How Long Does it Take to Become a Professor?

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Professors split their time between lecturing and conducting research.
Professors split their time between lecturing and conducting research. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Becoming a professor requires many years of graduate-level education following the completion of a bachelor's degree. Regardless of your field of study and expertise, you can expect to spend many years becoming an expert researcher and scholar in your field before becoming a professor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of new jobs for professors is expected to grow by 15 percent from 2008 to 2018.

Bachelor's Degree

The first step along the road to becoming a professor is the completion of a bachelor's degree. It is not always necessary to pursue a bachelor's degree in the field you eventually intend to teach, although it can be helpful for some graduate degree programs because it will provide you with the foundational studies needed to move on to the next level. Many professors, however, pursue an undergraduate degree in one field before moving on to a different yet related field of study at the graduate school level. Most bachelor's degrees take about four years to complete.

Graduate School Coursework

Once they have completed their undergraduate degrees, aspiring professors will then enter graduate school to pursue either a master's degree or a Ph.D. A Ph.D. is required for most full-time faculty positions, especially at the university level. Some Ph.D. programs in various fields offer students the opportunity to pursue the degree without necessarily having to hold the master's degree first. Graduate school coursework usually takes about two to three years for many fields of study.

Comprehensive Exams

Most doctoral programs require the graduate school student to take comprehensive exams covering their major field of study. The requirements for these exams vary greatly by the different academic disciplines that are available for study. Students will typically take about a year in preparing for these exams. Coursework provides some preparation, but many disciplines have required reading lists that are necessary for the student to familiarize themselves with.

Dissertation

One of the more time-consuming aspects of becoming a professor is in completing the dissertation. The dissertation is a book-length piece of original research that the aspiring professor completes in order to qualify for the Ph.D. The aspiring scholar is expected to contribute new insight and research in his field of scholarship. The amount of time it takes to complete the dissertation can vary greatly. For many, it will take one to three years of intensive research and writing, but some graduate students can take in excess of five years to complete their work. Capping with the dissertation, after four years of undergraduate education and usually a minimum of four to seven years of graduate school, it can take about eight to 11 years to become a professor, assuming an open teaching position is available at the time you graduate.

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