How Can I Become an Associate Professor?

Research what it takes to become an associate professor. Learn about the education requirements, salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Associate Professor?

An associate professor is a university professor on the track to tenure. Like full-fledged faculty members, associate professors teach courses in their field of expertise at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. They also conduct research in a particular specialty area of interest, which they may publish in books or academic journals. At universities with graduate programs, they may serve as research mentors for master's-seeking students and Ph.D. candidates with whom they share research interests. Jobs for associate professors can be found at postsecondary institutions such as research universities and liberal arts colleges.

The table below provides an outline of the general requirements for this career.

Degree Required Master's, doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Any desired field of study you would like to teach
Key Responsibilities Mentoring, taking professional development courses, teach classes, performing research
Job Growth (2014-2024) 13% for all postsecondary teachers*
Average Salary (2015) $77,480 for all postsecondary teachers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Get Your Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an associate professorship is typically the third step out of four on the road to a tenured professorship (www.bls.gov). The amount of education you'll need to work as an associate professor likely will be dictated by your desired place of employment. If you aspire to become a tenured professor at a research institution, you'll likely need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in your chosen field of study. However, you might be able to find a position with a 2-year college with only a master's degree. No matter which educational path you choose, you're likely to benefit from a program that presents lecturer or teaching assistant opportunities.

Should I Pursue Postdoctoral Training?

A postdoctoral research program could help you develop your area of expertise and make important contacts in the world of academia. As a postdoctoral research fellow, you might work on research projects under the mentorship of seasoned academics, write grant proposals, hone your writing skills and critique the work of others. You also might attend conferences and seminars, where you can network with professors and others in the academic community, as well as presenting your work.

Additionally, you might try to have the results of your research published in an academic journal. Most colleges and universities require candidates for associate professor positions to have a minimum number of published research articles.

If you're leaning more toward teaching than research, you'd likely benefit more from a postdoctoral teaching fellowship. These often are offered through private foundations and the government, as well as 4-year universities. As a postdoctoral teaching fellow, you could work with a mentor, take professional development courses and teach classes on your own. According to the National Postdoctoral Association (nationalpostdoc.org), some universities offer teaching fellowships that allow you to function as an assistant professor for the duration of your fellowship program, typically 1-3 years.

Develop a Curriculum Vitae

Before applying for a postsecondary teaching position, you should prepare a curriculum vitae (CV), which is generally more detailed than a resume. Your CV should highlight your educational background and postdoctoral training, as well as your associations with student or professional organizations. You also should detail your research activities, including any articles you've had published or presentations you've made at conferences or other gatherings. Additionally, you might include a list of references.

What Is Tenure?

As a tenured employee of a college or university, you would be protected from undue dismissal from your teaching position, which would afford you a certain level of academic freedom. At some institutions, associate professor is a tenured position, while at others, tenure is reserved for full-fledged professors.

Tenure can be achieved in as few as 6-7 years, although this varies by academic institution. You might find that it takes significantly longer to complete the tenure process, which involves advancing through the academic ranks, typically from instructor, lecturer or adjunct professor to assistant professor, then associate professor and, ultimately, professor. Throughout this process, a tenure board will evaluate your performance as a teacher and researcher.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Rather than dividing your time between teaching and research as an associate professor, you could choose to dedicate your career to one of these two pursuits. If you want to get a full-time research job, you might consider looking for employment at a research institution, for-profit company or nonprofit organization, depending on your specialty area of interest. For instance, medical scientists can investigate healthcare-related topics in laboratories at pharmaceutical companies or hospitals, among other settings. For top medical research jobs, you need to have a Ph.D.

Alternatively, if you're passionate about sharing your knowledge with students, you could become a high school teacher. Like professors, high school teachers often teach a particular subject, such as history or biology. In order to work in a public high school, you need to have a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.

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