The Study Dude—Becoming a Prof is Tough

If you want to become a professor, you’ve got it tough.   At least, that’s the view of Dr. Chris Davis, author of How to Become a Professor: A Non-traditional Guide.

But wait! PhD programs throw money at you, don’t they?  Well, physical universities offer paid T.A.  and teaching roles.  But make sure you also apply for an NSERC grant or SSHRC award.  I landed a SSHRC award valued at $24,000 plus a TA position paying over $5,000.  I spent most of my funds on my wardrobe, but, hey, it was fun.  You can access that funding, too: Dr. Davis says, “When I was in grad school at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s, most doctoral graduates would apply for full-time positions, doing some combination of teaching and research” (location 72 of 961, 7%).

But grad studies has its downsides.  I had a TA role in the graduate program.  It paid over $5000 for the semester, but it lacked glamour.  You see, my TA supervisor called the students “the enemy.”  And she instructed the essay grader to “hammer” students—knock them down a few grades.  Whenever I argued for a student’s A grade, she’d knock the grade down by two letters.  I wanted to groom a “love not hate thy student” teaching view.  At the very least, I refused to fail any of my students.

Once you graduate with a PhD, you might find yourself without a job (Davis, 2018).  Opportunities for professorships have slackened despite universities churning out more PhD students: “Traditional doctoral programs continued to produce the same number of graduates even as traditional opportunities decreased.  Non-traditional universities added even more newly minted PhDs as they received accreditation for new doctoral programs” (Davis, location 72 of 961, 7%).  Yes, competition!

My thesis supervisor transferred from a great university to a not so great one.   Dr. Davis says, “While some still succeed at the traditional path and land a coveted position at a traditional university or at least a full-time teaching position somewhere, many do not.  Even those who do land on the tenure track are not guaranteed of tenure and may find themselves on the academic job market again in seven years” (location 72 of 961, 7%).

So getting into a PhD and gaining professorship won’t necessarily secure you a job.  According to Dr. Davis, “If your goal is a traditional higher education career path of going to graduate school for ten years and then applying for tenure track positions at a similar institution … I wish you the best of luck, because no matter how hard you work, how smart you are, or even how pretty you are, the odds are against you” (location 89 of 961, 9%).  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high.  Get the PhD if you can.  But be sure to gain at least a 3.8 out of 4 GPA.

While tenure might be out of the ballpark, you can access other teaching roles, such as becoming an independent prof and teaching your own online courses.  But if your heart is set on becoming a prof, “if the why is big enough, the how will take care of itself.  Your purpose in becoming a professor needs to be clear and strong to sustain you on the journey.  It has to be founded upon a passion to help the students ….  Don’t do it for the title or the money, if that is the case, look into another area where you can succeed” (Davis, location 833 of 961, 87%).

But AU students, take heart: “distance education is the future.  Learn how to construct online courses and teach online.  It will keep you relevant” (Davis, location 852 of 961, 89%).

Davis, Dr. Chris.  (2018).  How to Become a Professor: A Non-traditional Guide.  E-book.
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