What is a Professor?
A professor is “a teacher of the highest rank in a department of a British university, or a teacher of high rank in an American university or college”, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary.
Professors teach students aged 18+ at higher education institutions. Teaching usually takes place between 9am and 6pm although some Professors are also required to teach in the evenings. Professors divide their time between classroom hours and preparing for teaching or meeting students privately. The job also involves research activities including presenting research findings at conferences worldwide.
Professors are required to seek external funding for their research activities to enhance the prestige of their institution and to initiate research projects that involve connections with scholars at other institutions in the UK and overseas. They may also be involved in initiatives with public sector bodies and the private sector. Professors will be expected to take part in the strategic planning and decision making for their department. In many cases their focus is on teaching postgraduates rather than teaching undergraduates. .
- Delivering large group lectures to between 20 and 200 students
- Delivering small group teaching to between 1 and 20 students
- Pastoral care of students
- One to one advice on particular pieces of work
- Course design
- Lecture/seminar planning
- Marking assessed work
- Keeping student records of achievement
- Attending planning meetings to ensure cross departmental parity
- Leading research projects and managing research teams
- Presenting research at conferences
- Administration tasks (e.g. admissions tutor) within the department
Salary and Conditions
- Starting salary is usually c. £45,000 – £75,000 in the UK, although this is often based on individual merit and is achieved by negotiation with the employer.
- Most professorships are permanent positions.
- Most are full time, although part time posts and job shares are occasionally available.
- Permanent staff can opt into a final salary pension scheme (Teachers Pension Scheme).
- Sick pay allowance varies from institution to institution but is often more generous than the private sector.
- Maternity and paternity leave varies from institution to institution.
- Staff can join the UCU union.
Most Professors will have a PhD. They will have a very good bachelor’s degree with first or upper second-class honours. Some Professors have a separate masters degree, especially in the humanities fields. Very rarely a Professor with personal vocational experience will be taken on without a PhD.
There are steady annual salary increments in most jobs. Some scholars remain at Professorship level for their entire career, while others go into management and may take on the role of Head of Department or Dean of School.
In order to improve their career, Professors are advised to produce internationally renowned research, publish their work in reputable journals and books, attend conferences, and be innovative in their teaching practice. But they will also need to take an active part in the management of their department and faculty.
HE Professors are mostly employed in publicly funded universities or HE colleges. Oxford and Cambridge are the most prestigious, followed by research-based institutions such as the Russell Group. The post-1992 group of universities, which used to be Polytechnics, are also large employers of lecturers. There is one private university in the UK, based in Buckingham. Every large town or city in the UK now has its own university.
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