Job Description: Every college and university has an English department; therefore, there are numerous faculty members teaching English at the postsecondary level. English department faculty members are expected to teach classes and conduct scholarly research in their area of specialty as well as publish.
Training and Educational Qualifications: Four year colleges and universities usually consider PhDs for full time, tenure track positions, but they may hire master’s degree holders or doctoral candidates for part time and temporary (adjunct) jobs.
Obtaining a PhD in this field usually takes five to seven years of full time study. Graduate students choose a major field in which to earn their PhD and as a result, the jobs that they will be qualified for when they finish their PhD are limited to that specialty (for example, a PhD might be in American literature, comparative literature, postcolonial literature, etc. It is not uncommon to see an English professor job advertised as “assistant professor of Victorian Literature,” meaning someone who has a PhD in English literature and specialized in the nineteenth century). Besides positions in literature, those who earn PhD degrees in rhetoric and composition prepare to teach writing rather than literature.
In 2-year colleges, master’s degree holders fill most full-time positions. However, in certain fields where there may be more applicants than available jobs, master’s degree holders may be passed over in favor of candidates holding PhDs.
Job Outlook: Overall, employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2016. A significant proportion of these new jobs will be part-time positions. Job opportunities are generally expected to be very good although they will vary from field to field as numerous openings for all types of teachers will result from retiremerits of current postsecondary teachers and continued increases in student enrollments.
Salary: Earnings for college faculty vary according to rank and type of institution, geographic area, and field. According to a 2006-07 survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full time faculty averaged $73,207. By rank, the average was $98,974 for professors, $69,911 for associate professors, $58,662 for assistant professors, $42,609 for instructors and $48,289 for lecturers.
• Opportunities for postsecondary teaching jobs are expected to be good, but many new openings will be for part-time or nontenure track positions.
• A PhD is required for tenure-track jobs at colleges and universities; a master’s degree is the minimal requirement for tenure-track jobs at community colleges but many community college professors in English departments also have PhDs.
• There are numerous openings for adjunct faculty in English, especially in teaching composition; but these jobs are often contracted by the semester, do not usually come with benefits, and are only renewable semester to semester.
Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?
I was a teaching assistant two different semesters at my graduate institution.
Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?
To get established as a professor, you really have to be prepared to move anywhere. That said, certainly the Boston area, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Baltimore-Washington areas are among the best, and I’ve been lucky to have been connected with all three at different points in my life. I’ve also heard that college towns like Madison, WI; Ann Arbor, MI; Austin, TX or Chapel Hill, NC can work out very well.
What is your typical day like?
I get up around 9:00 a.m. after a night class the evening before, get to school around 10:30 a.m. and work through my email. I may contact a student about a make-up exam and design the exam, send messages to a couple of colleagues at other institutions about a prize competition for graduate students that we are judging or consult with the department chair about upcoming tenure cases. I usually read for an hour or so in preparation for a 4:30 p.m. class (most of the reading was done earlier in the week), eat lunch at my desk and both review and update my teaching notes for the class (on the computer). I also might draw up a reading list and course schedule for a class to be taught next semester, locate and download a couple of pictures from the Internet as enrichment for my class, write a letter of recommendation for a student going to law school and talk to two students during office hours, giving one advice on her course paper and explaining to the other what courses will fulfill his self designed major. I could also talk to a colleague about a new publishing program that I need to learn to use. Then I go to my class and teach it from 4:30 to 7:10 p.m. My teaching style includes lecturing, but I spend much of the time asking questions and getting the students to think more deeply and imaginatively about the reading. After class, I’ll grab dinner at the campus cafeteria before it closes at 7:30 p.m. and then meet a thesis writing student at 7:45 p.m. and comment on the most recent chapter of her project. I could drop in at the library at 8:30 p.m. and spend an hour researching various items before heading home.
I should add that this is a typical busy day on campus; there are also days when I can actually concentrate on a good book, or spend most of the time between 9:00 and 5:00 writing an article or listening to papers at a conference and discussing them with colleagues.
What are your job responsibilities?
My responsibilities are varied and include the following: research as measured by publication of books and articles; curriculum development, as shown by new and substantially redesigned courses and verified by the syllabi for the courses; teaching three classes per semester (general education, undergrad major, grad students); evaluation of student performance; department administration (hiring new faculty, evaluating junior faculty for tenure, advising students, etc.).
What is your favorite part of your job?
I have several favorites: a class with lively, interested students; the satisfaction of getting good work published; friendly relations with bright, stimulating colleagues; reading good books and being inspired by them.
What do you dislike about your job?
Too much grading, heavy crush of work just before the Christmas holidays, and conducting class with tired, uninterested students.
Have you had any turning point or “light bulb” moments in your career that have helped you get to where you are today?
Publishing my first book; publishing my second book; living abroad for a full year each in Germany, Italy, and France; moving from an elite school for 18 to 21 year olds with most students housed on campus to an ethnically very diverse, commuting school with students of all ages.
How did you know you wanted to pursue this career?
I was fascinated by the particular field comparative literature within the broader domain of literary studies. I took several courses as an undergraduate, planned a program of study that met the requirements for graduate school and was lucky to be admitted to good programs. Had I not been accepted into one of the very limited programs, I probably would not have gone into university teaching at all. It was the intellectual challenge of the particular field that really got my attention. I’ve discovered in my subsequent career that I enjoy teaching and that I can be very good at it; but back then, I didn’t know that side of the field at all.
How did you get into this field?
I was lucky to interview well after getting my degree and was hired right away in 1971, university hiring was still relatively easy. The transition to tenure in the early 1980s was more difficult since there was something close to a freeze on hiring at that time. I just kept at it I wrote hundreds of letters that eventually paid off with several good job offers.
What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?
The books I’ve written, the scholarly journal that I edited in one capacity or another for 13 years, the really successful classes that I’ve had from time to time, the new courses that I’ve launched and enjoyed the challenge of developing and making into a success. Also, some of the team efforts, such as organizing a large, international conference, managing the affairs of a scholarly organization in my field, winning a group research and teaching grant, and then going through with the project with four colleagues.
If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?
I had wanted to go into publishing, but it wasn’t an option when I graduated from college. I might also have liked some line of work that would have taken me abroad more often the foreign service, for example, or some kind of international business career.
To what professional associations do you belong and what do you read?
I must belong to close to ten scholarly organizations, all connected with literary study in some way. I read widely, without sticking to any small group of sources, especially now, when I’m working on a world literature curriculum.
What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?
Be sure you want to do this. You don’t make “big bucks,” but there can be a tremendous amount of “psychic income.” Also, there really is a “publish or perish” criterion; you have to enjoy research and writing, and the amount of solitary effort that comes with that, as well as the “self-starter” mentality that is required.