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Becoming a College Professor

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Matthew Mellor Matthew Mellor 980 Points

Hi!

I'm a new teacher (I teach middle school science and will be teaching HS physics this coming year). 

Would anyone be willing to share their background? How did you become a college professor? What would you recommend to a HS teacher who might want to teach at the college level in the future?

Thank you!

I'm a former engineer with a BS in mechanical engineering from MIT.

 

Emily Faulconer Emily Faulconer 5515 Points

Matthew - I started out my career in education by teaching at the high school level. After 1 year, I decided to accept an adjunct role at a nearby community college. It was a laboratory, so the hours were long and the pay was laughable ($800 per semester for 25+ students in a a 3-hr lab that met once a week for 16 weeks ... I did all my own lab prep work and grading). I kept up the dual jobs - high school and adjunct work for another 2 years. I knew wanted to shift into higher education. I went straight for a Ph.D. in my discipline rather than a master's degree. This was a financial decision ... I was going to be out tens of thousands of dollars for a M.S. but was able to secure a full scholarship with a healthy stipend for a Ph.D. program. I strongly suggest this route if you do not yet have a graduate degree - many programs allow you to leave the program with a master's degree if you reach a certain point in the program. 

I've been teaching full time in higher education since 2012 and I love it! Things are really changing right now, but I was ahead of the shift as I've been teaching fully online since 2016 :) 

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 88013 Points

Hi Matthew,

It is exciting to see that you are trying your hand at teaching high school scence this coming year. But I LOVED middle school!!! I was a middle school science teacher for the majority of my public school teaching career, starting out in high school and finding myself accepting a middle school position when I moved to a new state - where there seemed to be an abundance of need there.  I found that I loved the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders! I also found that each grade level, each class, and each time period within the day had its own personality. Creating the 'perfect' environment for learning was not something that could be easily replicated, and it changed with the climate of the class participants. Providing engaging, hands-on, challenging lessons that connected science, nature, and engineering to their everyday lives usually were very well received. You may also find your niche to be middle school science after teaching high school this coming year!  There is nothing else like it when you help feed their eagerness to learn and share in a mutual respect for each other.

Are you interested in teaching science content or preservice teachers? If you already have your doctoral degree, that is usually expected for science content positions.  Many education courses can be taught with a minimum of a Master's in Education. What new teachers want and need are university science methods teachers who have been in the classroom and know what it is like to juggle all the demands of the administration; the physical, emotional, and special needs of their students; the demands and expectations of the parents; and the personal and professional needs of themselves and their own families. Coming from that perspective helps you to construct courses that will be helpful and useful to your pre-service teachers.  I guess what I am trying to say is, it is wonderful that you are interested in teaching at the university level. After teaching a few years, you will be able to share your teaching talents and science expertise with future teachers.  I did not go looking for a teaching position at the university level; a friend recommended me to a new program starting up in my area.  I was hired and have been teaching a few courses every semester as an adjunct for several years now.

If there is a junior college in your area, many high school and middle school teachers find they can take on one or two evening courses there, and that is a way to get your foot in the door.  With your B.S. in mechanical engineering, you probably already have an M.Ed or M.A. as well.  If not, consider getting a masters or other advanced degree in the discipline you want to teach at the university level.  The positions are out there if you have the right combination of degrees and experience.  Good luck with your future quests and I wish you a highly effective high school teaching experience!

Best,

Carolyn Mohr, adjunct professor

 

Hi Matthew, I taught high school for one year and then took a job at a community college. The opening was in another state, so the willingness to move was a part of the decision. I taught there for 8 years, then moved to another state and couldn't find a full time job for the first year, so I was an adjunct for three different community colleges for a year.  One of them hired me full time after that, and I've been there the last four years. 

I agree with the suggestions of taking on an adjunct position, but I want to caution you that adjuncts often get lost in the shuffle.  If you want it to turn into a full time position you have to a)make sure you are an outstanding adjunct so you get noticed, and b)anytime you are invited to participate (professional development, faculty meetings, even celebrations), DO IT.  If they see you are serious about wanting to join their team, you will be at the top of their list when an opening becomes available.

Good luck!

Christa

Deena Gould Deena Gould 2890 Points

Matthew,

I suggest you spend some time teaching middle / high school. Become an exemplary secondary (or K-12) science teacher.

After that, I agree with Emily. Pursue a PhD. Serving as an adjunct professor usually does not provide a living wage. 

I taught K-12 for three decades. Then I earned a PhD in 2019. I love my job now as an assistant professor of science education at a high research university. I chose to go the tenure research track because I found that I also love doing science education research and mentoring / teaching graduate students. However, with a PhD you can get a position as a clinical professor, lecturer, or professor at a 2 or 4 year degree institution also. With only a master's degree your options are limited and your job may not be stable.

Also, as Emily said, if you have an excellent scholarly record, strong interest in research, and demonstrate potential as a professor you can earn a fellowship for a doctoral program. These fellowships are competitive. You might start by talking to scholars at a university that might interest you. Find out what their doctoral program entails, if there are fellowships or opportunities to earn a salary as a research or teaching asssistant, and what you need  to be competitive for a fellowship or teaching/research assistantship. 

 

 

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