Teaching in Higher Education FAQ

by | May 6, 2009

FAQ: I want to teach at a college, but I have no teaching experience. How do I break into the field?

Many Doctoral learners at Capella are interested in pursuing a career in academia, either as full-time faculty members, or as adjunct (part-time) instructors while simultaneously working in their career fields.

You may be surprised to learn that the majority of instructors at many colleges and universities are hired as adjunct instructors, rather than as tenure-track professors. There are several reasons for this. First, adjunct instructors are less costly to hire, as they are on temporary contracts and do not usually receive employee benefits. Second, adjunct instructors have typically worked in their career fields for some time and have practical experience to bring to the classroom. If you’re interested in teaching as an adjunct instructor or as a full-time professor, you will increase your employability by gaining valuable work experience in your career field.

You will also want to “try out” teaching if you haven’t had an opportunity to teach a class and don’t have any teaching experience to note on your curriculum vitae. Here are some suggestions for gaining experience and giving teaching a try to see if you like it:

• Offer to teach a community education course,
• Seek out opportunities to teach at work (i.e. new employee training, or host a “lunch and learn”),
• Do a presentation at a professional conference,
• Volunteer to tutor students at a community college, or
• Make presentations to community or religious groups.

Professors at the postsecondary level must be subject matter experts; most colleges and universities require at least 18 graduate level semester credits (or 27 quarter credits) in a particular subject area in order to teach that subject. One way to think about this is that you are qualified to teach the same types of courses that you have taken in graduate school. For example, if you’re pursuing a PhD in Health Care Administration, then you would be eligible to teach in degree programs that are closely related to Health Care Administration. You would not, however, be eligible to teach classes in biology simply because you majored in biology at the undergraduate level. Biology professors typically have PhDs in biology. This sounds logical, but it’s a common area of confusion.

For more information about entering the field of academia, consider registering for an upcoming Teaching in Higher Education webinar, facilitated by a Capella Career Counselor:

Career Center Webinar Information and Registration

These live webinars are offered at various times throughout the week. Additional topics include:

• Job Search Strategies in a Tough Economy
• Effective Career Management in Challenging Economic Times

Aspiring instructors will also want to review the information in the Teaching in Higher Education section of the Career Center on iGuide.