What Do College And University Professors Do?

What Do College And University Professors Do?

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Higher education is designed to provide a clear path for students to grow intellectually and an environment for academic research to take place. Professors play an important role within universities and colleges.

Professors are responsible for conducting original academic research, supervising doctoral students, and teaching classes to graduate and undergraduate students. In many universities, full professors also take on senior managerial roles such as academic heads of departments, board members, and other academic positions.

The responsibilities of professors may vary depending on their status. Adjunct professors, assistant professors, associate professors, and emeritus professors have different roles within the university. Keep reading to find out the differences between the different types of professors!

College professors teach various courses

1. Professors Teach Courses

Teaching is one of the most important responsibilities of college professors. Combining work week and weekend, they spend about 40 percent of their time on teaching-related tasks or about 24.5 hours.

You may be surprised to find out that most professors at colleges and universities don’t have a formal background in education. Most have been hired because of their expertise in a certain field of study. In fact, some professors are sometimes bad at teaching because they have poor communication skills and limited educational backgrounds. If you want to learn more about this issue, I recommend the following articles:

Despite their lack of formal background in education, some professors manage to make their classes fascinating. For example, during a lecture on mechanics, Walter Lewin showed his confidence in the conservation of energy by putting his life on the line. He swung a wrecking ball on a pendulum, the ball stopped just before it could crush Walter Lewin’s skull (view the video here).

When rated by their students, most college courses are marked between 2.5 and 3.4 out of 5. Critics on RateMyProfessors state that some professors are not available for additional help after class or during office hours. Many students think that their professors are not approachable and hard to communicate with.

College professors teach various courses

2. Professors Conduct Research

In general, research money subsidizes the education of college students. Most academic research is supported by government, industry, and foundation grants. This is why all professors are expected to conduct original academic research, such as experiments, document analysis, or critical reviews, and publish their findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Academic research follows the scientific method as a way to ensure that objectivity is kept at all times. Once a paper is published, the quality of the research is often judged by the h-index. It is a metric that measures both the productivity and citation impact of the publication. To get tenure, a professor must be recognized by his peers for his outstanding contribution in his field of research. Once tenured, full professors are expected to spend even more time on their research and other administrative duties.

As part of their role, professors sometimes supervise research projects as well as the work of Ph.D. and graduate students.

Roles of college professors

3. Other Administrative Duties

Administrative and service duties consume a significant proportion of professors’ working time. This includes mandatory service on departmental and university committees, attending faculty meetings, undergraduate advising, interviewing job candidates, reading and evaluating graduate applications, various kinds of reporting, and more.

The higher a professor is on the academic hierarchy, the more administrative load will be put on his shoulders. When professors get promoted to associate and full professor, they start supervising graduate students and administrative work starts creeping up on you until their research group almost function like a small business.

The Different Types of Professors

Not all professors are equal in the academic hierarchy. There are significant differences in terms of responsibilities, revenue, and academic freedom between the different types of professors. The table below shows the difference in salaries between the academic ranks of professors.

RankAcademic RankAverage Salary Per Year (U.S.A.)
7Teaching Assistant$24,000 
6Visiting Professor$37,500 
5Assistant Professor$77,493
4Associate Professor$87,761
3Full Professor$96,820
2Endowed Professor$253,755
1Distinguished Professor$226,270
RetiredProfessor Emeritus$46,366
The hierarchy of university professors.

The most significant difference between professors is in terms of academic freedom. Professors who got tenured have a permanent position within the university. The security of tenure allows professors to research and teach any topic—even controversial ones. How far a professor is on the tenure track is the key difference between assistant, associate, and full professors:

  • Assistant professors are entry-level professors and are on the tenure track.
  • Associate professors are middle-level professors (most of them do not have tenure yet).
  • Full professors are senior-level professors who got tenured.

In this article, we have summarized the hierarchy of all academic titles that professors can get:

Now let’s have a look at why there is so much discrepancy in salary between professors.

Salary of Professors

Some people are stunned by the salary of some professors. According to the American Association of University Professors, the average salary of a full professor in the USA is $8,500 per month. Salaries at elite universities are of course much higher. At Harvard University, the salary of full professors averages $17,300 per month.

Let’s not forget that some professors are at the top of their field and could easily earn even more money in the private sector. There are also other moral and economic reasons to consider such high salaries:

Finally, there is a huge discrepancy between high-earning professors ($200,000 salary or more) and low-earners ($60,000). Factors influencing their salary include experience, the field of study, and academic productivity. Finally, professors usually make more money working for private colleges and universities.

Questions about Professors

Frequently Asked Questions

It is impossible to explain all the subtilities between the different types of professors and their roles in a single article. The following articles might answer your questions in more detail and provide more explanations on more topics related to professorships.