How to Become a Professor in 6 Academic Steps


Becoming a professor is a goal many aspiring academics strive for, and with these 6 academic steps, you can pave your way to success in the field of higher education.

Factual data: Becoming a professor requires several academic steps. Typically, professors hold a doctorate in their field, which takes about 4-6 years to earn. Academic hiring committees look for research and teaching experience, so it is important to gain experience in these areas.

The process of becoming a professor starts with earning a bachelor’s degree, followed by applying to graduate school. Graduate students then pass comprehensive exams and write a dissertation. After completing these steps, students can go on the job market and apply for professor positions.

It is important to note that the job market for professors is competitive, and there is a growing reliance on adjunct positions. The salary potential for professors varies depending on their rank and field of study. Employment growth rates for professor jobs also vary by field.

Overall, becoming a professor takes time and dedication, but it can be a rewarding career.

Key Takeaways:

  • Professors hold a doctorate in their field, which takes 4-6 years to earn.
  • Gaining research and teaching experience is crucial for success in academia.
  • The academic journey includes earning a bachelor’s degree, applying to graduate school, passing comprehensive exams, and writing a dissertation.
  • The job market for professors is competitive, with a growing reliance on adjunct positions.
  • Salary potential and employment growth rates for professors vary by field.

The Importance of Earning a Bachelor’s Degree

Your journey to becoming a professor begins with the crucial step of earning a bachelor’s degree, which serves as the foundation for your academic career. A bachelor’s degree provides you with a broad knowledge base in your chosen field and cultivates critical thinking and research skills that are essential for success in academia.

During your undergraduate education, you will have the opportunity to explore various subjects, gaining valuable insights and developing a strong academic background. This multifaceted approach allows you to discover your interests and strengths, which can guide your future academic pursuits.

Additionally, earning a bachelor’s degree demonstrates your commitment to academic excellence and your ability to successfully complete a rigorous program of study. This credential serves as an important prerequisite for admission to graduate school, where you will further specialize in your chosen field.


While a bachelor’s degree is an essential stepping stone towards becoming a professor, it is important to note that it is not the sole determining factor. Academic hiring committees also consider research and teaching experience, as well as advanced degrees such as a master’s or a doctorate. However, the solid foundation provided by a bachelor’s degree will set you on the right path towards achieving your academic goals.

Applying to Graduate School

After completing your bachelor’s degree, the next step on the path to becoming a professor is applying to graduate school, where you will deepen your knowledge and expertise in your chosen field. Graduate school provides an opportunity to pursue advanced studies, conduct research, and gain valuable academic experience. However, the application process can be competitive and requires careful planning and preparation.

When considering graduate schools, it is important to do thorough research and identify programs that align with your research interests and career goals. Look for programs that have faculty members whose work you admire and who are actively engaged in research in your field. It is also essential to consider the resources and opportunities offered by the program, such as funding, research facilities, and teaching assistantships, which can provide valuable experience.

Preparing a strong application is crucial to stand out among other candidates. Start by gathering all necessary documents, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a well-crafted statement of purpose that outlines your academic background, research interests, and career aspirations. Additionally, it may be beneficial to reach out to potential advisors or faculty members to express your interest in their research and seek their guidance throughout the application process.

Application Timeline for Graduate School

Month Tasks
September – November Research and shortlist graduate programs
December – February Take required standardized tests (GRE, GMAT, etc.)
January – March Reach out to potential advisors and request recommendation letters
April – May Finalize application materials and submit applications
June – August Wait for admission decisions and compare offers

Remember, the process of applying to graduate school may vary depending on the specific program and university. It is essential to carefully review the application requirements and deadlines for each institution. With proper planning and a strong application, you can increase your chances of getting accepted into a graduate program and taking a significant step towards your goal of becoming a professor.

graduate school

As a future professor, it is essential to gain valuable research and teaching experience during your time in graduate school, as it will distinguish you as a qualified candidate in the competitive academic job market. Research experience allows you to delve deep into your chosen field, contribute to existing knowledge, and develop critical thinking skills. You can gain research experience by working alongside faculty members, participating in research projects, or conducting independent research.

Teaching experience is equally important as it showcases your ability to effectively communicate complex concepts and engage students. By teaching undergraduate courses or assisting professors, you can develop your pedagogical skills, adapt to different learning styles, and foster a supportive learning environment.

Benefits of Research and Teaching Experience
Enhances your knowledge and expertise in your field
Builds strong relationships with faculty members and researchers
Develops critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills
Improves your ability to adapt to diverse learning environments

By actively seeking research and teaching opportunities, you demonstrate your commitment to academia and your willingness to go beyond the minimum requirements. Remember to document your experiences, accomplishments, and any positive feedback you receive, as these will strengthen your curriculum vitae (CV) and provide evidence of your abilities when applying for professor positions.

research experience

“Research and teaching go hand in hand, as both are cornerstones of academia. Engaging in research projects not only expands your knowledge and expertise but also exposes you to the process of inquiry and discovery. Teaching, on the other hand, allows you to pass on that knowledge to the next generation of scholars and make a lasting impact on their educational journey.”

