The Educational Requirements of College Professors

The path to become a college professor is a long and arduous journey.  In general, most college professors have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, but not all do.  Likewise, a Ph.D. is often not enough to secure a tenured position at a college or university.  Here is a look at various professorial positions and the educational requirements for each.

Teaching Assistant

Degree Required: none, bachelor’s, master’s

Most college professors begin their careers as teaching assistants, or TAs.  TAs are upper-level students who assist their professor with his teaching responsibilities.  Usually TAs are graduate students, so they have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.  For introductory classes, though, TAs often are simply undergraduate juniors and seniors.

Research Assistant

Degree Required: none, bachelor’s, master’s

A research assistant’s stature within academia is identical to the teaching assistants’.  Rather than helping with the instruction of younger students, research assistants help with professors’ research.  They are most commonly employed in the natural sciences, but research assistants are also used in social sciences and humanities.

Adjunct Professor

Degree Required: specialized knowledge, master’s, doctoral

An adjunct professor is contracted by a college or university to teach a specific class.  Some schools used adjunct professors to compensate for a lack of full-time faculty members, while others hire adjuncts to teach very specialized classes.  Some people work as an adjunct professor, because they have full-time or part-time obligations at another occupation.  This is often the case in careers where people work clinically, such as doctors, dentists, lawyers and pastors, but are also qualified to teach.

The level of education required for an adjunct professor depends on the specialty and school.  Professors who teach basket weaving need knowledge in the area, but few Ph.D.s are offered on the subject.  Also, many community colleges and small Bible Colleges will hire adjunct professors with only master’s degrees.  Large universities, on the other hand, will require doctoral degrees and published papers from their adjuncts who teach common subjects, such as math and sciences.

Professor of Clinical Skills

Degree Required: terminal professional degree

Almost every position above the adjunct professor requires a doctoral degree, but a Ph.D. is not always appropriate.  The Ph.D. is a research-focused degree.  In clinical fields, such as medicine and religious ministry, clinical skills can be more important than research knowledge.  Many medical schools, dentistry schools, law schools and seminaries allow professors to teach without a Ph.D.   However, they must still hold a terminal degree.  For instance, professors of pastoral classes at most seminaries need a doctor of ministry degree; a master’s of divinity is often insufficient.  These professors, though, are often limited to teaching the clinical, or practical, classes at the institution.  The exact degree required depends on the area of work.  It may be an M.D., D.D.S., J.D., D.Min. or other degree.

College and University Professors

Degree Required: Ph.D. and publications

Most college and university professors, the people who make their careers in academia, have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree.  (European schools have different names for research degrees).  While this is a necessary requirement for the position, it is usually not enough to secure a job as a professor.  Academia is a highly competitive field, and to set themselves apart from their colleagues, people need to be published.  How often one publishes papers, the journals one is published in and the institution that granted the Ph.D. degree all affect one’s prestige and chances of securing a tenured professorship.

Matthew Knapp helps prospective doctoral students find seminaries with Ph.D. programs. Students interested in a doctoral degree can follow one student’s journey on this blog.

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