I'm currently an MSc student, and I really enjoy teaching. As an anecdote, when I was younger (like 7) I had a school for all my toys and did homework (with errors!) for them all.

Anyway, I have good reviews from my current students (I'm a lab instructor this semester), and a TA award from last semester. I enjoy this process - explaining concepts, developing lectures/labs, interacting with students. I do not really want to do a PhD though - it is not that I do not like research... I do, but I do not think it aligns with my life goals exactly.

We have two instructors with just MSc-s in my department, but they both apparently did so much research they could get a PhD if they wanted to. So I'm not sure if it is even possible to do from my current position? Can I become an instructor without doing a PhD once I graduate?

I mean, if not, I will probably spend that time developing online tutorials instead :)

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    check this answer academia.stackexchange.com/questions/17707/… Mar 9, 2015 at 12:05
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    Most Community College level schools only require MSc for Instructors. You will get the lower level classes and no guarantee of your position from year to year but it is possible. Have you thought of possibly getting your teachers certificate and teaching High School? Mar 9, 2015 at 18:33
  • i asked a very similar question awhile ago. academia.stackexchange.com/questions/40119/…
    – icedtrees
    Mar 15, 2015 at 12:21
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    What kind of students do you want to teach? Pre-school, elementary school, high school, undergraduates, or graduates?
    – JRN
    Jan 2, 2021 at 3:11
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    Also, what country are you in? In some countries, you can teach graduate school classes even if you don't have a PhD.
    – JRN
    Jan 2, 2021 at 3:13

3 Answers 3


Typically at larger "more prestigious" institutions, Professors must have their PhD to teach. It has been my experience that some smaller institutions will allow MS holders to teach undergraduate students - but your mileage may vary.

As an example, a friend of mine has currently taken over a Computer Science department at a small institution and only has his Masters. While they would prefer a PhD holder, they can not find one to take the job.

So, technically, yes - it is possible. Although you may not find yourself at a top-level institution.

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    I think you could be top-level but teaching lower math classes like Precalculus or Calculus?
    – BCLC
    Mar 9, 2015 at 6:38
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    I imagine it is possible, I know of some "PhD" positions in my undergrad institution (*not a top-level institution) that would accept Masters degree holders, but they had to be in pursuit of a PhD.
    – Ramrod
    Mar 9, 2015 at 6:41
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    Quibble: Schools will look for someone with a "terminal degree" in that field. Fr some fields, eg computer game design, the Master's is the terminal degree. But in those cases they will generally want a "professor of practice", meaning they want serious experience to go with that degree.
    – keshlam
    Mar 9, 2015 at 18:31
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    I don't believe this answer is true. For example, I know personally that both the University of Chicago and the Harvard Kennedy School have lecturers that are field experts without PhDs. Another answer mentions the University of Michigan.
    – Jeff
    Jan 2, 2021 at 4:14
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    Some very top schools have a regular teaching faculty (not adjuncts), maybe called "professor of the practice" as at Duke. This faculty frees the research faculty from most undergraduate teaching, letting them focus on research, a few upper level undergrad courses and the graduate program. Some of my distant colleagues have held these positions for a long time. Some have doctorates, some do not. Some research is expected but not the same as that of the tenured faculty.
    – Buffy
    Jan 3, 2021 at 15:49

Yes, absolutely, it is possible, at least, here in the US. Lots of top schools use teaching faculty for large undergraduate courses, especially in computer science and engineering and a few of them (like me at Michigan) only have a master's.

The rule is you're supposed to have one degree higher than the students you're teaching or a terminal degree, i.e., a PhD. So, if you're only teaching students working on their bachelor's, all you really need is a master's. Even if their post says applicants should have a PhD, it doesn't mean you can't get the job without one. (What else do you bring to the table?)

