Skip to content Skip to navigation

Front Matter

Tomorrow's Professor: Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering




  1. Part I. Setting the Stage


  2. The Academic Enterprise 
    1.1 Unlike Any Other Institution 
    1.2 Key Characteristics 
    1.3 Governance And Decision Making 
    1.4 Institutional Issues 
    1.5 A New Look At Scholarship 
    1.6 Seven Sample Schools 
    1.7 Vignette #1: A Place For Scholarship in Undergraduate Education 
    1.8 Summary 
    1.9 References 


  3. Science And Engineering In Higher Education 2.1 Comparisons Across The Institution 
    2.2 Departments Of Science 
    2.3 Departments Of Engineering 
    2.4 Interdisciplinary Collaboration 
    2.5 Scholarship Across the Disciplines 
    2.6 Vignette #2: Science At A Metropolitan University 
    2.7 Summary 
    2.8 References


  4. New Challenges For The Professorate 
    3.1 Forces For Change In Teaching And Research 
    3.2 Implications For Faculty Scholarship 
    3.3 Vignette #3: Laboratories Without Walls 
    3.4 Summary 
    3.5 References 

    Part II. Preparing For An Academic Career

  5. Your Professional Preparation Strategy 
    4.1 The Decision to Pursue An Academic Career 
    4.2 Supply And Demand - What's Going On Here? 
    4.3 The Three-Pronged Preparation Strategy 
    4.4 Vignette #4: A Ph.D. Career In Industry 
    4.5 Summary 
    4.6 References 


  6. Research as a Graduate Student and Postdoc 
    5.1 Choosing A Graduate School Or Postdoc Institution 
    5.2 Choosing A Research Topic 
    5.3 Choosing A Dissertation Advisor/Postdoc Supervisor 
    5.4 Writing Your Own Research Proposals 
    5.5 Carrying Out Your Research - An Example 
    5.6 Publishing 
    5.7 Attending Conferences and Other Professional Meetings 
    5.8 Presentations 
    5.9 Supervising Other Researchers 
    5.10 Managing Research Projects And Programs 
    5.11 Networking 
    5.12 Vignette #5: The Research Continuum 
    5.13 Summary 
    5.14 References 


  7. Teaching Experiences Prior To Becoming A Professor 
    6.1 Why Teach As A Graduate Student Or Postdoc? 
    6.2 Types Of Teaching Experiences 
    6.3 How to Find The Right Teaching Opportunities 
    6.4 Preparing For A Successful Experience 
    6.5 Your Teaching Portfolio 
    6.6 Vignette #6: Teaching as a Postdoc 
    6.7 Summary 
    6.8 References 

    Part III. Finding And Getting The Best Possible Academic Position

  8. Identifying the Possibilities 
    7.1 Explore Now, Search Later 
    7.2 Deciding What You Want 
    7.3 Researching What's Out There 
    7.4 Preparing For The Search 
    7.5 Vignette #7: From Industry To Academia 
    7.6 Summary 
    7.7 References 


  9. Applying For Positions 
    8.1 Setting The Stage 
    8.2 Preparing Your Application Materials 
    8.3 The Application Process 
    8.4 Positions Outside Academia 
    8.5 Vignette #8: Diversity Issues In The Hiring of Science and Engineering Faculty - An Illustration From Astronomy 
    8.6 Summary 
    8.7 References 


  10. Getting The Results You Want 
    9.1 Your Negotiating Approach 
    9.2 General Principles For Responding to Academic Job Offers 
    9.3 Dual Career Couples 
    9.4 What To Do If You Don't Get the Offer You Want 
    9.5 Vignette #9: The Dual Career Job Search 
    9.6 Summary 
    9.7 References 

    Part IV. Looking Ahead To Your First Years On The Job - Advice From The Field


  11. Insights On Time Management 
    10.1 Setting the Stage 
    10.2 Vignette #10: Establish Your Absence 
    10.3 Vignette #11: Set Long-Term Goals 
    10.4 Vignette #12: Keep Something On The Burner 
    10.5 Vignette #13: How To Help New Faculty Find The Time - 
    One Department Chairs Approach 
    10.6 In Addition: Sources of Faculty Stress, Faculty 
    Efficiency, The Urgency Addiction, and Achieving Balance in Our Lives
    10.7 Conclusions 
    10.8 References 


