Road to the Professorate

Next Steps in Higher EducationMicheal Hickerson, maps out an ideal route to becoming a professor. There may be bumps along the way, but keep your destination in mind.

This is only a general outline of an idealized route. Details vary by discipline and by your intended goal (e.g. research university, Christian college, part time instructor). For more material and stories visit Graduate School Journey on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

As an Undergraduate

For Your Self-Development

  • Develop your worldview. Consider theological coursework.
  • Develop your writing skills.
  • Learn a second language.
  • Improve your study skills.
  • Earn a high GPA.

For Your Application

  • Get to know your professors, so that they can write good letters of reference.
  • Prepare well for the GRE, GMAT, or your discipline’s entrance exams.
  • Research graduate schools and apply to several.
  • Apply for funding. One potential source: The Harvey Fellows Program, sponsored by the Mustard Seed Foundation, offers stipends to Christian students earning doctorates in strategic fields at premier institutions. See for details.

The Structure of Grad School

Again, this varies by discipline. For example, some disciplines expect you to earn a masters degree before starting your doctorate, while other discipline view a masters as unnecessary.

  • Course Work: 2 or more years
  • Know your language requirements!
  • Comprehensive exams before starting dissertation.
  • Dissertation: 1 to 2 years (but often longer)
  • Dissertation Defense
  • Research or Teaching Assistantship
  • Begin publishing while in graduate school.
  • Apply for teaching positions.

Finding a Job

General sources

Be Intentional and Network!

  • Contact schools you like, whether or not they have an opening.
  • Most openings (80%) are never advertised.
  • Competition for positions varies widely, and is sometimes counter-intuitive (e.g. an “easy” teaching position might attract 10 times as many applications as a prestigious research position).

As a Professor

Faculty positions are either tenure-track (TT) or non-tenure-track (also called contingent). Non-tenure-track positions can be quite fulfilling, depending on your personal goals and situation.

Earning Tenure

  • Three categories are assessed for tenure: research, teaching, and service.
  • Different kinds of schools have different requirements. A research university will value research above all else. A teaching college might place more emphasis on course evaluations.
  • The first year teaching will probably be the most stressful year of your life, so be prepared and seek good counsel.
  • It’s possible to get hired “ABD” (“All But Dissertation”) but be very cautious: it’s easy to get caught up in the new job (see above) and never finish your PhD.

Academic Ranks

  • Non-tenure track: Instructor, Lecturer, Adjunct
  • Tenure-track starts with Assistant Professor.
  • After tenure is Associate Professor, then promotion later to Professor or Full Professor. Senior scholars can be awarded endowed Chairs.
  • If desired, you can later move into administrative roles: Department Chair, Dean, Provost, etc.

From 2006 till 2012 Micheal was the Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). Tom Grosh recommends that, if you haven't already done so, please be sure to check out his phenomenal "Best Christian Book of All Time" Series!

Micheal graduated summa cum laude from the University of Louisville with a BA in English, and completed a Masters of Christian Studies, concentrating in Christianity and the Arts, at Regent College. His poetry has been published in The New Pantagruel and Uprooted. Having become convinced of the importance of local community, Micheal and Elizabeth returned to Kentucky after their time in Vancouver in order to build community among her family and the local church while raising their three children.

The Emerging Scholars Network is especially important to Micheal, because he wishes something like ESN had existed when he was graduating from Louisville. With the idea of getting a PhD in literature, he contacted a number of Christian English professors to ask them where he could earn a PhD that integrated his love for Christ with his love for literature. After several discouraging responses, the last professor suggested that he do a theology degree first, to provide a foundation for later integration. While his degree at Regent turned out to be a perfect fit for Micheal, he hopes that ESN will provide a more encouraging path for students who want to serve God in the university. Micheal blogs at

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