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Becoming a Successful College Professor

  1. May 22, 2007 #1
    I'm about to start my graduate life and was wondering if anyone has any experience being a college professor. I know the obvious, publish papers, be good at research, etc... I have no idea how to publish a paper right now, but hopefully I'll learn that in grad school. I noticed that there is extremely tough competition between college professors (my field is engineering), which I didn't expect at all. I thought it would be a nice calm, peaceful job, but I guess I was wrong.

    One thing that I really wanted to know is if I can become a professor in a field other than my PhD. Say I have a MS in Mechanical Engineering and a PhD in Stochastic Systems (from an Industrial Engineering department). Can I become a professor in Mechanical Engineering if I show some competence in the area? What if I have a MS in Mechanical Engineering, MS in finance, and a PhD in Stochastic Systems? Can I become a professor in finance (again, if I show competence in that area)? If the answer is yes, what constitutes "showing competence" in an area?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2007 #2


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    I wondered what your definition of successful was, but your questions suggest it is the narrow one of survival, promotion, etc..

    for those, publication is the key criterion. but some people who publish a lot, get promoted, and earn high salaries, are not respected by their peers.

    other aspects of success are satisfaction with your work, knowledge you are thought highly of by top experts, feelings of having helped people learn and advance as well as oneself, having made an impact on your department through hiring and support of other people.

    there is no substitute for hard work, competence, integrity, generosity.
  4. May 22, 2007 #3
    Can you explain why you say this? why would they NOT be respected by their peers?

    I'm just curious because I would think that they do gain lots of respect for publishing lots and getting promoted :smile:
  5. May 23, 2007 #4


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    Bad personality, refusal to do their fair share of teaching, competitive rather than collaborative are some reasons people with great publication records are not respected by their colleagues. Another possible reason is that they've published a lot, enough to get promoted for tenure, but all their publications are in lousy journals (they say administrators know how to count, not read, when it comes to publications, so quantity can hide lack of quality), or they really don't come up with their own original ideas but steal those of others.

    The three things expected of any professor are 1) research excellence, 2) teaching excellence, 3) service to the college or professional organizations (i.e., serving on committees, or organizing a conference). These three criteria are weighted differently depending on the institution and department. For example, a small college might emphasize more teaching and service and have less emphasis on research, while a top research university will emphasize research over the others. The hardest thing to learn along the way is how to juggle all three. It's easy to let any one of the three turn into a full time job all by itself.
  6. May 23, 2007 #5
    It's very unlikely, although I hesitate to ever say it's impossible.

    But think of it this way... if you had a problem with your toilet, would you call a plumber, or an electrician who had shown some competence with plumbing?
  7. May 23, 2007 #6


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    If you focus your stochastic research towards a mechanical engineering application; eg. anything to do with vibration/mass-spring-damper systems, then I'd say it's perfect to having an academic career in ME -- particularly with your MS.

    Why would you want to go into finance, if you're interested in engineering?

    And, as far as progressing your career quickly, get into your research and start writing papers from your second year of PhD -- this isn't too hard to accomplish in engineering applications.
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