

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Should I Become an Associate Professor?

An associate professor is an instructor at a private or public college or university who ranks just below a full professor. Associate professors instruct students, mediate classroom dialogue, score assignments and develop lesson plans. They also work with students in the formulation and implementation of research.

Publishing in scholarly journals is another key element of working as an associate professor. The need to both teach and complete research can be demanding, but many professionals find this career path to be fulfilling since they instruct college-level students who are also passionate about their subject of study. Work schedules are often flexible and many associate professors get summers off.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree; many employers require a doctoral degree
Degree Field Chosen field of interest
Experience Teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant, lecturer, and/or assistant professor can be helpful
Key Skills Critical thinking and communication skills; knowledge of instruction and classroom management
Median Salary (2018) $65,660 (for postsecondary teachers, all other)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Getting into this career field typically requires at least a master's degree, but many employers require a doctoral degree in the individual's chosen field of interest. To meet admission requirements for an advanced degree program, a future associate professor must first complete a bachelor's program. During his or her undergraduate years, the student should determine the academic area or areas on which he or she wants to concentrate in graduate school.

Here are a few tips for success:

  • Choose your major wisely. Although almost any discipline can be an appropriate prerequisite to graduate-level study, a subject that enhances one's critical thinking, investigative and writing skills can be particularly useful for future associate professors. These professionals typically perform extensive research and writing during their academic career.
  • Maintain a high GPA. A GPA that's merely acceptable for graduation from an undergraduate program may not be sufficient to gain access to graduate school, particularly if you're studying in a popular discipline. Most graduate programs are very competitive, admitting only a small portion of those who apply.
  • Take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Many doctoral programs require applicants to submit their scores from the GRE, a standardized exam that includes verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. Some doctoral programs also require scores from a GRE subject test.

Step 2: Earn a Doctorate

As stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), associate professors need a minimum of a master's degree and, in most cases, a doctoral degree. Doctoral programs often take around six years to finish, including time to research and write a dissertation, an in-depth research paper in the student's area of study. A dissertation normally requires about one to two years of work guided by senior faculty. Students also have to defend the dissertation before a committee of professors. Additionally, aspiring associate professors will likely have to fulfill a graduate assistantship, during which they'll teach undergraduate classes.

To be successful, remember to respond to calls for article submissions. Associate professors, especially those in tenure or tenure-track positions, are expected to publish on a consistent basis. Having published works under your belt before you apply for associate professor positions could help you stand out from other applicants.

Step 3: Find Employment as a Lecturer or Assistant Professor

Although some doctoral graduates might get hired at the associate professor level, most work their way up through the ranks, beginning as lecturers or assistant professors. Working as an assistant professor also could be the first step toward earning tenure, which typically takes around seven years to achieve.

Step 4: Become an Associate Professor and Earn Tenure

Once one has advanced to the position of associate professor, he or she might be eligible for tenure, which is a contractual stipulation that states that he or she cannot be fired without just cause. In addition to meeting education and experience requirements, associate professors who are eligible for tenure may be evaluated by a committee. This committee will review their teaching and research records as well as their service to the college or university. However, the BLS notes that postsecondary institutions are increasingly moving away from tenure, instead creating more adjunct and part-time positions.

Within a college or university, an associate professor is a highly educated researcher and lecturer, with at least a master's degree and several years of experience. They instruct students, mediate classroom dialogue, score assignments and develop lesson plans, as well as publish scholarly journal articles. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018, the median wage for for postsecondary teachers, all other was $65,660.

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