Tenure-Track & Tenured Faculty

Recommended if… you enjoy intensive and engaging intellectual work, teaching diverse student bodies, research and writing, and great independence and self-direction in your work and study.

Requirements… Persistent academic and career development that furthers your teaching and research skills, an exemplary academic track record, the necessary foreign languages, peer-reviewed publications, activities in the profession such as conference presentations and participation in historical organizations, and a PhD.

Typical Faculty Responsibilities

Being a faculty member in a history department is markedly different from most careers. Work can be very different at large research universities as compared to smaller teaching colleagues, but at any given time, a full-time faculty member may be doing the following:

  • Teaching, which includes:
  • devising and refining syllabi for courses and seminars,
  • lecturing to a class or mediating seminar discussions,
  • maintaining enthusiasm and energy in order to keep students engaged,
  • effectively answering student questions, complaints, and commendations,
  • writing and arranging examinations,
  • marking papers and examinations, sometimes without teaching assistants, and
  • managing teaching assistants.
  • Your own research, which may include:
  • planning a historical project,
  • applying for internal and external funding and fellowships that provide the money and time needed to conduct research and write,
  • archival and other research work,
  • writing many drafts of your work,
  • submitting drafts to peers and reviewing their critiques to refine your work,
  • disseminating your research in conferences and publications,
  • publishing a major research project in monograph form (an expectation to gain tenure),
  • being involved in public history and community based research and work,
  • managing panels, academic seminars, or entire conferences for other organizations, and
  • serving on boards of organizations pertaining to your historical research.
  • Administrative and leadership responsibilities, which include:
  • guiding graduate students as advisors and committee members,
  • peer-reviewing colleagues’ work (that generally relates to your areas of expertise),
  • attending regular departmental meetings,
  • contributing to departmental activities and projects including, for example, curriculum renewal, graduate and undergraduate committees, running colloquium series, serving on hiring committees, and
  • leadership responsibilities and opportunities pertaining to the larger university infrastructure including, for example, equity and diversity, distance education, and curriculum.

The Place of Research

Research and writing are some of the most rewarding parts of the academic life. The importance of research to the profession is recognized through the tradition of sabbaticals. Every five to seven years, tenured or tenure-track faculty are awarded a term or a year to take a sabbatical leave of absence to dedicate to bringing their research project(s) to fruition. This can depend on the institution’s capability to fund research. Many institutions (colleges, for example, that have in the past decade or more been accredited as universities) have a much stronger focus on teaching than on research, and funds for research are minimal. Applying for competitive external funding and fellowships is required of faculty at all colleges and universities in order to fund time and resources, including the hiring of graduate student research assistants.


In academia, there are long-established procedures for progression and promotion from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. These are usually governed by detailed procedures established by individual universities and often embedded in collective agreements. Different institutions have different expectations and requirements, and it is important to understand both the spoken and unspoken expectations at a particular institution. Each step results in a higher pay bracket and greater recognition within the scholarly community. There are also opportunities to take on additional administrative tasks, including the roles of undergraduate and graduate advisors, for example, and the position of department head in which you oversee the functions of the entire department. In the early years of their careers, professors sometimes move from one institution (or one kind of institution) to another seeking to advance their vocational goals.

The Challenges Are The Rewards

Dr. Diane Newell of the University of British Columbia’s Department of History summed up how these challenges are also the rewards of being a university professor:

You get to set your own research agenda and pretty much manage your own time… you get sabbatical leaves, research funding to teach or do research at other institutions around the world. And you are always around young people and smart individuals, and you travel, so that it is easier to keep sharp and abreast of things, to keep optimistic.

These are all aspects that cannot be found in every career; many of the experiences of being a university professor are unique in terms of the intellectual opportunities, as well as the possibilities to work with young people on the cusp of great personal change and possibility.

It is an incredible career, but not an easy one. Before dedicating yourself to this, you might consider the following questions.

Four Important Questions

(1) Are you willing to move to the other side of the country or even to another country in order to gain a tenure-track position at a university? If you look at the list of faculty on any larger history department website, you are going to find that professors obtained their graduate degrees from universities other than where they are teaching. It is not uncommon for Canadian scholars to find jobs in the United States, or abroad, and vice versa. What does this mean for your present lifestyle – which may include a partner, children, a desire to be close to family and friends, and/or attachment to a particular place or landscape? Are you willing to move to somewhere new?

(2) Are you willing to teach at a small university with fewer resources? While many dream of teaching at a university with a significant library collection, with funding for research and travel, and with a workload balanced between teaching, research, and administrative duties, many academics start (and stay) at smaller institutions. These institutions are sometimes located outside of metropolises, in smaller cities or towns and were created to serve students who grew up in the region. There can be great rewards to positions such as these, especially for those committed to teaching; classes can be smaller and the opportunities for faculty-student interaction more plentiful. The opportunities for research, however, can be limited by teaching commitments and by funding arrangements. Competition is especially high for positions offered by the larger institutions.

(3) Are you willing to adjust your intellectual interests to suit a changing job market? The job market for each individual field of study varies over time and in unpredictable ways. What is considered “traditional” and what is considered “cutting edge” can change. Are you willing to adjust your doctoral plans to address the job market?

(4) Is this really the perfect job for you? Drawing from the advice of the website Beyond Academe, consider these reasons for a career outside of the academy:

  • You want to live in the city or location of your choice.
  • Academics generally speak to other academics. Other careers may enable you to have a wider reach and impact, working with a broader spectrum of the public. The skills gained from a history degree give you an edge in many different careers outside of academia.
  • You may have more freedom to pursue varied interests in history outside of the academy rather than sticking to one specialty. Faculty are generally expected to fulfill specific areas of expertise, whereas other careers may enable you to pursue many different things – topics that you hadn’t even considered before.

As Beyond Academe suggests, getting a PhD invites you, but does not require you, to become a part of the academy.

Some starting points

Remember to have a look at the starting points suggested for all academic historians in the introduction to this section on academia. This covers links on developing your tenure-track career, issues in higher education, and the job search.

One of the best things you can do if you are interested in becoming a professor is to speak to several professors who have been through the process. They will all have their own experiences to convey. By speaking with professors at different stages of the process, you will gain an impression of both long-standing procedures (among senior faculty) as well as new trends in the job market (from newer professors).

There are a variety of articles that can be found online by entering search terms such as “challenges tenure history professors” that will inform you about the issues impacting the profession at the moment.

If you are not yet in a history program, this is not really something to worry about at this point. Once you have completed three or four years of an undergraduate program, you will get a better sense of whether teaching history is what you would like to do as a career. At that point, you can speak with a variety of history professors, the chair of your program, and the undergraduate and/or graduate secretaries to gain further insights.


Do you have further insights on careers as university or college faculty, or additional information that we can add here? If so, please contact us so we can refine this resource.