The Path to a Faculty Position

My guess is that most students who seek a degree in higher education or student affairs plan to make a career of serving students as practitioners. Many may ultimately hope to hold senior student affairs officer positions, which may serve as a catalyst for seeking a terminal degree.  That was certainly my plan as a master’s degree student, and I imagine it was the path many of my peers planned to take.  And some of them did.  Colleagues with whom I graduated now serve as directors, vice presidents for student affairs, and one is a president of a community college. I, however, shifted gears and now serve as a faculty member.

During the past three years, I, along with colleagues Dena Kniess and Michelle Boettcher, have been studying the transition experiences of student affairs administrators who became faculty members. Dena, Michelle, and I all took that path, and our research provided useful information for the chapter that John Wesley Lowery and I coauthored in the new book Careers in Student Affairs: A Holistic Guide to Professional Development in Higher Education. If you are at all curious about the process of transitioning to a faculty position, I encourage you to take a look at the chapter, titled “Becoming a Faculty Member.”

We interviewed more than 30 faculty members about their experiences. Some of it surprised me, and some of it I had encountered myself. Overwhelmingly, they reported enjoying their faculty work. They like teaching and doing research, and they particularly appreciate the flexibility in the role. Despite having flexibility, however, the participants commented frequently about the challenges of time, a constraint that administrators also face. In fact, most said they work more as faculty members, but the work is different. That has certainly been my experience.

While our colleagues enjoy being faculty members, they acknowledged that it is very different from being an administrator. A number noted feeling a sense of isolation as faculty members, which was a change from the constant contact with students, parents, colleagues, and faculty during their practitioner days. Others, myself included, acknowledged the pay cut that they accepted in order to make the transition. While each individual’s situation is unique, there may be a “sweet spot” in one’s career where making the transition does not negatively affect one’s salary. It’s true that none of us went into education for the money, but considering your standard of living and how that may or may not change is important to do.

As highlighted in our book chapter, there are a number of different types of faculty roles one might accept. Adjunct roles may be available at your institution, and that is one common way to gain experience and test out at least part of the faculty role. Clinical faculty positions may be a good fit, and tenure track positions typically are available each year. For those hoping to be hired on the tenure track, former administrators who are now faculty members advise that you gain teaching experience and publish to be a highly desirable candidate.

I learned a great deal from my time as a student affairs practitioner, and I’m grateful that I have some real-life experiences to share with my students when I teach about such topics as assessment, supervision, and performance appraisal. My students seem to appreciate that as well.  If you want to explore this opportunity to share your knowledge and experiences with graduate students, I encourage you to review Chapter 11: “Becoming a Faculty Member” in Careers in Student Affairs.