What a University Lecturer/ Professor Does
Most professors agree that the ability to educate and uplift students is the best part of their jobs. They do this through classroom instruction, mentorship, and providing career guidance. However, this is only a small part of the job, as creating lesson plans, performing research, handling administrative tasks, and other duties take up the bulk of the day.
Who would enjoy a career in University Lecturing?
Well-rounded individuals who have great passion for educating others, shaping the future and enjoy mentoring are generally happy as professors. Due to the amount of research involved, as well as the need to remain abreast of new developments in a professor’s chosen field, people who like to learn and develop themselves tend to do best.
Who mightn't like the career?
While tenure was once the hallmark of a successful career, universities are moving more towards hiring adjunct/ casual faculty as a means of cutting costs. In these cases, the expected output is often the same, but the compensation for it is greatly reduced. Professors at research universities also have to commit themselves to doing a lot of study, research papers and grant proposals. Often, the funds they raise through grants pay their own salaries, as well as the salaries and benefits of their research teams, so their very employment hinges upon securing funds which can lead to stress.
Most universities require a doctoral degree in a field related to the subject a professor wishes to teach, though occasionally a master’s degree is accepted.
Those applying to research universities must also have a background that demonstrates their ability to provide scientific research, as well as evidence of grant proposal writing. Time spent in education, usually as a teacher’s or professor’s assistant, is also beneficial, though not always required.
It’s important to have a deep understanding of the university you’re applying to, as well as information on how it conducts business and manages the faculty. Those applying to research universities are also expected to complete a presentation that highlights their skills in relation to studies and producing papers or journal articles.
Adjunct/ Casual Professor
Role: Known as adjunct professors in the US and Canada, or as casual faculty in the UK and Australia, these individuals are not on the tenure-track and do not progress up the ladder. However, they do handle normal teaching and lecturing duties and often create lesson plans.
In the modern digital age, most professors who teach online courses use a syllabus provided by the college and work as more of a facilitator or mentor as student progress through the material. Their duties to the college are generally reduced. They may not be required to attend faculty meetings or events and have no research or grant requirements. Equally, the pay is less and benefits are not usually part of the employment package.
Assistant Professor/ Associate Lecturer
Role: The position of assistant professor is what most people on the tenure-track will begin with. They take the position just after finishing their own studies or as they enter into the field after working in a transitional career. Some universities refer to people in the position as probationary faculty members, as they can be let go for virtually any reason during this timeframe and they may be in the position for 5-7 years in the US or Canada. Other areas, such as the UK and Australia, further break down these entry-level positions into categories like associate lecturer, lecturer, and senior lecturer.
During this time, assistant professors create lesson plans, lecture, mentor, and grade students. Universities also have individual requirements about being involved in support-type activities, such as participating in graduation ceremonies or other events. In some American and Canadian universities, assistant professors will be let go if they haven’t attained the level of associate within a designated period of time, say 7 or 8 years, while other countries protect lecturers more, starting from the initial date of hire.
Role: In locations where professors become protected by tenure, the benefit usually begins at the associate professor level. In these cases, the professor cannot be terminated by the university without just cause. In order to attain this rank, assistant professors must demonstrate to an often anonymous review board that they are meeting expectations, are published, and are serving the university in other capacities. This may mean participating in committees, being on boards, and participating in similar activities. It’s also worth noting that, in the UK, the rank between an entry-level professor/ lecturer and a full professor is generally referred to as a “reader.”
Role: The path to becoming a full professor isn’t always clear, as there is not a checklist of activities or accomplishments one can perform to guarantee a position. Getting in is usually a combination of proving one’s worthiness in terms of having lots of publications, a good track record for obtaining research grants, involvement in committees and associations, and engaging in activities that support the university.
Of the roughly 60 hours per week a professor works, only about 6-7 are devoted to actual teaching, while an equal amount is spent preparing lessons, and similar amount is spent on things like grading. This means that about the equivalent of a full-time job is spent on all the other activities professors are expected to do, including supporting the university, performing research, writing manuscripts and letters, and so on.
Endowed Chair/ Distinguished Professor
Role: One of the greatest honors a professor can receive is being named as an endowed chair or distinguished professor. These positions are created by people who have donated to the university, with the principle being held in an account and any interest or earnings from the donation being made available to pay the salary of the professor. In some cases, the donor is allowed to decide what title the chair holds, while in others, the university makes the determination.
Universities may make a chair position available and rotate it on a schedule, perhaps allowing a new professor to be the chair every five years, or they may allow a professor to keep the title through retirement. The positions are sometimes used to reward a university’s very best professors, though are often used as an incentive to attract a renowned academic to the university. Chairs are expected to be leaders in their field and be well-known for their publications. Their class loads tend to be smaller, allowing them to focus more on their research and activities that benefit the university, such as service and outreach ventures.
Credentials usually transfer well, even abroad, especially for those who studied at or worked for esteemed universities. Minimal travel is involved in the lower ranks, though more tenured professors may find themselves traveling more for continuing education, to listen to speakers, or to provide presentations of their own.
Adjunct Professor: According to PayScale, adjunct professors earn an average of $43,000 in the United States and CAD$65,000 in Canada. Because the practice of hiring casual professors in the UK and Australia is so new, no comprehensive pay data is available, though universities often list hourly rates which are equal to somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3 that of an entry-level tenure-track professor/lecturer.
Assistant Professor/ Associate Lecturer: USD$64,000, CAD$81,000, £39,000, AU$84,000
Associate Professor: USD$73,000, CAD$86,000, £52,000, AU$133,000
Professor: USD$84,000, CAD$103,000, £66,000, AU$148,000
Endowed Chair/ Distinguished Professor: USD$101,000, CAD$110,000.
As most universities are not-for-profit, bonuses are not available. Occasionally, private institutions include profit sharing or pay for the performance of students, though there are no standards. These bonuses may amount to a few thousand dollars or even double a professor’s salary.
Why a University Lecturer/ Professor moves on
Given that progression through the ranks is often determined by an anonymous board, it’s sometimes possible for a competing academic, or one with his or her own agenda, to stall the career of another. Fighting for research grants is also incredibly difficult and funding has dropped over the last several years, which makes it harder for those involved in research to continue their work.
Between the competitive nature of professorship, the number of additional tasks expected of professors beyond teaching, and the amount of hours expected, burnout is a major issue for academics. Lastly, universities are offering fewer positions on the tenure-track, in favor of hiring adjuncts, which can be paid less.