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Schools How much time is required to became a professor?

  1. Nov 18, 2017 #1
    How much time is required to became a professor at the university in the US, after getting the master degree?
    How is the selection?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2017 #2


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    Have you read ZapperZ's "So you want to be a physicist" which is pinned at the top of this forum?

    Remember, in the US, students normally enter a PhD program directly after finishing a bachelor's degree. The first two years is normally coursework which corresponds to a master's degree. Students can receive a master's degree at that point, along the way to their PhD. I did this. Some of my fellow grad students didn't bother. I suppose if they had decided to quit the PhD program after that point, they could have gotten a master's then.

    I don't know what it's like for students (e.g. from the EU) who already have a master's. Probably not all of your coursework will be accepted towards that university's PhD, so you probably have to take at least some coursework anyway.

    Anyway, from the bachelor's degree, figure usually 5-6 years for the PhD (maybe 4, maybe 7 like me). Then if you want a research professor position, figure on one or two temporary "postdoc" research positions at 2-3 years each. Total might be typically 9-10 years after finishing a bachelor's degree. Subtract 1-2 years if you already have a master's. Some people probably take less, some take more. And of course many never do get a professorship but move into something else.

    As for the selection process, you send applications and curriculum vitae (nowadays online of course; in my day it was by postal mail), cross your fingers and hope you get an interview.

    I didn't go into research myself. I decided to look for positions at small undergraduate-only colleges where teaching is the main thing. I spent one year continuing to work for my PhD research group, then did one two-year temporary "visiting assistant professor" teaching position (the equivalent of a research postdoc), then got a tenure track assistant professor position, 10 years after finishing my bachelor's degree.

    Even at small teaching-oriented colleges like mine, it's common to receive more than 100 applications for a vacant position. Usually three candidates come to campus for interviews, and one of them is offered the job. Each time (two times) when I was job-hunting, I was invited to two interviews, and got one job offer.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2017
  4. Nov 18, 2017 #3
    Faculty jobs at R1 (research) institutions are much harder to get than faculty jobs with more of a teaching focus. Get a PhD in Physics from a top 50 school, get some teaching experience in the process, have permission to work in the US, and master the English language. Then if you have geographical flexibility and apply for a bunch of teaching faculty jobs, odds are good of landing a tenure track, visiting, or adjunct position. The adjunct or visiting position will allow you to gain more teaching experience and recommendations which you then have a good chance of using in your next step toward a tenure track faculty position at a teaching-focused school.

    Anyone who aspires to being a research physicist at an R1 university needs to have some backup plans - usually working in industry and working as teaching focused faculty are the most viable.

    Most places I've lived have had third tier local colleges that would hire just about any Physics PhD as adjuncts to teach a couple of their Physics and/or Math courses. These jobs are part time and do not pay very well, but the admins are often stressed as the first day of classes comes near, so if you are available to teach the open classes, you have a great chance of getting hired. The salary is probably not sustainable for most people, but it is the most reliable way to gain more experience to be a stronger candidate for full time jobs. Having some experience and being willing to teach math improves your odds, because admins usually have more open math courses to find adjuncts for.
  5. Nov 20, 2017 #4
    @jtbell thank you for sharing your experience, it's really helpful for me.

    Generally speaker a person get that position at 35 years old?

    Here there is something I don't understand, you can get the job only thanks to an interview?
    I'm asking this because in my country you have to do a selection test, and the one who make the great score can get the job.

    @Dr. Courtney I didn't know that in the US exist a classification for the level of research of universities, and I really like this think.
    In my country this doesn't happens because people think that is against the rights, and that all university have to be at the same level ( and obviously they aren't).

    What is a recommendation ?
    We have those one in Italy, but are seen as illegal.

    Is this true?
    A physicist that want to work in a R1 university have to work in industry ?

    In the US not all the teacher that work the same ammonite of hours have the same salary?

    How much time a person have to work in an adjunct position, to reach the necessary experience to be hired?
    This time depends on the faculty that person graduated from?
  6. Nov 20, 2017 #5


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    In the US, most people finish a bachelor's degree at age 22. Ten years after that (as described in my post) is 32. People who are more familiar than I am with the "research track" via postdoc positions should comment on this, but I suspect that if someone still hasn't found a tenure-track assistant professor position by age 35, they should start looking for other jobs. (unless of course they actually started graduate school later than age 22)
    I've never heard of a selection test for college or university professor positions in the US. Even at state universities (which are run by individual states, not the federal government), professors aren't hired like bureaucrats or post-office workers.

    Normally, a department that is hiring a professor (physics department in our case) chooses some of the current professors to a committee that examines the applications. In a small department like mine was, the whole department is involved. We always chose three applicants to invite for interviews, with the approval of the college administration.