How to Gain Research and Teaching Experience:

  1. Seek out research opportunities with faculty members or research centers within your graduate program.
  2. Apply for teaching assistantships or adjunct teaching positions to gain hands-on experience.
  3. Collaborate with other graduate students on research projects or publications.
  4. Attend conferences and present your research findings.
  5. Take advantage of professional development workshops and seminars to enhance your teaching skills.
  6. Utilize online platforms or educational technology to create instructional materials and engage with students.

Gaining research and teaching experience may require extra effort and time, but it will undoubtedly strengthen your academic profile and increase your chances of securing a professor position in the future.

Completing Comprehensive Exams and Writing a Dissertation

As you progress through your graduate program, you will face the challenges of comprehensive exams and the task of writing a dissertation, solidifying your expertise and paving the way toward becoming a professor. Comprehensive exams, also known as qualifying or candidacy exams, are designed to test your knowledge and understanding of your chosen field. These exams typically cover a wide range of topics and require in-depth preparation.

Preparing for comprehensive exams can be a daunting task, but it is essential for demonstrating your mastery of the subject matter. The exams may consist of written and oral components, and you may be required to defend your answers and provide evidence of your critical thinking skills. It is important to develop a study plan and allocate enough time to thoroughly review the material. Seek guidance from your advisors and professors, who can provide valuable insights and resources to aid in your preparation.

Once you have successfully completed your comprehensive exams, the next step is writing a dissertation. A dissertation is a research project that contributes original knowledge to your academic field. It involves identifying a research question or problem, conducting a thorough literature review, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting your findings in a written document.

Writing a dissertation requires discipline, organization, and perseverance. It is a lengthy process that can take several years to complete. To ensure the success of your dissertation, establish a clear research plan, set realistic deadlines, and seek regular feedback from your advisor. Additionally, consider joining writing groups or seeking support from fellow graduate students to stay motivated and accountable.

comprehensive exams and dissertation

Comprehensive Exams Dissertation
Tests knowledge and understanding of the field Contributes original research to the field
Demonstrates critical thinking skills Develops research and analytical skills
Evaluates readiness for the next stage of academic career Establishes expertise in a specific area

“Comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation are significant milestones in the journey toward becoming a professor. These academic endeavors not only test your knowledge and skills but also contribute to the advancement of your field. Through comprehensive exams, you showcase your understanding of the subject matter, while the dissertation allows you to make a unique contribution to your field of study. It is through these rigorous processes that you solidify your expertise and demonstrate your readiness to pursue a career in academia.”

Navigating the Job Market and Beyond

Navigating the job market as a prospective professor can be challenging, but with perseverance and adaptability, you can find success in academia and forge a rewarding career in higher education. As you begin your search for professor positions, it’s important to understand the realities of the job market.

The competition for professor positions can be intense, with a limited number of available openings and a large pool of qualified applicants. In addition to tenure-track positions, there is a growing reliance on adjunct positions, which offer part-time or temporary employment. While adjunct positions can provide valuable teaching experience, they often come with lower salaries and fewer benefits compared to tenure-track positions.

The salary potential for professors can vary depending on factors such as rank and field of study. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for postsecondary teachers was $79,540 in May 2020. However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary significantly depending on the institution, location, and level of experience.

When considering a career as a professor, it’s also essential to be aware of the employment growth rates in your field. While some areas, such as healthcare and technology, may have higher demand for professors, others may experience slower growth. Staying informed about the employment trends in your discipline can help you make informed decisions about your career path.


Q: What are the academic steps required to become a professor?

A: Becoming a professor typically involves earning a doctorate in your field, which takes about 4-6 years. You will also need to gain research and teaching experience, pass comprehensive exams, and write a dissertation before entering the job market.

Q: Why is earning a bachelor’s degree important in becoming a professor?

A: A bachelor’s degree is the first step towards becoming a professor. It provides the foundation for further academic pursuits and helps individuals develop the necessary skills and knowledge in their chosen field.

Q: How do I apply to graduate school to become a professor?

A: To apply to graduate school, you will need to research and select a program that aligns with your academic interests. Craft a strong application package, including your transcripts, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose, to increase your chances of acceptance.

Q: Why is gaining research and teaching experience important for becoming a professor?

A: Research and teaching experience are highly valued by academic hiring committees. Engaging in research allows you to contribute to your field and demonstrate your expertise, while teaching experience hones your skills as an educator.

Q: What do comprehensive exams and writing a dissertation entail?

A: Comprehensive exams are rigorous assessments of your knowledge in your chosen field. Writing a dissertation involves conducting original research and making a significant contribution to your academic discipline.

Q: What should I know about the job market for professors?

A: The job market for professors can be competitive, with a growing reliance on adjunct positions. Salary potential varies depending on your rank and field of study, and employment growth rates also vary by discipline.