What do Professors do Outside of the Classroom?

In my Language and Community class, Courtney Werner, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition, assigned a semester-long project to complete an internship of 15 hours. The internship should be a career we would be interested in pursuing after college. Since I am interested in becoming a college professor, this was the perfect opportunity to explore that option.

I did my internship with Stanley Blair, Ph.D., Associate Professor for the Department of English, who I shadowed for two days, seeing what it was like to be a college professor before, during, and after classes. Believe it or not, it takes a lot of work outside of the classroom to run a semester full of classes.

Dr. Blair shared his day-to-day routine: most days he arrives on campus at 7:45 a.m., gets a hot cup of coffee at Parson’s Café at 8, and walks up thousands of steps to his office in the Great Hall. While sipping on his coffee, he preps for his classes, goes to meetings, and works on projects until his first class starts. After teaching all of his classes for the day, he then works some more on after-class activities (attendance, grading, meetings, etc.) and then goes home for dinner and walks his dog.

According to Dr. Blair, an important tip in being a professor is organization. Teaching multiple classes can get complicated, especially having to grade papers and exams from various classes.

Dr. Blair showed me his organization system of folders for each class. On the first day of the internship, he asked me to guess which classes belonged with each color folder. Although I failed his pop-quiz, I learned a really smart organizational tip. He organizes his folders by the order of his classes; he has three classes on Monday and Thursday and one class on Wednesday and Friday. Red, yellow, and green folders are for Monday and Thursday’s classes. Using the color system of a traffic light, he uses the green folder for his last class of the day, letting him know it’s time to go home. Wednesday and Friday’s class has a blue folder to separate it from the traffic light colors of the other classes.

Another part of being a professor is to check emails and stay on top of getting back to people in a timely manner. During my time shadowing Dr. Blair, his emails constantly went off as this is the main form of communication between his peers and students.

Since Dr. Blair is also an advisor, he also gets emails from his advisees regarding scheduling. He shared that it’s crucial to stay on top of emails and be able to juggle all the different questions and concerns. He tries his best to reply within 24 hours to all of his emails.

Aside from communicating with peers and students, professors must prepare for their classes. Prepping could be making sure links work, re-reading materials for class, finding videos to show, etc. Since Dr. Blair has been a professor for some time and taught his courses multiple times, it’s easier for him to prep.
Dr. Blair stressed not to over-prepare for classes and to not micromanage. Each class is different than the last.

Unpredictable things can happen during classes and its best to “expect the unexpected” and take that into account when planning out the day. Per Dr. Blair, “If I am not able to cover a certain topic during class, it’s okay–there is always the next class. What matters is making sure the students are learning and engaging with the material.”

I was sad when my internship ended; I enjoyed seeing what it was like being a professor. Having this internship helped me realize how much I want to become a professor and helped validate my choice of career path.

If you are thinking about becoming a professor, or any kind of teacher, I definitely recommend talking to one to see if you could shadow them or someone they know. Shadowing is a great way to learn the ins-and-outs of the job and determine if the position is right for you.