HackCollege Interviews: A College Professor
Many people who’re enamored with their major come to discover that they’re not interested in any related careers. Or, they love working in the field but want to continue their study of the subject.
Fortunately, for those in these predicaments, there is a loophole that allows you to continue studying the subject while sharing your love of it with others.
This “loophole” refers to becoming a college professor.
College professors not only get to teach their favorite subject to like-minded individuals, but also continue learning about the field through research and writing scholarly articles.
I got to sit down with Kathy Bailey, the criminal justice department head at Grand Valley State University, to learn the basics of becoming a college professor.
Dr. Bailey’s background may be comforting to college students, because it shows that at no point in your life do you have to have it all figured out. Her philosophy is to not worry about time and do things as they come.
Her educational background includes a bachelor’s in art, a master’s in psychology, and a doctorate in counseling psychology. This list may seem to be standard for a professor, but the story of those degrees is anything but.
After graduating with a degree to teach art, Dr. Bailey toured with her band for a few years. Once she was over the music scene and decided to give up playing professionally, she began to look for teaching jobs. Since these jobs were hard to come by in the ‘70s, she took a job working with emotionally disturbed kids at a home. After about a year and a half, a friend approached her and told her a detention center needed an art teacher. For the next two years, she taught there. She discovered that she loved working with at-risk youth, so she trained as a juvenile probation officer and spent the next 12 years working in the field. During this period, she decided to get her master’s in psychology to better aid the youth.
After Dr. Bailey completed her master’s, she continued working as a juvenile probation officer but realized that no matter how many hours she spent with a child, a judge would still take the recommendation of a psychologist (who had never met with the child) over her own. This motivated her to pursue earning a PhD in Counseling Psychology so her word would be as important as anyone else’s. The goal was to earn her doctorate degree and open up her own practice. But life had other plans for her.
Working as a juvenile probation officer and earning her doctorate at the same time left Dr. Bailey with no time for anything else. However, a colleague approached her and asked if she had heard about a visiting professorship at Grand Valley, to which she replied, “no.” She later found out that only men (with the same qualifications as her) had been asked to consider the position, which made her livid. In her own words, she “needed that job like [she] needed a whole in the head,” but she fought for it based on principle. She spent six weeks teaching her first course at Grand Valley.
Having proven her point, she left teaching to continue toward her goal of opening a practice. Grand Valley, however, continued calling, asking her to teach more courses. After some reluctance and guidance from mentors, Dr. Bailey accepted a visiting professorship with Grand Valley in 1993 and worked her way up to department head.
Aside from this inspirational story, she also gave some important information for anyone considering becoming a professor.
The responsibilities of a professor do not just include teaching. Professors also must do research in their fields and get that research published in scholarly journals. Moreover, professorships are service oriented. Community service and university service–such as serving on committees and departments and working with student groups–are a large part of being a professor.
There are also different levels of professorship.
Adjunct professors typically teach one or two classes and may even teach at more than one university at a time. Visiting professors are for classes that require a person who is specialized in one specific area –such as Dr. Bailey in juvenile counseling –with the potential to be hired into the department once a spot opens up.
Adjunct professors may only have a master’s, but must work on their doctorate in order to get hired as full time faculty or tenure track faculty.
Tenure track faculty may be hired as instructors, but have up to two years to earn their doctorate. With a doctorate, you are hired as an assistant professor, a title that usually runs for about seven years. Once the seven years are up, tenure is available and a promotion to associate professor is given, which also lasts for about six or seven years. Once the seven years are up, a professor may apply for a full time professorship, a position that requires a lot of research and service.
As for how hard it is to get hired as a professor, Dr. Bailey said she recently had 80 applicants for a job in the department and only two were hired. She offered simple advice–find an area that you specialize in and excel.
If becoming a professor interests you but so does working the field, know that you can do both. Dr. Bailey continues to work with at-risk youth while teaching and running an entire department.
Too often, millennials are worried about time. We feel as if everything has to be perfect and planned out by the time we are 22, or our life is over. Dr. Bailey’s story disproves that and reinforces the notion that life is long enough to do more than we think possible.
Go out and do, learn, teach.
There’s time for it all.