What Is an Associate Professor?

Explore the career requirements for associate professors. Get the facts about duties, education requirements, professional licensure, salaries and the employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Associate Professor Do?

Associate professors serve as teachers at institutions of higher education such as colleges and universities. They typically teach classes pertinent to the specific field in which they have an advanced academic degree. The duties of the associate professor range from developing lesson plans and curricula to lecturing various class sizes of students. Many associate professors also become advisors to students majoring in the professor's specialty field. Conducting research may become a major component of the professor's responsibilities as well.

Associate professors tend to be one rank above entry-level assistant professors and a rank below full professors. Unlike full professors, associate professors generally have not acquired tenure, which is the point at which a professor is removed from a contractual or probationary period and granted a more secure position based on an evaluation of his or her body of work and service. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter the field.

Degree Required Master's degree at minimum; doctoral degree preferred
Education Field of Study All disciplines
Key Skills Teaching, planning, collaboration, grading, supervising, research
Licensure or Certification May be required, depending upon field
Job Growth (2014-2024) 13%* for all postsecondary teachers
Mean Salary (2016) $73,474 for all associate professors**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

How Do I Navigate this Profession?

The first step to a career as a professor is to become either an adjunct professor or an assistant professor. These 'tenure-track' positions may be structured as short-term contracts until a track record has been established. The timing for possible promotion to an associate professor position varies from school to school, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that a 7-year timeframe is typical (www.bls.gov). The decision to give you tenure or not is based on a review of your work and research. Tenure-track professors who are not awarded tenure can have their position terminated. You would then need to begin the process all over again at another school. If you are promoted to associate professor, you'll spend additional years teaching under a probationary period, then be up for promotion to become a full professor.

Beyond professorship, you can seek a position as a department head or in an administrative role. Some roles you can pursue include being the head of a committee or department, a dean of academics or the president of the college.

What Is Tenure?

Receiving tenure is a large hurdle for many professors. Having tenure means that your job is secured. Most associate professors who have tenure are better able to take on controversial issues, banned books, unique courses and alternative teaching methods, because once you are tenured, schools cannot terminate your position without significant cause. However, the BLS states that some colleges are moving away from tenured faculty, and the colleges that do offer tenure may only offer it for a specific percentage of positions.

What Else Should I Know?

As a professor, you'll be expected to complete research and writings. This work keeps you current with field trends, research and topics. You'll probably be required to seek publication for your work as well.

According to PayScale.com, a full-time associate professors earned an average salary of $73,474 annually as of October 2016. Salary may widely vary depending upon the institution of employment and the specialty field of the professor, with professors in engineering, law, health and other in-demand disciplines potentially earning salaries close to or exceeding $100,000, per the BLS.

What Degree Should I Pursue?

Most colleges and universities expect their professors to hold doctoral degrees in the subject they'll teach. The goal of professors is to teach what they know. Therefore, to become an English professor you'll need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in English, creative writing or literature. To teach computer programming, you'll need to earn your Ph.D. in Computer Science. Through your study, you'll gain analytical and organizational skills that'll help you to lead a classroom.

According to the BLS, some 2-year colleges and part-time adjunct professor positions require only a master's degree. However, it is beneficial for career advancement if you earn your doctorate.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Potential alternative job tracks depend greatly on your field of specialty. History graduates, for example, could pursue careers as research-intensive historians; economics professors might explore a career as an economist who studies and analyzes economic data; political science or sociology graduates might become political scientists or sociologists, and so forth. Many of these positions necessitate the same critical thinking skills critical for a role as a professor, and these positions also offer benefits to society. If you are interested in remaining in the educational field in a different capacity, you might seek the training necessary to become an administrator of an institution of higher education, which typically requires a master's degree at minimum.

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