What Combination of Education and Experience is Needed to Become a Psychology Professor?

The field of psychology is as diverse as it is rewarding, with a wide array of potential career opportunities. Although there is a great deal of flexibility, the path a student takes during his or her education may make certain positions easier to obtain. If you think you may be interested in becoming a professor of psychology at the secondary level, here are a few considerations.

What Level of Degree Must I Complete?

Like many things, the answer to this question is, “It depends.” In order to teach at the secondary level, the minimum requirement is generally a master level degree. Some institutions, such as community colleges and technical schools, consider a master’s degree sufficient. The degree need not be specifically in the field of psychology; as long as a minimum of 15 credits in psychology have been earned, degrees in such fields as sociology or counseling would also be acceptable. In order to obtain a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree must first be earned. With two degrees in psychology, some four year institutions may also consider an applicant for adjunct professor status.

For a tenure-track position, most four-year institutions and beyond require a doctoral level degree. A PhD is the most commonly attained degree, though the fairly new PsyD degree is becoming increasingly popular. Although not a hard and fast rule, students more interested in research are more likely to pursue a PhD, while those more interested in clinical work may be more apt to obtain a PsyD. The good news is that most doctoral programs do not require a master’s degree and may be applied to directly after completing a bachelor’s degree. Both programs require a time commitment of about five to seven years.

What Experience is Necessary?

By the very nature of the occupation, being a professor requires having some teaching experience. Luckily, most masters and doctoral programs create opportunities for student teaching. While time is a precious resource during graduate school and research often takes priority, for those interested in education it is important to build the skill set to be a quality teacher as well.

In addition to time spent in the classroom, time spent doing research is of utmost importance. On an episode from How to Become a Professor.com, Professor Susan Carey of Harvard University discusses how to plan an academic career from undergraduate student to professorship and the necessity of having solid research skills. Quality research is vital to publication, which is becoming increasingly necessary to obtaining a position in a competitive job market. How much time is spent in front of the classroom or in the lab will vary depending on whether the goal is primarily to be a teacher or to be a researcher.

Whatever your path, becoming a professor of psychology requires passion for learning and great dedication. The amount of formal education will be between six and ten years, depending on the level at which you would like to teach. It is therefore important to choose a program or course of study best suited to your interests and aspirations.