Professors of genetics at colleges and universities teach, perform research, and handle administrative responsibilities. Professors may teach at the undergraduate or graduate levels, or both. Undergraduate teaching involves class lectures, small group seminars, and hands-on laboratory sessions. Professors evaluate students based on their performances on examinations, essays, and laboratory work, and may also work individually with students to advise them about their college careers or to mentor them in independent laboratory studies. Graduate teaching provides advanced instruction in the field of genetics, usually in smaller classes. Professors also act as mentors to graduate students, providing a supportive environment for conducting research.
Research is an integral component of professorship. Professors apply for grants to fund genetic experiments, perform original research, analyze the results, and submit their findings for publication. They must keep current with the published results of other scientists in the genetics field by reading journals and books, attending the conferences of professional societies, and interacting with other researchers. In addition, professors must fulfill administrative responsibilities, including participation on departmental and faculty committees that consider issues such as courses of study for students (curricula), budgets, hiring decisions, and allocating resources.
Most genetics professors at four-year universities hold a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) in a specialized area of genetics or molecular biology. Earning a Ph.D. first requires completion of an undergraduate bachelor's degree. The student must then complete graduate school, typically consisting of about three years of advanced coursework and two to three years of original, independent laboratory research. The results of this research are written up in an extensive report, called a dissertation.
The career path of a college professor can be described as a rise through four levels: instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Instructors are either completing or have already earned their Ph.D., and are beginning their teaching careers. They usually spend about nine to twelve hours a week teaching. The Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Department of Labor, lists the average instructor's salary as $33,400. After instructors have taught for several years, their teaching, research, and publications are reviewed by their academic institution. If found satisfactory, they are eligible for promotion to the position of assistant professor. Assistant professors also teach nine to twelve hours weekly, but are more likely to lecture in large undergraduate courses. They are expected to conduct research projects and publish their work. Assistant professors earn approximately $43,800.
With continuing success in research and teaching responsibilities, a professor can obtain the position of associate professor. These faculty members spend fewer hours on undergraduate teaching (about six to nine hours a week), and are likely to lead graduate classes and advise graduate students on their dissertation projects. They can expect to make about $53,200 yearly. Promotion to full professorship is based on the quality of one's research and reputation with the field. Teaching is less emphasized, usually occupying only three to six hours per week. Professors take an active role in the research projects and dissertations of doctoral candidates. Further advancement opportunities include positions in administration such as department chair, dean of students, or college president.
College professors may work at public or private institutions. They generally teach for nine months of the year, allowing them to work in other environments as well. Instructors may teach additional classes, act as consultants to private, governmental, or nonprofit organizations, or author publications in their field of expertise. The ability to make one's own schedule, conduct original research, teach and mentor students, take paid leaves of absence, and have access to campus facilities makes professorship an attractive and competitive choice for motivated individuals.
Regina M. Carney
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook: 2000-2001 Edition. Bulletin 2520. Washington, DC: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2000.
Wright, John W., and Edward J. Dwyer. The American Almanac of Jobs and Salaries. New York: Avon Books, 1990.
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