Why a Faculty Job is the Best

The previous blog post discussed the differences between teaching and research institutions for doctoral students who are interested in pursuing a job as a faculty member. This blog post delves into the current state of academia and outlines why, in my opinion, being a faculty member is the best job!

The Low-Down on Faculty Positions

If your goal is to become a professor at a university, you must first get the lay of the land. Let’s discuss what is going on in the world of academia.

Faculty Hiring Trends

Unfortunately, institutions have been hiring fewer faculty over the years and prefer to hire adjunct professors because adjuncts are less expensive as they are not eligible for a retirement account or medical insurance. Adjuncts provide a disservice to students because they typically do not offer time outside of the classroom to assist students in understanding the class content.

Declining Student Enrollment

Institutions have not been able to increase enrollment to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, programs or entire institutions across the country have been forced to close. The institution and program closures are partly because of the declining number of children born yearly. 

Supply and Demand of Faculty

Over 50,000 doctoral students are graduating every year in the United States. Remember, international doctoral students also apply for faculty positions. However, they can only apply to institutions with a department that handles visa applications. These are typically research institutions. Other institutions do not have this department and can only accept applications from U.S. citizens; refer to my blog post for more differences between teaching and research institutions. 

Expect a minimum of 100 applicants, if not more, for every faculty position. Plenty of supply but little demand gives institutions all the bargaining power when it comes to negotiating salaries and faculty rank (e.g., assistant, associate, or full professor).

Doctoral Students prefer Industry Positions

The good news for those interested in becoming faculty is that a shift has recently occurred. More doctoral graduates have been opting to work for industry for predominantly three reasons: less competition, better pay, and, some argue, a better work-life balance. However, I beg to differ on the last reason given my experience working in industry. Institutions are also seeing an exodus of current faculty members heading to industry for the reasons above.

Benefits of Faculty Positions

At this point, you may wonder, “If everyone is leaving academia for industry, and it is so competitive to get a faculty position, plus the pay is not great, why would I want to work as a faculty?” Well, give me a chance to explain.

1. You are Your Own Boss

Faculty members have complete control over how they teach in the classroom as long as they cover the content stipulated in the syllabus. You do not have a boss lording over you making last-minute requests.

Additionally, faculty members have complete control over the direction of their research. There are also opportunities to collaborate with government, industry, other faculty members across different departments and from other institutions, and international collaborators. 

2. Job Security

Despite declining enrollment numbers, once you are granted a position as a faculty member for a public institution, you cannot be let go. If your program is closed, you will be reassigned to another department, which may not be ideal, but it does protect you from scrambling to find another job immediately.

3. Flexibility

You can make your schedule when deciding which classes you want to teach and when. In most cases, you can create a class, certification program, or micro-credential program related to your research.

Additionally, faculty have summers off. The semester ends around mid-May every school year and does not start until the end of August. That is equivalent to almost four consecutive months of freedom plus a few weeks and days scattered throughout the rest of the year. I can confirm you will never find this level of freedom in industry, especially now that more companies require employees to come into the office.

4. Life-Changing Work

Seeing students evolve over a year or years has no price tag. It is gratifying work that no amount of money can ever compare to. I am so fortunate to meet and help students every semester become the STEM professionals I know they can be.

Advancing science through research is also gratifying work because you contribute to society in a significant way that most cannot.

5. Starting up a Company

Most research institutions have a technology transfer office and other resources that assist faculty in commercializing their research. STEM faculty, in particular, tend to have one or more companies by the time they become full professors. 

Working in industry does not allow you to start a company because anything made with company resources belongs to the company.

What's Next?

The following blog post will discuss the impact of artificial intelligence in academia.

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Stephanie Taboada

The author of this post has a Chemical Engineering Ph.D. and is an Engineering Professor with industry experience. As a Latina and a STEM professional, Stephanie is passionate about incentivizing Hispanics to pursue STEM. Read Stephanie's blog to understand the opportunities that exist in STEM for underrepresented groups. Follow her on social media to learn when the next blog post will be published.

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