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For Journalists Considering a Move to Teaching

What you need to know before you start

A time comes for many journalists when they think, “I’ve had a good run in this career, and now maybe I should transition to full-time teaching at a university.” Journalism schools and programs definitely need experienced journalists as teachers — but universities have been changing, and requirements for hiring are not what they were 20 or even 10 years ago.

Salary

The dream is that you’ll have the same salary or higher while working only nine months a year. University salaries are lower than you probably imagine, so you might need to sprinkle some reality on that dream—especially if you’re currently working in a big city and have 20 years’ experience.

Education requirements

Many positions nowadays require you to have a Ph.D. If the job ad says “Ph.D.required,” don’t bother applying unless you have one. The school or department doesn’t have an option to waive the requirement, which is set at the university level. There are some journalism teaching positions that require only a master’s degree (and more rarely, not even that), and the ad will say so clearly if that’s the case.

Workload

Preparing lectures, writing quizzes, and grading student work all take more time than anyone expects. It’s a great idea to teach a regular three-credit course at a college or university to find out how you like it. (Giving a guest lecture is nothing like teaching a full course.)

Common terms in academic job ads

  • Adjunct (or sessional): Part-time work with no benefits, little support, and often not even a shared office on campus. Pay is per course and tends to be in the range of $2,000–$3,000 for a full three-credit course, one semester. The amount may be lower.
  • Course load: How many courses a full-time professor or instructor teaches per academic year. “2/2” means two in the fall and two in the spring. That is a light teaching load, usually associated with an equal requirement for research productivity. See also Research expectation.
  • “Creative work”: A faculty member without a doctorate might be expected to produce non-scholarly work in her field as part of her job requirements. For a career journalist, this might be reported articles published in regular journalism outlets. The amount of work per year and the measures of quality should be spelled out in your letter of offer. See also Research expectation.
  • Full time: A permanent, regular job, usually nine months per year (but see Semester vs. quarter).
  • Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty: Job titles that are different from professor. Usually not tenure-track positions. These positions generally do not require a doctorate. See Rank.
  • Letter of offer: Academics have standard annual employment contracts in which the terms are the same for everyone. Whatever you’ve been told or promised during the hiring process should be written out explicitly in a letter to you signed by the dean of your college (or relevant hiring authority). Do not accept the job until you’ve got all the terms in that signed letter, in your possession.
  • “Master’s degree or equivalent professional experience”: When this appears in a job ad, what constitutes equivalent experience is entirely up to the people offering the job. In most cases, it would need to be at minimum five years of full-time, indisputably relevant, paid work.
  • Nine-month vs. 12-month: Some academic appointments are 12-month (such as department chair). Some schools have 10-month appointments. Most have nine-month appointments, and a nine-month teaching job is full-time. The three months off are yours to do as you like.
  • Open rank: When this appears in a job ad, the school is free to offer you an entry-level appointment (such as assistant professor) or a higher level, depending on your qualifications. When the job ad specifies a rank, usually the school has no leeway to alter that for the person they hire.
  • Professor of practice: See Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty.
  • Rank of assistant, associate, or full professor: The traditional ranks for regular tenure-track faculty begin with assistant professor, which is most often a person who has just completed a Ph.D. and has not had a previous appointment. Associate professor is a promotion, most often awarded after six years as an assistant professor. Professor is the highest regular rank (the word “full” is not part of the title). Many academics are never promoted to full professor, as the criteria are stringent. See also Lecturer, instructor, professor of practice, clinical faculty.
  • Research expectation: For faculty members who have an earned doctorate, usually their yearly research output is equal to their yearly teaching work. The expectation might be expressed as “45% teaching, 45% research, 10% service.” The proportions might vary; at some institutions, the research expectation might be much lower. For some positions, such as lecturer, the research expectation might be zero. Research output is typically measured as the number of published articles in scholarly journals.
  • Semester vs. quarter: Semesters in North America are fall and spring, with 15 weeks being the standard length for each. Quarters are fall, winter, and spring, with 10 weeks being the standard length. Spring classes on the quarter system might end in early June. On the semester system, spring classes might end as early as late April.
  • Tenure track: Not all colleges and universities offer tenure, and at those that do, not all positions are eligible for tenure. Tenure is often described as “a job for life,” although it is possible to dismiss a tenured professor for cause. If a position is on the tenure track, requirements exist for gaining tenure and promotion within a specified time period. Many people outside the academy don’t realize that tenure is a two-edged sword: assistant professors who do not meet the requirements for tenure lose their jobs. They are required to leave the university (there may be a one-year grace period). Assistant professors who do meet the requirements are usually promoted to associate professor at the same time they get tenure.
  • Visiting professor: Not a permanent position. There is rarely any possibility for the school to keep the visiting professor after the specified time.

Job listings

In North America, the majority of academic jobs will be advertised September–December. The number of job ads will be much smaller the rest of the year.

Copyleft

This article is published under a Creative Commons license: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. The name of the creator is Mindy McAdams. The original publication date is July 2021.

Digital journalism professor, University of Florida. I love code, Vespa, cats, world travel. https://mindymcadams.com/