- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

As a seasoned business executive, have you ever thought about taking your corporate chips and cashing them in to become a college professor? Certainly, an academic career switch is something that many may think of when squeezed into the middle seat on a red-eye flight or coming out of an unsuccessful client meeting. You might want to recommend this career for your kids since reports show college professors have the lowest likelihood of needing to sponge off their parents financially. Last week, I sat down for a conversation with Professor David C. Wyld of Southeastern Louisiana University for a realistic look at what one might expect if choosing the academic road. If you have any additional questions, please email him at dwyld@selu.edu.

What are the best parts of being a professor?

First, my classroom. I get a charge out of seeing my students do an excellent presentation on a group project and from hearing from an ex-student who is accomplishing his potential. Second, my work. I’ve had dozens of articles and a couple of books published and the readership response is truly rewarding.

Can professors get fired or do they have a job for life?

I’m one of the lucky ones, being “grandfathered” with tenure (at age 40) but this is a fast-eroding concept. More and more, colleges and universities are swapping the ultimate lure of tenure for longer-term, renewable contracts, generally between 3-5 years because offering a “job for life” just isn’t realistic anymore especially when reviews are required for cause or poor job performance over time.

What will most surprise a corporate executive about the academic world?

While students savor the “real world” war stories that you can tell from your days as an entrepreneur or corporate executive, they would be surprised as to how little weight that experience will have in the process of getting your doctorate and being placed in an academic job. In higher education, publications - not real world experience - are the currency that makes you marketable.

What level of education is required for a teaching career?

If you have a Master’s degree, community colleges, technical schools, and online universities will hire you on as an adjunct instructor. This is particularly true in technical fields and across business disciplines. You won’t get rich teaching as a part-timer, but you will get an invaluable preview that will help you decide whether you want to give-up your day-job and pursue a full-time academic career which would eventually require a Ph.D.

What’s the biggest misconception about college teaching?

More and more, we are being looked upon as being facilitators of learning, not the answer. There’s no room for “my way or the highway” professors where colleges and universities see students as customers. Universities are increasingly being evaluated on graduation rates and recognizing students as a revenue stream, both in their time on campus and as alumni of the university.

How can our readers decide if an academic career is right for them?

First, talk with professors themselves in the field that you are considering. Next, look into the part-time teaching opportunities that might be available. In researching and academic career, I’d also contact a university where I would like to teach and see what types of schools they are hiring from. There is a caste system in academics, and if you want to ultimately end-up at a certain tier or type of school, you really need to do your homework and go to the right doctoral program. You can follow trends in academic world through reading The Chronicle of Higher Education, and their job listings are widely regarded as the job market for higher education.

What surprises await executives who switch to academia?

Both the day to day and the salary schedules are much different. If you have to satisfy your need to achieve on the job through tangible gains, this could be a problem for your psyche. Also, if you measure success in terms of pay for performance, this can be a frustrating profession in some ways. Often, you have to be ready to accept this fact, and as a colleague told me when I was entering the professoriate, in this game, you gotta be willing to move to get a significant raise and earn what you’re really worth.

Do you recommend this career for corporate or government retirees?

Absolutely! This is a profession where you can work well into your eighties and your life experiences will be a treasure of knowledge and wealth to the students thirsting for more than just what the textbooks have to offer.

Jay Whitehead is America’s most-read, most-watched and most-listened-to expert on workstyles. Email your questions to jayworkstyles@aol.com.

Listen to Jay Whitehead on web-radio every Tuesday 5pm to 6pm EST when he hosts Won on Won with Whitehead on www.businessamericaradio.com . This week, Join Jay when he interviews Neil Lebovits, President & COO of Ajilon Professional Staffing which specializes in placement of finance, office and legal executives. Email questions in advance to Jay and his guests at jayradioshow@aol.com.

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