  12. Insights on Teaching and Learning 
    11.1 Setting the Stage 
    11.2 Vignette #14: Five Elements of Effective Teaching 
    11.3 Vignette #15: Developing Engaged and Responsive Learners 
    11.4 Vignette #16: Team Teaching In An Interdisciplinary Program 
    11.5 Vignette #17: The Upside-Down Curriculum 
    11.6 In Addition: Characteristics of Successful Teachers, Course Planning, Teaching and Learning with Technology, and Developing A Teaching Portfolio 
    11.7 Conclusions 
    11.8 References 


  13. Insights On Research 
    12.1 Setting the Stage 
    12.2 Vignette #18: Keeping Your Research Alive 
    12.3 Vignette #19: A High Leverage Approach to Industry-University Collaboration 
    12.4 Vignette #20: Multidisciplinary Research and the Untenured Professor 
    12.5 Vignette #21: Cross-University Collaborations 
    12.6 In Addition: Writing Research Papers 
    12.7 Conclusions 
    12.8 References 


  14. Insights On Professional Responsibility 
    13.1 Setting the Stage 
    13.2 Vignette #22: Service To Your Department And Your Profession 
    13.3 Vignette #23: Consulting And Other Industry Relationships 
    13.4 Vignette #24: Teaching and Learning Standards 
    13.5 Vignette #25: Professional Responsibility And Academic Duty 
    13.6 In Addition: Appropriating the Ideas of Others, Conflict of Interest, and Freedom of Information? 
    13.7 Conclusions 
    13.8 References 


  15. Insights On Tenure 
    14.1 Setting the Stage 
    14.2 Vignette #26: Leveraging Wherever Possible 
    14.3 Vignette #27: Understanding The Priorities 
    14.4 Vignette #28: A Second Chance at Tenure 
    14.5 Vignette #29: Taking Another Direction 
    14.6 Vignette #30: Lessons Learned 
    14.7 In Addition: The Ten Commandments of Tenure Success, Tenure As a Political Process, and Getting Help Along the Way 
    14.8 Conclusions 
    14.9 References 


  16. Insights on Academia: Needed Changes 
    15.1 Helping Graduate Students and Postdocs Prepare for Academic Careers 
    15.2 Helping Graduate Students and Postdocs Find Academic Positions 
    15.3 Helping Beginning Faculty Succeed 
    15.4 Conclusions 
    15.5 References 


    A. Possible Items For Inclusion In A Teaching Portfolio

    B. Statement of Personal Philosophy Regarding Teaching and Learning

    C. Professional Associations For Academic Job Seekers In Science And Engineering

    D. Questions To Ask Before Accepting A Faculty Position

    E. Sample Offer Letters

    F. Elements of Most Successful Proposals

    G. Common Shortcomings of Grant Proposals



This book is intended primarily for graduate students and postdocs interested in academic careers in science and engineering. It should also be of interest to college juniors or seniors considering graduate school in one of these fields. In addition, I hope professional scientists and engineers in government and industry who are contemplating a return to academia as professors will profit from the material. The book should also be of benefit to beginning faculty, and to all faculty and administrators i n a position to encourage and support those interested in becoming professors.

Schools of science and engineering produce a number of "products" of value to society. The first is graduates at the bachelors, masters, and, in certain cases, doctorate level. The second is courses that can be taken in one form or another by industry e mployees. The third is all forms of scholarship including basic research, the integration and application of knowledge, and the development of new courses and methods of instruction. The key to all three of these products is a fourth product, professors, whom we want to be well prepared, highly motivated and strongly supported.

