Do You Need a PhD to Be a Professor?

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Colleges and universities assign faculty members different academic ranks; these ranks indicate the level of education required to obtain that position. Though non-doctoral teachers can secure jobs in higher education, in order to secure the title of professor, they must have a doctoral degree in their field. Earning the Ph.D.--the terminal degree in any field--gives professors the academic knowledge and expertise to teach at the post-secondary level.

Assistant Professor Requirements

  • As the junior faculty member in an academic department, the assistant professor is often a new doctoral graduate starting his career in higher education. Even though the assistant professor is the lowest faculty line, it still requires a Ph.D. Most colleges and universities prefer that the assistant professor has some teaching experience, which he might have garnered as he earned his Ph.D. Assistant professors also need to work on scholarship by presenting their research and engaging in service on campus and beyond.

Associate Professor Requirements

  • In order for a person to earn the title of associate professor, she has to meet all of the requirements of an assistant professor, including holding the Ph.D. in her field. She has to demonstrate strong teaching skills as well as scholarly performance outside of the classroom. A promotion to associate professor might require that the person publish several academic journal articles or a book to promote her research. Having the Ph.D. behind her name can make this challenging effort a bit easier.

Full Professor Requirements

  • Accomplished professors can earn the title of full professor--the highest academic rank--after a proven record of scholarly success. Naturally, this rank requires that the professor hold a Ph.D. in his academic field. Often, these professors have five to 10 years of professorial experience at the postsecondary level. Their work has been published, and they have taken on leadership roles in the campus and the community.

Other Academic Ranks

  • Teachers who do not hold a Ph.D. but want to teach in higher education can apply for lower-level positions in academia. Instructors and lecturers are titles given to non-doctoral faculty members who have a temporary appointment to teach in a department. For example, a lecturer might come to a university to teach undergraduate courses for a two-year stint. This level of teaching requires a Master's degree in the field.

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