Peter Beck has recently been appointed an Adjunct Professor in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Auckland. As you know, Peter Beck is the founder of Rocket Lab, which has put payloads into space, but Peter Beck also never attended college and even dropped out of high school.

How many Adjunct Professors are there in technical fields like Aerospace Engineering without any college degrees? How many high school dropout professors without degrees?

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    Why "as you know"? I've never heard of him.
    – user112604
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 13:54
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    In at least some places, you cannot be given a title of Professor without a PhD, by institutional policy and/or union agreement. You can still be an instructor at those places with a lower or no degree (no degree being an exceptionally unusual situation to the point that I have never heard of it) - which is to say you can teach a class on a topic you have experience in, or that is a fun community-interest sort of class, etc. So the number at those institutions is easy to count as 0. But in general, you can assume that holding any such position without degree is very "special" and rare.
    – BrianH
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


I don't have numbers, of course, nor even proportions, but I suspect that the number is small.

But more important is the question of how such a person would be hired and what sort of position they could hold. The problem is that a school or university wanting to employ such a person needs some assurance that the person is competent for the position. Not holding any degrees makes that more difficult in general.

But some people have excelled in a field with no formal education. That isn't especially unusual, actually, but not a lot of them will want to teach. But some will. Many will want to do it only part time and money isn't the driver for them, so a position as an adjunct can be attractive both to them and to a university. But no one will be looking at it as a career path.

I suspect that Harvard would be happy to have Bill Gates teach a course occasionally - probably not in BASIC language, though.

Luminaries in a field are probably offered such courses fairly frequently, I'd guess. But especially if the institution is looking to establish a long term relationship with future funding in mind.

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    And, of course, there is a big difference between the expectations on an adjunct professor and a tenured professor.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 15:48
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    Precisely. The key part of his title is "Adjunct". A university takes on no essential risk by hiring someone as an adjunct. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 16:04
  • The first line says this doesn't answer the question. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 19:37
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    Hmmm, @AnonymousPhysicist, as a mathematician, I'm supposed to be the pedantic one.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 19:39
  • Harvard would probably be happy to give Bill Gates an honorary degree (if they haven't already done so). Then they can appoint him to a full professorship, endowed chair, or whatever. Commented Sep 6, 2019 at 4:08

Depending on the institution, country, and field, there may be various types of "professors" teaching courses. For example:

  • Tenure-track or tenured faculty: These almost always have a PhD or other terminal degree in the field.
  • Full time or part time non-tenure-track faculty. This category can include:

    • adjunct faculty,
    • people who were hired because of skills and expertise from non-academic careers who have titles like "Professor of Practice" or "Industry Professor",
    • people who focus exclusively on teaching and do no research, with titles like "Teaching Professor",
    • and others.

    Depending on the institution, it is not necessarily unusual for individuals in this category to not have a PhD.

  • Graduate students may teach or assist in teaching courses in some fields/institutions. They do not have a PhD, and depending on the field, their highest degree may be a bachelors degree. They don't have "professor" in their official title, but their students may think of them as a "professor" because they are in that teaching role.

According to the American Association of University Professors, about 20 percent of the "Instructional Faculty Workforce" in the U.S. is grad student employees, about 50 percent is non-tenure track (who may or may not have a PhD), and the rest are tenured or tenure-track faculty (who usually have a PhD or other terminal degree).

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A professor (assistant prof, associate prof, etc) has a PhD. That’s a minimum requirement making my answer “zero”.

An adjunct instructor, or lecturer might not have a degree.

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    a) There are non-PhD doctorates, and b) even if a terminal degree may be a common requirement these days, it wasn't always so, which makes your answer incorrect. See e.g. this question. Whether there are any professors without any degrees I don't know, but without PhDs certainly exist.
    – Anyon
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 17:51
  • As a counter example, many music faculty have a MFA, which is a terminal degree. For example, look at many of the faculty listed on this page: music.wisc.edu/faculty. Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 19:41
  • Another counterexample: Andrew Casson is a tenured mathematician at Yale with no PhD. He recently became emeritus, but until then he was a regular tenured professor. He's not the only mathematician in that circumstance, simply one of the most famous. So even in fields where PhDs are the normal terminal degree, it doesn't always follow that every professor has one.
    – JoshuaZ
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 20:33

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