There are approximately 1,500 four-year institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada. Virtually all new faculty hires at these institutions, particularly at the assistant professorship level, have doctorate degrees. Of these 1,500 in stitutions, approximately 250, or 17%, offer doctorates in one or more fields of science or engineering. These schools also employ approximately 55% of the total number of professors at four-year institutions. Thus, while the "producers" of Ph.D.'s are also the "buyers" of Ph.D.'s, the remaining 1,250 schools also hire a significant number of Ph.D.'s as professors. Of these schools, approximately 700 grant both bachelors and masters degrees, while approximately 550 are liberal arts schools primarily of fering four-year degrees.

This book represents a new way to help individuals prepare for, find, and succeed at careers as science or engineering professors. It derives from a course I teach at Stanford University. It also builds on my background as an engineer in industry and as a director of a non-profit scientific and educational society. It further profits from my experiences as a college professor, career counselor, associate dean, and executive director of two Stanford University research centers with extensive relationshi ps among graduate students, faculty, government and industry.

I have taught at a variety of schools in the U.S. and Canada, including community colleges, institutions offering bachelor's and master's degrees, and those schools with a strong emphasis on research and the granting of doctorate degrees. Yet, as I began writing this book it became obvious to me that I needed further information about both the schools students attended for their doctorates, as well as the other non-doctorate granting institutions where many wished to go to pursue an academic career.

As a consequence, I identified as sources of more in-depth information, seven sample schools in the U.S. and Canada covering the spectrum of institutions of interest to most future science and engineering professors. These schools are representative of t he four major categories of four-year institutions defined by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The schools and their classifications are: Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, (Private Baccalaureate), Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, Newfoundland,(Public Doctorate), The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, (Public Research), the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, (Private Masters), San Jose State University in San Jose, California, (Public Masters), Stanford University in Stanford , California, (Private Research), and The University of New Orleans in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Public Doctorate).

During a three year period I also talked at length with over 70 faculty, graduate students and postdocs at some 20 additional institutions in all fields of science and engineering. Their comments and insights have proved invaluable. Indeed, quotes from most of these individuals appear in the pages that follow. Thirty of them are also the subjects of the vignettes appearing throughout the book.

Finally, let me point out that I see this book is the beginning of a process, not an end. While much of the material is time-independent, I expect that periodic updates of certain statistics and trends will be desirable. Also, material which could not b e included in the book because of space limitations, such as additional vignettes, or an elaboration of a process or procedure, should also be of interest to some readers. Furthermore, it is likely we could all profit from sharing information, opinions, ideas, and stories. To promote the above I have created a World Wide Web Home Page:

(, and an electronic mail address ( Through the Home Page you can access updated information and comments from readers, while the e-mail address can be used for correspondence. I very much look forward to our exchanges.


Richard M. Reis



We begin by setting the stage in Part I for the more specific work to follow. Chapter 1, The Academic Enterprise, is a look at the unique characteristics of higher education. Graduate students and postdocs of course have been part of such enterprises fo r some time. Yet, most lack an accurate understanding of how colleges or universities function, and the important ways in which they differ from other organizations in society.

The place of science and engineering in academia is examined in Chapter 2. Here we look at the similarities, and more importantly, the differences among various science and engineering departments and disciplines. We also discuss the prospects for cross - disciplinary collaboration among these various fields.

Part I concludes with Chapter 3, New Challenges For The Professorate. It begins by examining the significant forces currently impacting higher education. These include the prospects of decreasing government funding, the changing relationship between ind ustry and academia, the increasing use of communication and computational tools, the rising costs of doing research, and the greater focus on interdisciplinary programs. We then discuss the implications the above factors have for faculty scholarship and the preparation of tomorrow's professors of science and engineering professors.

Part II, Preparing for an Academic Career, begins with Chapter 4, Your Professional Preparation Strategy. Here we explore the decision to pursue an academic career particularly in light of the current situation with respect to supply and demand. We then outline a three-pronged preparation strategy to prepare you for an academic career while maintaining your options for careers in government and industry.

Chapter 5, Research as a Graduate Student and Postdoc, looks at how to apply the above strategy to the many research activities that you need to complete prior to becoming a professor. Some activities, such as choosing a research topic and identifying an advisor, are required of all Ph.D. students and postdocs, while others, such as writing proposals, and supervising other researchers, although not specifically required, will nevertheless put you ahead of most of your competition in looking for academic, government and industry positions.

