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What does a College Professor do?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A college professor teaches, but there are many other things that might fill a professor’s day and may form a regular part of work. Much depends on the working status of the professor, and the type of school where a professor works. This may dictate the degree to which other responsibilities are part of the college professor’s job.

The type of school may have a huge influence on how much a college professor will teach. On average, the full-time community college teacher (who may or may not be a professor and hold a PhD), tends to teach the most classes. This could mean a teacher might teach five to six classes or sections per semester, and would also need to maintain office hours to meet with students who have in depth questions about the material or who require academic advising. Many of these teachers do not have readers, tutors, grad students or other assistants they employ to grade or prepare material. They prepare their own lessons, class assignments, and syllabi. They often select their own texts that they’ll have students buy, and they apply whatever fair standards of grading they choose provided the school approves these.

Emphasis in the community college environment is most on teaching, but professors here and in any other type of college will also need to attend departmental meetings so their work is aligned with the work of other teachers. One thing that isn’t common at JC level is a push to publish material. The college professor is welcome to publish if he or she chooses, but it isn’t given the same priority status that exists in other schools.

Four-year colleges that do not offer graduate degrees may be pretty similar for the college professor. Each school determines emphasis on publishing, and it may not be very important or it could be. In schools that offer graduate level work, the role of college professor may slightly change. First, professors tend to teach fewer classes, or they lecture at classes and then have graduate assistants provide additional information to students, especially for freshman and sophomore classes. More emphasis may be spent on teaching upper grade level courses, graduate classes and advising graduate students. The college professor will still maintain office hours and might see both graduate and undergraduate students. Accessibility of professors may vary by school.

While college professors in schools that offer graduate level training still may prepare some of their material and decide on a curriculum, they may have graduate students on hand that prepare parts of it, and this too also varies. It is an exceptionally common model in those schools that offer PhD degrees. Yet professors may do more teaching work in schools were the highest degree attained is a master’s degree.

In most colleges that offer graduate programs, there can be a great deal of emphasis on continuing research, writing and publishing. The term publish or perish is frequently used to describe the need to continue to add to personal and university prestige by being a known expert in the field. This additional responsibility is usually given as reason why a college professor might teacher fewer classes. Part of their work involves not just teaching students but contributing to the sum of knowledge in their subject area.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By watson42 — On Jan 11, 2011

@accordion, that is unfortunately true. While at my college the college professor positions were difficult to acquire, there were still many who, after working hard for enough years, seemed to lose steam after becoming official professors. I can imagine, though, that many people might feel, after working so hard for so long, that they suddenly have nowhere else to once they achieve that goal.

By accordion — On Jan 09, 2011

There are good and bad things to tenured professors. While some are very dedicated, others, upon becoming college "professors", become less interested in working hard and showing that they are doing a good job. They have already achieved college professor pay and status, so teaching itself becomes less important, especially in larger schools that rely more on teaching assistants.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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