BY JORI HAMILTON
Do you have that one professor you always think of? Maybe you wrote him or her a “thank you” card upon graduation. Maybe they inspired you to chase after your dreams or pushed you into the career you now love. Fantastic instructors have a way of sticking with students throughout their whole life.
If you’ve been inspired like that in the past, you may want to become a noteworthy professor yourself. But what does that entail? How can you become a source of inspiration for countless young learners? Today, we’ll discuss how to do just that.
How to Start a Career as a College Professor
In order to be a full-time professor in a college or university (as opposed to an adjunct professor), you’ll need a doctoral degree in the teaching field of your choice. While you may find a random teaching job at a college that has lower requirements, having a Ph.D. is the norm.
Doctoral programs can take up to seven years to complete, and you’ll have to have a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree to get accepted. However, there are some Ph.D. programs that will accept you with just a bachelor’s degree and require you to get a master’s degree during the program.
Qualities of a Great College Professor
Many effective college professors share some of these outstanding qualities:
- Adaptability: As a college professor, you’re going to have a heavy workload, and you’ll get overwhelmed at times. You’ll also be thrown into projects that you know little about – on top of being an educator, you may have to be a fundraiser, volunteer, or mentor. The best professors are open to new challenges and are highly adaptable.
- Resourcefulness: Being able to handle a lot of pressure also requires being resourceful. It’s likely that the college you work for will have a lot of resources that you can tap into. Be the type of professor who actively seeks out these resources and finds new, helpful ways to handle challenges.
- Goal-Oriented: In order to be a stellar professor, you have to continue working toward your goal, no matter how much you’re asked to do or how unprepared you are. And that goal should always be focused on providing students with an excellent education.
At the end of the day, your college or university exists for the students. Everything you do should be to better serve them.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Even if you have a Ph.D. from a fantastic school, don’t assume you’ll get a great job upon graduation. There are a number of things you can do to help you stand out in the field and beat the competition:
- Sign Up for a Job Shadow: To get a better feel for the job, ask one or two of your professors if you can shadow them for a couple of days. What you picture may be a lot different from the reality, and the experience will give you a better idea of whether this is the right route for you.
- Gain Teaching Experience: During your time as a graduate student, talk to your professors about the opportunity to lead a class or instruct students. In some courses, you’ll be required to do this, but other times you may have to volunteer.
- Apply for a Teaching Assistant Role: Some colleges hire teaching assistants. In this position, you’ll help the professor with tasks like preparing assignments, leading class discussions, and grading papers.
- Participate in Internships: As a college professor, part of your job is going to be conducting research. A lot of job applicants are going to have teaching experience, but not many will have researching experience. Seek out internships with professors who will let you assist with research.
Sometimes, these opportunities will be requirements of the program. Other times, you’ll have to take the initiative to gain your own experience. The latter is especially true if you’re going into an emerging field, like becoming a public health professor, one of the top 5 public health jobs. You’ll have the challenge of finding unique ways to stand out in a new field.
How to Be an Inspirational College Professor
There are good college professors, and then there are great professors — the ones that you remember your whole life and who have impacted your future. If you want to be an inspirational, memorable professor, here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Treat Your Students as Friends: That doesn’t mean go out to the bar with them at night; it just means to treat them like your peers and not like children. Tell them about your life, share stories they’ll find motivating or amusing, and show interest in how they’re doing beyond school work.
- Stray From the Norm: The most inspiring college professors do something different. Yes, you can dress up in crazy costumes to help drive teaching lessons home, but even something as simple as walking around the classroom instead of staying behind a podium or desk is a big difference from most professors. Be humorous and lighthearted. Be flexible when it comes to what students can do in class and be open-minded to new opinions, even if you don’t share them.
- Expect Normalcy: The best college professors — the ones who students respect and pay attention to — understand when a student is simply having a human moment. If you end up scolding them for over-sleeping one morning, the only takeaway from the semester will be that you were nasty to them.
There’s no one way to be a great professor, and even the most-loved professors have their off days. Nobody’s perfect. Continually strive to be better and to treat your students the way you wanted to be treated in college.
If you tell your college professors that you’re thinking of following in their footsteps, be prepared for an onslaught of advice. While you don’t want to ignore their advice (they have, after all, experienced the career in ways that you haven’t), you don’t need to take every single thing they say as gospel. Every professor is going to have a unique experience, and yours will depend on specifics like the type of university that hires you and the subject you teach.
Bio: Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Northwest who is passionate about education and social justice issues. You can follow her on Twitter @HamiltonJori