Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and career and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Postsecondary teachers typically do the following:
Teach courses in their subject area
Work with students who are taking classes to improve their knowledge or career skills
Develop an instructional plan (known as a course outline or syllabus) for the course(s) they teach and ensure that it meets college and department standards
Plan lessons and assignments
Work with colleagues to develop or modify the curriculum for a degree or certificate program involving a series of courses
Assess students' progress by grading assignments, papers, exams, and other work
Advise students about which classes to take and how to achieve their goals
Stay informed about changes and innovations in their field
Conduct research and experiments to advance knowledge in their field
Supervise graduate students who are working toward doctoral degrees
Publish original research and analysis in books and academic journals
Serve on academic and administrative committees that review and recommend policies, make budget decisions, or advise on hiring and promotions within their department
Postsecondary teachers, often referred to as professors or faculty, specialize in a variety of subjects and fields. Some teach academic subjects, such as English or philosophy. Others focus on career-related subjects, such as law, nursing, or culinary arts.
At colleges and universities, professors are organized into departments that specialize in a subject, such as history, science, business, or music. A professor may teach one or more courses within that department. For example, a mathematics professor may teach calculus, statistics, and a graduate seminar in a very specific area of mathematics.
Postsecondary teachers' duties vary with their positions in a university or college. In large colleges or universities, they may spend their time teaching, conducting research or experiments, applying for grants to fund their research, or supervising graduate teaching assistants who are teaching classes.
Postsecondary teachers who work in small colleges and universities or in community colleges often spend more time teaching classes and working with students. They may spend some time conducting research, but they do not have as much time to devote to it.
Full-time professors, particularly those who have tenure (a professor who cannot be fired without just cause), often are expected to spend more time on their research. They also may be expected to serve on more college and university committees.
Part-time professors, often known as adjunct professors, spend most of their time teaching students.
Professors may teach large classes of several hundred students (often with the help of graduate teaching assistants), smaller classes of about 40 to 50 students, seminars with just a few students, or laboratories where students practice the subject matter. They work with an increasingly varied student population as more part-time, older, and culturally diverse students are going to postsecondary schools.
Professors need to keep up with developments in their field by reading scholarly articles, talking with colleagues, and participating in professional conferences. A tenured professor must do original research, such as experiments, document analysis, or critical reviews, and publish their findings.
Some postsecondary teachers work for online universities or teach online classes. They use websites to present lessons and information, to assign and accept students' work, and to participate in course discussions. Online professors communicate with students by email and by phone and might never meet their students in person.