So You Wanna Be A Professor?

Who among us, during a particularly interesting lecture, hasn’t wished to keep the college experience going forever?

Arielle and I have certainly dreamed of remaining in the ivory tower (or Temple of Doom) past graduation, and joining the ranks of our esteemed professors. What we learned, though, is that the job is not all just tweed jackets and elbow pads (…if only…).

Steven M. Cahn is a gainfully employed professor in the Philosophy Program at CUNY’s graduate center and the author of From Student to Scholar, a neat little book that we read on the floor of Barnes & Noble last week.

He talked to us about tenure, teaching, and other t-words:

  • First of all, Cahn said, the professorial life is pretty good. “If what motivates you most strongly is inquiry into a field, teaching it, discussing it, sharing it with others, then the professorial career could certainly be attractive,” he says. Which is just a very scholarly way of saying it’s AWESOME.
  • Grad school, he said, is a good option for someone without a clear job path who wants to explore an interest in a particular subject. But good luck getting a job in academia after that! “You can go to graduate school but when you get out it can be a difficult thing to find an appropriate position,” he says.
  • “The number of people who apply for an open position, say, as an assistant professor of English could well be up in the high hundreds if not even more,” said Cahn. “At one time many years ago there was actually a need for more people to go into the professorial life. That’s not the case today. Today there are simply more people than there are positions.”
  • Meanwhile, adjunct professorial jobs are much more abundant than tenured jobs. Cahn says that will likely remain the case as long as the American economy continues to sour.
  • But don’t fear you bookworms, you! With a PhD you can still get a very nice job teaching at a prep school. I’ve heard that the students really value their teachers there.
  • If you’re planning to become a doctor or a lawyer, though, it’s not really worth getting a PhD in the humanities. The road to that degree is long and difficult and if you don’t intend to teach, Cahn said, “it might seem better to just go directly to do what it is you want to do.”

Cahn said some more stuff but by then, like any good college students, we had already logged on to Facebook, stared at the beautiful girl two rows ahead, and fallen asleep.

— Jordan


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