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Higher Education Jobs: From Teachers and Graduates to Professors

Educators can choose between various levels of instruction: primary, secondary and upper levels. Each type of teaching has its own unique challenges and struggles. In particular, most higher education jobs require greater experience and academic certifications. These teaching posts are frequently found in college and university settings in every subject available. Educators get the benefit of teaching to eager and diverse students with mature perspectives.

Teaching in Higher Education

As with any profession, there are basic education and experience requirements. Subjects like history and mathematics may demand different areas of expertise, but some standards translate across the board. For instance, the minimum education requirements for both niches are probably set above a bachelor’s degree. Getting started may take some time, but dedicated educators can find successful careers in this specialization.

Typical Requirements

To qualify for higher education teaching jobs, prospective educators must have a minimum of a master’s degree. Many two-year institutions gladly welcome those with this certification and may refuse to consider candidates without it. Most colleges and universities require that hired professors have a doctor’s degree in relevant subject matter.

The exact majors or specializations will depend on what the educator wants to teach. It is recommended that future teachers study information that is closely related to their intended niche. However, it is possible to have degrees and subjects of instruction mismatch. For instance, if a professional with a doctorate in biology started a bio-medical business, he or she may end up teaching an entrepreneurship class because of his or her field experience.

Generally, educators do not need to be state licensed, though some institutions may want national or state certifications. Additionally, higher education campuses usually require a minimum level of teaching experience. This can range from a few years to over a decade depending on the school and position.

Characteristics and Skills

Of course, degree and experience requirements are not the only keys to being a successful educator. Professors and higher education teachers must possess certain skill sets and natural talents:

  • Field Knowledge: University level educators are experts in their field. Colleagues and students are eager to test each other’s academic merits and a cursory knowledge of the material will not suffice.
  • Public Speaking: Speaking well in a public setting is at the core of effective teaching. Being able to lecture and command attention is important for efficient communication. Those who are comfortable in front of a room are well suited for teaching.
  • Teaching Ability: Teaching involves a great deal of empathy and understanding as educators continuously find better ways to connect with and engage students. Educators must be able to break down tough concepts and help others absorb information.
  • Ability to Thrive Under Pressure: The higher education arena is very competitive. Many start as part-time professors before attaining a full-time position. Even tenured individuals face constant professional pressure.
  • Critical and Analytical Thinking: In professional academia, it is imperative that educators analyze and think critically. New ideas are constantly on the rise and teachers must stay at the forefront of these discussions.

When used together, these traits and abilities help education professionals thrive in the field and affect positive change.

Higher Education Master’s Degree

To teach above the high school level, educators need at least a master’s degree. Junior colleges offer positions to individuals with these qualifications and even some four-year universities will hire master’s degree holders. However, many institutions will also want years worth of teaching experience as well.

Sample Classes and Course Work

For those who want to teach at a community college or go on to become a university professor, they must take many course hours in relevant subjects. For example, law professors usually complete law school and science professors will specialize in physics, biology or chemistry. Here are some standard components of a typical master’s degree program for higher education teaching careers:

  • Thesis: A thesis is a research project based on a student’s and other professionals’ research. It usually dominates a large part of coursework and must demonstrate critical thought as well as intimate field knowledge.
  • Research Procedures and Methods: Conducting and evaluating research is an essential part of master’s programs and community college positions. Courses will focus on how to find key information, evaluate academic research and complete field studies.
  • Scholarly Writing and Review: Academic writing has a unique set of challenges and procedures. Scholars must learn the distinguishing attributes of professional research and how to write compelling analysis. Additionally, students must learn various writing and citing styles like Harvard and Chicago.

Higher Education Doctorate Degree

For those who want to teach in four-year university posts, a doctorate degree is typically required. This is currently the highest degree available and demands a substantial commitment of time and funding. Acquiring this qualification can take anywhere from 4 to 6 years after bachelor’s and/or master’s programs. The path to this degree starts with strong undergraduate work. It is recommended that would-be doctors try to get into respected and prestigious undergraduate programs. These campuses are a great place to start networking and cultivating a relationship with upper level institutions.

Sample Classes and Course Work

Most PhD courses of study will span 5 years and include more than traditional classroom instruction. Though students will continue to attend lectures and sit for examinations, there is also a certain amount of fieldwork required. The following are some basic and common components of doctoral programs.

  • Dissertation: After the initial years of most programs, doctoral candidates will switch gears and focus more on their dissertations as opposed to traditional classwork. Scholars develop a thesis and do countless hours of original research and study on the chosen topic. Each candidate will then defend the dissertation in front of professors and peers.
  • Teacher’s or Lab Assistant: Many PhD scholars can cover most of their educational costs in exchange for working a lab or being a teacher’s assistant. They also receive a small stipend for living expenses in payment for their instructional time.
  • Advising: Generally, universities pair doctoral candidates with a professor who serves as a mentor and advisor during the course of study. Faculty members are usually experts in the students’ thesis topic.

Higher Education Job Requirements

It is uncommon for untested educators to get jobs at four-year universities or even two-year universities. Furthermore, higher education institutions require certain certifications. Some only accept licenses from specific bodies and/or organizations. Regardless, these schools will want a good combination of experience in research and teaching.

Work Experience

Many doctoral degree holders gain valuable experience through their teaching assistantships and dissertation research. Two-year universities may hirer an instructor with less experience than large four-year colleges. For those that need to gain more experience before being eligible for an ideal post, they can look into postdoctoral positions. These afford living stipends while allowing for more research and experience. In the hard sciences, these positions are a staple in the standard career trajectory.

License and Certification

Surprisingly, there are no standard licensing or certification procedures for teaching at the university or community college level. Educators are expected to have a combination of a doctorate/master’s degree and field experience. However, unlike primary or secondary teachers, no state licenses are required. That said some universities may demand or prefer that teaching candidates have a specified list of certifications. This will vary from institution to institution.

Finding a Job

Two-year universities may consider fresh master’s degree graduates, but big universities will often only take on newer professors who have a PhD. Those with master’s degrees will find more luck at community colleges while PhD holders may find employment as assistant professors on the tenure track. Competition in this field is fierce and teaching applicants should highlight their experience and education in their resume. For those in the chemistry, biology and physics fields, a postdoc research post may be a requisite for job eligibility.

As professionals and students begin to pursue higher education careers, they should consult with universities and colleges regarding candidate requirements. This will help these individuals plan their education and careers more effectively and ensure their academic path aligns with their professional goals.