Perhaps no career seems quite as scholarly as teaching in a college or university. These scholars teach and advise more than sixteen million full-time and part-time college students and perform a significant part of the nation’s research. They also study and meet with colleagues to keep up with developments in their fields and consult with government, business, nonprofit, and community organizations.
Faculty members generally are organized into departments or divisions, based on their subject or field. They usually teach several different courses within their departments. For example, a professor in the political science department might teach classes in American politics, political theory, and political economics. Professors may instruct undergraduate or graduate students, or both.
College and university faculty may teach classes of twenty or so students, give lectures to several hundred students in large halls, lead small seminars, and supervise students in laboratories. They also prepare lectures, exercises, and laboratory experiments; grade exams and papers; and work with students individually. Many teach and supervise graduate student research.
These scholars keep abreast of developments in their fields by reading current literature, meeting with colleagues, and participating in professional conferences. Many conduct their own research, which may include running experiments, collecting and analyzing data, or examining original documents, literature, and other source material. Based on their results, they develop hypotheses, arrive at conclusions, and write about their findings in scholarly journals and books.
Most faculty members serve on academic or administrative committees that deal with the policies of their institutions, departmental matters, academic issues, curricula, budgets, equipment purchases, and hiring. Some work with student organizations. The greatest administrative responsibilities generally fall to department heads.
Individual circumstances and the type of institution determine the amount of time faculty members spend on each of these activities. For example, those working at universities generally spend a significant part of their time doing research; those in four-year colleges, somewhat less; and those in two-year colleges, relatively little because the teaching load usually is heavier.
Most college faculty members have flexible schedules. They usually teach for twelve to sixteen hours a week, attend faculty and committee meetings, and establish regular office hours for student consultations, usually three to six hours per week. Otherwise, they are relatively free to decide when and where they work and how much time to devote to course preparation, grading papers and exams, study, research, and other activities. They may work staggered hours and teach classes at night and on weekends, particularly if they teach older students who may have full-time jobs or
family responsibilities on weekdays. They have even greater flexibility during the summer and school holidays, when they may teach, do research, travel, or pursue nonacademic interests. Parttime faculty generally spend little time on campus, since most don’t have an office, and some teach at more than one college.
Most colleges and universities have funds to support faculty research or other professional development needs, including travel to conferences and research sites.
Some faculty members experience a conflict between their responsibilities to teach students and the pressure to do research. This may be a particular problem for young faculty seeking advancement, who need to publish their work in order to advance their reputations. However, some of this pressure is alleviated by an increasing emphasis on undergraduate teaching performance, particularly at small liberal arts colleges.