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There are no shortages of books to read before you decide to pursue a career as a professor—especially if you’re like me, and unexpectedly stumble into your interested field. Before you crack open a single publication, it’s essential to look for a book that contains very particular things.
For one, your reading should cover the graduate school application process and how to create a memorable personal statement that shows you’ve got serious career plans and a connection with the faculty. In some cases, it can also help get you started on the GRE, or point you in the right direction for graduate school exams.
It should help you gain insight into what it takes to get a master’s or doctorate in your field and where you should think about applying in general. Guidance on teaching classes, how to prepare for critical exams, and writing a prospectus and dissertation doesn’t hurt, either.
Extra points if it covers the realities of the higher education job market, interview and resume tips, as well as advice on how to interact with faculty. Pointers on how to consider and negotiate job offers will also be helpful.
Once hired, you’ll need to know how to balance your work and home life and, as a colleague insists, how to “say no to opportunities that won’t further your goals.” This means honing your time-management skills if you haven’t already. You’ll need to know how to nail the research grant process, and navigate the promotion and tenure scene.
With time, you’ll likely need to assess whether you should stay where you are or take a job elsewhere, or maybe switch careers entirely. Oh, and there are plenty of unexpected skills you’ll need to pick up along the way.
By now, you’re probably wondering whether a single book could cover all of the factors of a professor’s career. Probably not, which means you’ll likely need to read several books from this list to feel genuinely informed. But this is the reality of this profession. If you’re not up for a long list of reading, you should probably consider a different career.
The Professor Is In aims at graduate students, adjunct professors, and those with a postdoc (if you get into this field, you’ll learn plenty about these). Dr. Kelsky offers a look into the harsh realities of the field with guidance on what guarantees success in the academic job search and how to decide when to point a Ph.D. toward other, non-academic options. Consider it advice from someone who is well poised to provide commentary.
Whether you’re pursuing a role in academia early on, midway, or late in your career, Drew Boyd has a map for how you can make the leap into academia as a professor. He covers issues including the tough odds of success and also provides commentary for experienced professors like me who’ve been in the field for a long time. He’s also a blogger and can keep up with the field developments nimbly. And who knows? He may even serve as a good contact.
If you’re a little unsure about whether you’re ready to be a professor, but like the idea of teaching and academia, this book is probably for you. It highlights crucial factors of the graduate school experience and gets down to the nuts and bolts of your first class. Readers will also find tips for how to lecture, organize courses, create tests, and publish. Just don’t wait until grad school to read it.
There are seemingly no shortage of books with this title, but bear with me—this one is different, too. The goal is tenure for these authors, but as they’ll discuss, it’s not the end of the journey. So, why should you care? Hughes and Tennyson incorporate a lot of work from well-known experts in the field, so you get many different perspectives on academic careers. They also give you many options, in case tenure isn’t in the cards.
Stephen Jenkins covers a lot of similar material as other authors on this list. However, I like his emphasis on getting published, as well as how to network within the academic community, something even veteran professors can learn from. I also appreciate his tips for teaching adult learners, especially as non-traditional students in higher education increases in number. His tone is optimistic without being unrealistic.
Norman Eng begins his book by describing the ultimate class from hell. Professors already in the soup may know this class, one in which students won’t read or participate in discussions, and make you question your approach to teaching. Once he has your attention, Eng offers plenty of insight for new graduate students who may be teaching assistants or instructors themselves. His lessons even touch on the world of advertising and work some of the best tips K-12 teaching experts have to offer.
It’s no secret that adjunct professors are one of the most ignored roles in academia. Since this role is a more than likely scenario for all academics at some point, it’s essential to take an in-depth look into its plight. Frederick’s tips and suggestions are incredibly useful in understanding the expectations of working as a part-time professor. You’ll learn how to can become invaluable to your institution—and a more confident instructor, too.
Now for an admission: I didn’t read any of these books during graduate school or my academic adventures, as most were published long after I received tenure. Instead, I relied on invaluable colleagues who offered insight to further my training and confidence. They also gave me articles from journals in my field, covering discipline-specific topics to more general career advice.
The moral of the story is to not focus only on books as much as information as a whole. Supplement your reading with input from professors and fellow graduate students, as well as what you can find in professional journals because multiple viewpoints are always better than one.
Sure, it’s a lot of research. But that’s what professors do.
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