Part II concludes with Chapter 6, Teaching Experiences Prior to Becoming a Professor. The chapter begins with a discussion of the benefits of acquiring such experiences, followed by a look at some innovative ways to go beyond teaching assistantships to d eveloping and presenting lectures, conducting laboratory sessions, and even teaching full courses at your own, or another institution. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the teaching portfolio and how it can be used to capture the successes of yo ur teaching experiences for presentation to potential employers.

How to find, and then get, the best possible academic position is the subject of Part III. As the supply and demand for new assistant professorships in science and engineering shifts, anxiety among graduate students and postdocs about obtaining an academ ic appointment increases. However, as will be seen in Chapter 4, the situation is more complex, and in many instances more positive, than recent headlines would suggest. At the very least, if you follow the strategy discussed in chapters 4, 5 and 6, you are apt to be in a much more competitive position than many of your colleagues who have not done so.

It is important to keep in mind that finding "a" job is not the issue, finding the "best" possible academic position, the right one for you and for the hiring department and school, is the real goal. Detailed suggestions on how to do all of the above are the subjects of Chapter 7, 8 and 9.

Chapter 7, Identifying the Possibilities, explains that in seeking an academic position, it is essential for you explore before you search. You need to compare what's available (types of institutions, positions, and locations) with what you need and want (capabilities, interests, and values). Only then will you be in a position to search - apply for specific jobs.

Chapter 8, Applying for Positions, is a detailed discussion of the job search process. Here we examine how new faculty positions are established, what departments look for in new faculty, how to find out what's available and the time-frame for academic o penings in your field. We then discuss the preparation of your application materials including cover letters, curriculum vitae, and letters of recommendation. Conferences, campus visits, and the all important academic job talk are looked at next. The c hapter concludes with an examination of jobs outside academia and how you can accept one of them while keeping your options open for a future academic position.

Chapter 9, Getting the Results You Want, begins with a look at the negotiation process by examining in some detail the principles you need to use in responding to academic job offers. We then explore some of the special problems faced by dual career coup les, in particular those in which both members are seeking faculty positions. The chapter concludes by discussing what to do if you did not receive an academic job offer, or received one that is unacceptable to you.

Your shift from a graduate student or postdoc to beginning professor is going to be exciting and dramatic. At such a time the most valuable thing you could probably do would be to ask a half dozen professors at the institution to which you are going what they feel it takes to succeed as a beginning professor. If you pick the right assistant, associate and full professors, the advice you receive could be invaluable. In Part IV, Looking Ahead to Your First Years on the Job - Advice From the Field, we do the next best thing by capturing insights for success in five key areas from science and engineering professors across North America. The five areas are; time management (Chapter 10), teaching and learning (Chapter 11), research (Chapter 12), professiona l responsibility (Chapter 13), and tenure (Chapter 14).

Each chapter begins with an introduction, followed by four or five vignettes on faculty who provide insights on the theme under discussion. These vignettes are followed by a detailed, In Addition, section describing other sources you can turn to for furt her information and understanding. The chapters conclude with a section summarizing the main ideas from both the vignettes and the readings.

While you can earnestly follow the suggestions described in Chapters 1-14, unless academia does its share to support you, your success could be limited. Changes are required to help graduate students and postdocs obtain meaningful teaching experience, pa rticipate directly in the research development process, obtain the best possible academic position, and then succeed in their chosen careers as faculty. The book concludes with Chapter 15, Insights on Academia: Needed Changes. It suggests ways by which administrators and senior faculty can and provide an environment that will enable tomorrow's professors prepare for, find, and succeed at academic careers in science and engineering.

Preparing for Academic Careers in Science and Engineering 
by Richard M. Reis, Stanford University 

IEEE Order No. PP5602-QCL

To order from IEEE:
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. 
445 Hoes Lane * PO Box 1331 * Picataway, NJ 08855-1331 USA