Professor (US)

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Job Description

Professors in the United States teach students at public and private colleges. Teaching usually takes place during the day between 9am and 6pm although some professors are also required to teach in the evenings. Increasingly, they are involved in teaching distance-learning courses by correspondence or the Internet. Professors divide their time between classroom hours and preparing for teaching or meeting students privately.

The job also involves research activities including presenting research findings at conferences worldwide. Professors are required to seek external funding for their research activities to enhance the prestige of their institution and to initiate research projects that involve connections with scholars at other institutions in the US and overseas. They may also be involved in initiatives working with other public sector bodies and the private sector. Professors will be expected to take part in the strategic planning and decision making for their department. In many cases they will do less undergraduate teaching and focus more on teaching postgraduates.


  • Delivering large group lectures to between 20 and 200 students
  • Delivering small group teaching to between 1 and 20 students
  • Pastoral care of students
  • One to one advice on particular pieces of work
  • Course design
  • Lecture/seminar planning
  • Marking assessed work
  • Keeping student records of achievement
  • Attending planning meetings to ensure cross departmental parity
  • Leading research projects and managing research teams
  • Presenting research at conferences
  • Administration tasks (e.g. admissions tutor) within the department

Salary and Conditions

Starting salary is usually c. $50,000 rising to $100,000+ for a full professor.

The US academic system operates a tenure system. Many jobs are tenure-track positions, which means that the professor will work towards achieving tenure (job security). Untenured or ‘adjunct’ professors are hired on a contractual basis (temporary and/or part-time).

Tenured professorships are permanent positions. Most are full time, although part time posts and job shares are occasionally available.

Entry Criteria

Most Professors will have a doctorate. They will have a very good first degree. Some Professors have a separate masters degree, especially in the humanities fields. Very rarely a Professor with personal vocational experience will be taken on without a doctorate.

Professors are expected to take part in Continuing Professional Development activities throughout their career. This is done part time while working.

Career Path

There are steady annual salary increments in most jobs. A tenured assistant professor can apply for promotion to associate Professor if a vacancy arises although this can be sought earlier in special cases. The next scale is full professor. Some scholars remain at that level for the rest of their career, others go into management and may take on roles such as Dean of School.

To increase promotion chances Professors are advised to produce internationally renowned research, publish their work in reputable journals and books, attend conferences, and be innovative in their teaching practice.

Major Employers

Professors are mostly employed in publicly or privately funded universities or colleges. There are many sorts of institutions in the US. There are public funded colleges in every state. Privately funded colleges rely on endowments, examples of these are Harvard and Princeton and the other six Ivy League colleges. The most prestigious colleges offer four-year degree programmes, but Professors sometimes work at two-or three-year liberal arts colleges which offer courses that can be counted towards a degree programme. Some private colleges are run by religious bodies and will require its staff to be at least sympathetic to the values and practices of that religion, for example Brigham Young University in Utah run by the Mormon Church.

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