    During the visit, the search committee interviews the candidate. We always did separate interviews with each member of the committee; other places might have a group interview with the whole committee. At my small college, the "chief academic officer" (his title here is "provost") and the president also interview the candidate; I don't think this happens at large universities. Here, the candidate gives a lecture for faculty and students, so we can see his/her lecturing style. At large universities, this may be at the normal weekly departmental colloquium where faculty and visitors (e.g. candidates) present their research.

    Here, we usually arrange for candidates to meet with students. When I interviewed here many years ago, I had one dinner with the physics club at a pizza parlor, and another dinner with the department faculty at a different restaurant. (I was here for two nights.) And we give the candidate a tour of the department and the college as a whole.
  7. Nov 21, 2017 #6
    Ok, but after this time, what kind of professor that student became?
    In Italy there are 3 types, based on the experience, is the same in US?

    In Italy we have a problem with corruption about this.https://www.thelocal.it/20170926/un...n-after-being-unmasked-by-an-english-academic.

    You can became a professor only if you are a relative of another professor, like in Middle Ages...
    There are restaurants in Physics departments ?!?
  8. Nov 25, 2017 #7


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    When you are first hired as a full-time professor (tenure-track), you would be an Assistant Professor. After 5-6 years and earning tenure, you'd be promoted to Associate Professor, and 5-6 years after that you can be promoted to Full Professor. If you are hired to teach and not do research, you might have the title Lecturer instead, and usually have shorter contracts (1-3 years in my experience) before you need to renew the contract. Adjuncts are hired part-time semester by semester.

    Universities that get federal financial aid money are usually required to hold a world-wide search for a new professor, and it's frowned upon to hire a relative of a current professor in most cases. Sometimes schools will hire a married pair of professors under a special deal to get one of them.

    No, we don't have restaurants in our departments. We go outside.

    No, you don't have to work in industry before getting a job as a professor, but it can help in some situations. No, not all professors get the same salary. When I was applying for Assistant Professor jobs 6 years ago, the range of salaries offered at the schools I applied to (the ones that listed them anyway - most didn't) went from 45k to 75k a year.

    Recommendations are letters that previous colleagues and supervisors write to give the hiring committee an idea of who you are and how you do your work. All academic jobs will require them from applicants at some point in the process.

    In general, you don't work your way up from adjunct to a full-time professor. Most adjuncts get a job outside academia eventually. Spending too long as an adjunct because you can't get a full-time job works against you - it pays very poorly (sometimes less than minimum wage considering all the work required) and leaves you little to no time to work on your research.
  9. Nov 27, 2017 #8


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  10. Nov 27, 2017 #9
  11. Nov 27, 2017 #10


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    Well to become a professor you must apply for an advertised position, and this is such an advertisement. If you read the description of what is expected from the applicant however you will see that this position is aimed at someone who already has a significant amount of experience. They ask for strong "research credentials", and a list of research publications. This makes it clear that the successful applicant will have alteady spent some years doing good research and publishing it. They also ask for 3 letters from professors describing the quality of the applicant's research and his/her potential, as well as one letter describing his/her teaching ability. This makes it clear also that the successful applicant will already have had some successful experience as a teacher. So I would not say this is the first step. Rather the first steps, if you now have a masters degree, are to acquire a PhD and do some good research and have some teaching practice. I hope this answers the question. But the first step for you, depends on where you are now in the preparation process.

    Here is an ad for a much lower level teaching job where only a masters degree is required.

  12. Nov 27, 2017 #11


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    By the way, have you browsed the extended threads above on So you want to be a physicist, and Should I become a mathematician? At least the first few pages might be useful, although the math one has little on grad and postgrad work towards being a professor, but is aimed more at high school and college students.
  13. Nov 27, 2017 #12


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    By the way to literally answer your question in my own case, when I entered grad school (for the second time) with a masters degree, it took me three more years to complete the Phd in math, and I then obtained a tenure track job, but often people today take postdoc positions after the PhD before becoming competitive for a tenure track job. Also, there were some grad students in my class that did not finish the PhD at all, and finishing is therefore not guaranteed. It is necessary to produce a non trivial piece of original research and not every candidate has the necessary ability, or perhaps stamina. But it is not just a matter of acquiring a certain amount of knowledge, that is rather the requirement for a masters.

    in another sense, it took me 10 years to become a proessor after first receiving a masters degree, since I first spent 3 more years unsuccessfully in school, then taught for 4 more years and finally returned to school, more highy motivated, to finish the PhD in another 3 years. Thus at the beginning of that last 3 years I had more experience and knowledge than the average student. So the amount of time ios highly variable, depending on circumstances.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2017
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