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What does an English Professor do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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An English professor teaches courses, writes and publishes academic papers, and advises educational policies at a university or college. He or she might work full or part time, leading undergraduate or graduate courses in a number of different subjects related to English and writing. Many professors also act as advisers to students who are planning a career in English, education, or journalism. An individual must complete extensive educational requirements, produce worthwhile papers, and gain experience in the academic field to become a tenured English professor.

The majority of an English professor's job entails organizing course curricula, teaching classes, grading papers, and meeting with students. Professors arrange course material according to university standards and requirements, though they are often allotted considerable freedom in the type and manner they present information. English professors might specialize in teaching a very specific subject or lecture on a number of topics, such as composition, creative writing, literature appreciation, poetry, or English as a second language. They usually make themselves available during office hours to speak with students who are having difficulties or those who need academic guidance.

Many modern universities and colleges give students the option of taking courses online, which significantly changes an English professor's approach to teaching. Professors who teach online courses must be very familiar with computer applications, email, and the Internet in order to meet the needs of their students. They may be required to facilitate online discussions, upload documents and tests, and provide feedback to students through email communication rather than in person.

Besides teaching courses, English professors are usually expected to regularly write and publish academic papers as well as participate in school committees. Professors help to evaluate the successes and failures of English programs and university policies, and suggest steps that can be taken to improve them. Many experienced English professors assume further administrative duties, such as representing an entire English department.

A PhD is usually required to become an English professor. An individual is required to complete up to six years of post-baccalaureate coursework and compose a lengthy dissertation to earn his or her degree. Most prospective English professors work as teaching assistants while completing their graduate programs in order to gain essential, firsthand teaching experience and improve their credentials. They usually begin their careers under the title of instructor, and work at a university for up to seven years in an effort to gain tenure, a condition that allows a professor to teach, write papers, and conduct research without fear of being terminated unless there is just cause.

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Discussion Comments

By MissDaphne — On Apr 22, 2012

@jennythelib - I'm glad you brought that up! I considered going to grad school in English but decided against it, while my best friend from college did go with the intention of being a college English professor. Half of her classmates dropped out in the first two years (she mentioned a few who decided to go to law school instead), including her. She had completed enough credits to earn a master's degree.

Basically, she realized that the chances of her getting the job she really wanted were so low, that she might as well save four years of her life and start thinking practically! She taught community college as an adjunct for a while, then in a private school, and now she's studying to be a librarian instead. I think part of her is still sad that she won't be an English professor; it was just more of a crapshoot than she wanted to make.

By jennythelib — On Apr 21, 2012
I just want to caution anyone considering an English professor career that tenure-track jobs are almost impossible to get these days. Universities continue to accept far more graduate students than there are going to be openings. Why? Partly because they need the cheap labor for teaching intro courses! Each year, fewer than half of newly-minted English PhDs will land tenure-track positions.

This isn't to say that you should not go to grad school in English, just that you shouldn't go assuming that you'll get a job. Some people do, some people don't. Would you be happy teaching in a prestigious secondary school instead? Or a community college? Getting a library degree and working in an academic library? There are other options out there for PhDs in English if you know where to look.

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