To become a full professor you will likely need to first complete a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) program and receive your degree. After receiving your degree you can then find work at a college or university, and in the United States (US) you will likely be hired to teach and do research at the school as an assistant professor. After about six to eight years as an assistant professor, you may then apply for a promotion to become an associate professor. This may be a tenured position, though this is not always the case at all schools. After a number of further years performing research, teaching, and filling positions as staff or faculty at the college or university, you may then apply for a promotion to become a full professor.
A full professor is someone who has reached, generally, the highest level of professorship at an American university. The term is also often used in Canadian colleges and universities as well, though in the United Kingdom (UK) and other regions the term “professor” is reserved only for those who have attained a chair position at the school. In the US, work toward becoming a full professor usually begins with the completion of a PhD and employment by a college or university as an assistant professor.
Once you are hired on as an assistant professor, you can work toward becoming a full professor through teaching classes, performing research relevant to your field and publishing your work, and taking positions on staff boards. Most schools reward promotions based on your accomplishments in all three fields: teaching, research, and service. After about five to eight years as an assistant professor, you can apply for a promotion to become an associate professor. If you are promoted to associate professorship, you will likely receive tenure as well, though not all schools consider associate professor a tenured position; if you do not receive the promotion, then you will usually be expected to leave the school within one year.
As an associate professor you will then typically continue to teach, do research, and work as faculty or staff at the university while progressing toward a position as a full professor. Though schools typically indicate a focus on all three aspects of being a professor, many within academia see a strong emphasis placed on research and you should consider this as you work to become a full professor. The process can be similar to becoming an associate professor; your work as a researcher and teacher will be evaluated by other experts in your field, the head of your department, and the dean of the university. If you are promoted to a position as a full professor, you will almost certainly be tenured and be able to attain staff positions and seats on boards reserved for full professors.