How To Become a Professor: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Professors are responsible for providing high-level education and guidance in specific streams to students in colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning. Being a professor can be a rewarding career, but it can take several years to fulfil the eligibility requirements. You may benefit from selecting educational goals that align with this career choice. In this article, we explore how to become a professor, what a professor does, the qualifications you need to become a professor and the job outlook for professors.

How to become a professor

You might find the following steps helpful for becoming a college professor:

1. Decide your specialisation and earn a bachelor's degree

Decide early on if you want to become a professor in the arts, commerce or science stream and pass your 12th Higher Secondary Certification exam with at least 80-90% aggregate marks. This may help you enrol in a bachelor's degree programme of your choice. It is essential to maintain a high academic record and complete your graduation well above the minimum requirement of 50-55% aggregate marks.

2. Pursue a master's degree

Take the GATE exam, enrol in a master's degree programme of your choice and complete it with more than the minimum requirement of 50-55% aggregate marks. By clearing the master's degree programme with a good score, you may be eligible to work as a lecturer or a demonstrator. The work experience is likely to help you advance in your career.

3. Pass competitive exams

After getting a master's degree, you can appear for and pass the NET, the SET or the CSIR NET competitive exams. The NET makes you eligible for assistant professor jobs in every college and university throughout the country, but the SET only gives you eligibility for assistant professor jobs within the state you cleared the exam. By taking the CSIR NET, you may be selected for a lecturer position or get a junior research fellowship.

4. Obtain a doctoral degree

Next, you can enrol in a doctoral degree programme. Having a doctoral degree can exempt you from appearing for the competitive exams, and you can directly apply for a college professor position.

5. Gain practical experience

Consider specialising in a specific field to receive a practicing license in order to gain practical experience. By acquiring a nursing license, for instance, you can gain nursing experience that can supplement your teaching of the subject. You can also gain teaching experience while still completing your education by tutoring children or adults, working as a student instructor or holding a part-time teaching position. Volunteering for a research role might also give you helpful experience for teaching a subject.

Related: How To Write Work Experience on Your CV

6. Research and publish academic work

Write well-researched blogs, articles and papers on your blog or website and contribute to academic blogs, websites, magazines and other publications to establish yourself as an authority in your field. It is essential to publish at least five high-quality papers or books to advance from an assistant professor post to associate professor and have at least ten research publications to qualify from associate professor to professor.

7. Search and apply to academic positions

Search for positions on college or university websites, online job boards, professional networking groups and social media. It may help to customise your resume and cover letter for every job application and to practise answering the questions that interviewers are most likely to ask at job interviews.

Related: How to Write a Resume Employers Will Notice

What does a professor do?

As a professional educator in a college, university or other institution, a college professor may do the following:

  • Oversee student admissions to course programs

  • Develop class syllabuses and course materials

  • Review and amend existing teaching materials

  • Teach and supervise graduate and postgraduate students

  • Prepare and conduct examinations and evaluate exam papers

  • Train and mentor assistant professors

  • Assist graduate students with research work

  • Undertake student counselling

  • Participate in departmental, faculty and committee meetings

  • Give guest lectures at other colleges and universities

  • Organise public talks in museums, community halls and other public centres to promote learning opportunities

  • Conduct research, lead field trips and investigate specific topics

  • Write and publish research reports, papers, articles and books

  • Attend conferences, make presentations and network with other academics

Related: How To Find Your Desired Career Path

What qualifications do you need to be a professor?

To become a professor, you need the following qualifications:

Master's degree

You need a master's degree in any stream with a good academic record. It is essential to have a minimum aggregate of 55% marks if you are in a general category and a minimum of 50% marks if you are in the minority or protected group.

Competitive exam score

It is required to have appeared for and passed any of the following government-approved competitive exams:

  • National Eligibility Test (NET): the National Testing Agency (NTA), under the University Grants Commission (UGC), conducts this exam twice a year to select lecturers for colleges and universities all over the country.

  • Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE): the GATE committee conducts this exam once a year. The score is valid for three years, and you can use it to get admission into master's or doctoral programs.

  • State Level Eligibility Test (SET): the NTA conducts the SET in English and vernacular languages once a year, and clearing it allows you to work as a lecturer in a state-level college or university.

  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) NET: the NTA conducts the national-level CSIR NET twice a year to approve candidates from different science fields for lecturer positions or junior research fellowships.

Doctoral degree

You can become a professor directly, without appearing for the competitive exams, if you have a doctoral degree that you have earned through regular mode. This means at least two external examiners have evaluated your research thesis, and you have appeared for viva voce. You also need to have published at least two related research papers.

Teaching experience and skills

It is necessary to have three to 14 years of teaching and mentoring experience in a formal educational setting. A confident, positive outlook can help, as can using innovative teaching methods that resonate with your students. You must have excellent communication and presentation skills and be able to explain your subject with clarity and passion. You may also benefit from having good organisation, time management and problem-solving abilities.

Research and publications

You need to publish several peer-reviewed papers, articles or books that show the depth of your knowledge and research. You must also be active in researching and presenting recent developments in your field.

How long does it take to become a professor?

It can take many years of hard work and persistent efforts to become a college professor. For a full-time position as a professor, you must complete a three-year or four-year bachelor's degree, a two-year master's degree and pass state or national-level competitive exams. Additionally, you may need several years of teaching or research experience. You can also choose to get a doctoral degree, which can take three to six years beyond a master's program.

Can you be a professor with a master's degree?

You can become an assistant professor with a master's degree if you can fulfil the following conditions:

  • You have at least 55% marks in the master's degree program from a recognised university.

  • You have passed the UGC NET, UGC SET or CISR NET competitive exams.

  • You have some teaching or research experience.

What is the job outlook like for professors?

The job outlook for a professor is good, with stable job opportunities available in private and government educational institutions. The national average salary for professors is ₹8,44,895 per year. An assistant professor earns ₹5,11,686 per year, and an adjunct professor earns ₹5,57,296 per year. The salary of an associate professor is ₹11,10,222 per year.

You may make considerably more if you work in elite institutes like the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the Birla Institute of Technology (BIT) and the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Your salary range also may go up with each promotion you receive. Many professors advance to become deans and chancellors.

Related: How to Get the Job You Want

What is the best way to find a professor job?

The best way to find a professor job is to begin your job search while still completing your education. Research private, government and research-based educational institutions to find out about available teaching positions, required qualifications and remuneration. Narrow down the list to the institutions and jobs that align with your credentials, interests and expectations. If any of them offer part-time positions, consider sending your application.

You can improve your chances of finding the job of your choice by networking with people in academia. You can also attend seminars and conferences, participate in online groups and forums, be active on social media and subscribe to academic newsletters and magazines.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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