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What are the worst parts about being a university professor?

I'm looking at getting my PhD in mathematics and eventually teaching at a college level. It sounds like the perfect job: low stress, work with scholars and students passionate about the subject, continued study in the field of choice, and travel opportunities. I was wondering what some of the downsides to the job might be? #teaching #professor #mathematics #phd #applied-mathematics #college-teaching

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Arthur’s Answer

Hi Maia,
From what I've seen, generally, being a university professor is a great job. Sometimes you might have to deal with policies you don't agree with, or students who don't care about the subject. But you get to do amazing, cutting-edge research.


The real problem is in getting there. There are many articles (here's one example: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/too-many-phd-students-few-academic-jobs-mojtaba-rezaei?trkInfo=VSRPsearchId%3A4712341581468634283971%2CVSRPtargetId%3A7336798157190034507%2CVSRPcmpt%3Aprimary&trk=vsrp_influencer_content_res_name) that demonstrate that currently there are a lot of PhD students and not enough jobs for them all. I believe the estimate currently stands at less than 10% of all PhD students will actually go into academe. So instead of asking yourself what's bad about the job, I'd recommend thinking carefully about the 10+ years of investment in education where you might end up with a lot of debt and not many opportunities. That being said, if after all's said and done and you still really want to be a university professor, by all means go for it, and good luck!

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Rachel’s Answer

Many colleges provide incredible teaching programs. A few of the best in the nation are Johns Hopkins University, NYU, and UConn

Teaching involves a number of different skills and qualities. I would say the most important are:


  1. People skills - being friendly and working well with others. You will need to be personable, caring, kind, friendly, compassionate, and understanding. These qualities make a great teacher. But you also need to be stern and firm in your directions, rules, and discipline
  2. Public speaking - every day in your class you will need to be able to speak and present information to your students, practice speech, and practice fluency of language and talking in front of others
  3. The subject you plan to teach - become a master of the subject you plan to teach, make sure you know as much as possible and learn as much as you can about the subject you plan to teach. Take as many classes as possible in this subject and learn everything you can about it.
  4. Psychology & Human Development - start reading books and research articles on human development and psych. It will be helpful for you to know how people learn at different stages and the best ways to teach them at these stages (depending on stage of development and schema).


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Jeff’s Answer

Hi Maia,


Very interesting question!


After many years in the high tech industry, I left to enter academia. I taught at several universities as adjunct and full time professor and headed up two different programs. I heard from a lot of my ex-colleagues asking how they can get into academia. I had to set expectations. When I asked them why, they always told me they wanted a six figure a year job where they only worked 12 hours a week, nine months a year! After I finally stopped laughing, I explained the reality. I took a 75% pay cut and worked harder and longer hours than I ever did in industry. You can make six figures but you have to get your PhD, put in 20+ years at a large university, become department chair and write papers and grants.


Don't go into it for the money or hours. It has to be a real passion. I loved it! It sounds like you have the passion so I would continue to tutor. As you go through your classes, take note of which teachers you like and figure out why. What are they doing right? How have they motivated you to learn? You can also learn from bad teachers.


As to the negatives, the money is really not great, although it is certainly livable wages. There is a lot less stress unless you are up for tenure. But that is a one time event. The hours are what you make of it. There are many professors who skate by. I was always motivated to teach new classes and learn new skills so I put in a lot more time than required. You will have to earn your PhD so you will spend a lot of time and money. Another negative is the politics. I found that to be the case with all of the universities I worked at. I tend to ignore politics but if you want to make dean or department chair, you have to play the game, whatever that game is. Every university has their own set of politics, be it research, kissing up to the chair or dean, filling seats, being the correct religion, looking and acting in a particular way or other aspects. However, you have politics in any work environment.


Best advice is to make sure you have a plan B but pursue your dreams! If you have a passion, none of the negatives will matter.


Best of luck!


Jeff

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