What matters is whether you can teach. So, the search committee will be looking for teaching experience and ability. The way to get the experience when you have none is (or was for me) as a part-time affiliate or adjunct instructor, perhaps starting out teaching a lab, later a lecture course. (Part-time opportunities tend to open up last minute when they realize they've got a hole in their schedule, a course they've promised to offer but no one available to teach it, and they're desperate to find someone right away. This is especially true of summer offerings. Check in regularly with the chairs or whoever's doing scheduling at the relevant local departments to let them know you're available.)

The search committee will ask for your CV, some LORs, a few short essays, e.g., describing your teaching philosophy, list of classes taught, probably want to see past student evals, and perhaps a short video of one of your classes. If they like what they see, they'll ask for a teaching demonstration where you'll present a sample lecture and they will role-play as students. (Hint: Never take new material on the road. If you're asked to give a teaching demo, give a lecture you've previously given and thoroughly debugged in front of a live class, hopefully several times. Pick something where you know you nailed it. The quality of your lecture is far more important than the topic, so don't try to "pitch" your lecture to what you think the department is looking for with new untried material.)

Teaching appointments are not tenure track positions, it's all teaching, no research, and the pay and status is lower, which is why they're not very attractive to top PhDs. So, it's a lot harder to attract really good teaching faculty than you'd think and why they may be willing to hire you with only a master's if you can do the job. Typical contracts are initially 3 years, then 5 years at each renewal. At many schools, the title is some variation of "lecturer". That's what we have here at Michigan, where it's Lecturer I through Lecturer IV. (Yeah, no one likes the title.) Some schools have switched to a variation on "teaching professor". University of Washington now has Assistant Teaching Professor, Associate Teaching Professor and Teaching Professor titles.

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    This is misleading. Nearly all the full-time lecturers, etc. do have PhDs. Jan 2, 2021 at 5:24
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    Okay, but I'm a full-time lecturer and I don't have a PhD. And guess what? We also have two other full-time lecturers with only a master's in my CS department. So, it is possible. Jan 2, 2021 at 14:02
  • The question is not about CS or Engineering, which are obvious outliers. As I said, nearly all full-time lecturers have PhDs. Jan 3, 2021 at 2:31
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    Carnegie Mellon and Duke have similar Teaching Professor positions and titles. I know people without doctorates at both places. They are untenured, but have long term secure contracts. Some others I know do have doctorates.
    – Buffy
    Jan 3, 2021 at 14:30
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    The people I know all do research, but it is more likely to be of a pedagogical nature than a technical one. Some are authors. Some are important in professional societies. It isn't second class citizenship, it just has a different focus. And the students they teach are normally very demanding. I suspect you see that at UMich.
    – Buffy
    Jan 3, 2021 at 16:34

No, except in fairly unusual (and limited) circumstances. You generally require a PhD to lecture.

In my department, it's expected that those lecturing classes will hold a PhD (I understand this is different from the USA where TAs may lecture). Teaching assistants are well paid (compared to some horror stories I've heard) and available to those working on their PhD, as well as finishing up a masters. They generally only assist in lab sessions and tutorials though.

I did give some masters lectures while working on a PhD but this was definitely the exception rather than the rule - it was on a very specific niche where I was unofficially viewed as "professor of practice" by colleagues, so the restriction was ignored on that occasion, on account of having teaching and presentation experience, and that everyone else offered the class asked if I had been offered it... (to try cut their own teaching load)

In my experience from my own institution and department, it wouldn't be possible to start a career today and move into lecturing undergraduate classes without a PhD, so I have to suggest my answer is no, a PhD or similar "terminal degree" would be needed. In some cases there are exceptions made, but these are pretty rare and generally relate to a special exception being made for someone with comparable experience gained elsewhere.

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    In the first paragraph, did you mean "...require a PhD to teach..."? I read the first sentence and got caught for a good ten seconds.
    – chipbuster
    Mar 21, 2015 at 3:05
  • Oops, well spotted. Have fixed it.
    – gdp
    Mar 21, 2015 at 8:05

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