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Is a doctorate required to teach college?

  1. Jan 23, 2009 #1
    I have been a software developer for about 35 years now and having reached my second childhood am interested in changing careers. I'm working on a bachelor's in physics and was wondering whether a PhD is required to teach at the college level or whether a masters will be acceptable.

    In the computer field, job descriptions generally indicate that a bachelor's degree is required, but that isn't actually the case. Most employers (all that I've ever encountered) are much more interested in experience than a degree. When a listing for a physics instructor indicates that a doctorate is required, is that actually the case?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 23, 2009 #2
    When they specifically state that a PhD is required- yes they mean it. I have known many instructors in physics who are ABD (All But Dissertation). They, however, are not on the tenure track and when funding cuts to the department come, they are the ones who get hit the hardest.

    The instructors I have known who did not have a PhD were all on yearly contracts. This means the department can simply not renew your contract the next year for no reason.

    This is all talking about a 4 year university. At the community college level (2 year degree granting schools) this may not be the case. I don't have any experience at that level.
  4. Jan 23, 2009 #3
    Thank you for the reply.

    In that case, I might be better off completing my bachelor's with a teaching certificate. Then I could teach at the high school level while working on a doctorate.
  5. Jan 23, 2009 #4


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    Some 4-year colleges (probably mainly smaller ones like mine) will hire an ABD for a instructor-level position initially, with the expectation of upgrading to a tenure-track assistant-professor position when the person does receive his/her Ph.D. There's usually a time limit on finishing the Ph.D. We've let people go (in this and in other departments) for not finishing their Ph.D. in a timely fashion.

    There are also pure instructor or adjunct positions which are on a year-to-year or even semester-to-semester basis. Usually an "instructor" is a full-time position with benefits, whereas an "adjunct" is a part-time position (often for teaching specific individual courses) with no benefits. We don't expect these people to have a Ph.D. but they do have to have at least 18 credits of graduate-level coursework in their field.
  6. Jan 23, 2009 #5


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    I might add that teaching at the community college level is rather competative (and likely more so now with a slow economy). It is possible to teach at that level with a master's degree, but you're a lot less competative than a Ph.D. Real world experience can count for a lot in some subjects, but if you're looking at specifically teaching physics, that Ph.D. carries a lot of weight.
  7. Jan 23, 2009 #6
    All the lecturers at our institution (the state flagship university) have Ph.D.'s. I don't think they'd consider hiring someone without the terminal degree.

    It was the case two years ago that I knew some community colleges were still hiring teachers with MS degrees (someone I knew complained that they wanted to hire a Ph.D. but didn't specify this on the job posting and the only applicants had MS's)... but I do think that with the present economy, fresh Ph.D.'s are willing to apply to a variety of positions (I'm not sure how the economy is effecting the availability of postdoc's and other positions at national labs, but it is effecting the industrial market, and the academic market -- as fewer older faculty are leaving for retirement, and universities place hiring freezes in effect).
  8. Jan 23, 2009 #7


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    My aunt and uncle both teach community college with masters degrees. Community colleges are much more concerned about your ability to teach than your publications - the average load is 4-5 courses a semester, so they don't expect you to do anything BUT teach for them.

    Here's a useful website that lists current job openings at universities, community, and technical colleges around the country - jobs, who they are looking for in terms of qualifications, and usually salaries as well. http://www.higheredjobs.com [Broken] Good luck on your degrees.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Jan 23, 2009 #8
    I don't know about physics, but the majority of math teachers at our local community college do not have Ph.Ds.
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