My university requires applicants to have some sort of Master's or PhD degree to become a professor and teach.

But really, how is PhD related to teaching? My high school "teacher" graduated with a Bachelors of Science, and he is one of the most knowledgeable and best people I know. His teaching is amazing.

A professor is how different? A teacher marks, a professor may mark, A teacher teaches, a professor definitely teaches, a teacher will create exams, professors do the same.

I don't see how the role of a PhD in order to become a lecturer/professor plays a role? Everything that you can learn is online, and everything that you can teach is also online. What exactly does a PhD prove?

A professor is a teacher at their most basics. They impart knowledge into the students, and a good professor is indicated by their teaching, as a teacher is. So, what does a PhD even mean?

I asked my professor this. I asked him, "what did you want to do after graduating", and he told me "I wanted to become a professor. So I fought through grad school, wrote a thesis that has no impact on the world, and here I am, teaching you as I've always wanted to".

It looks like to me that my professor just did his PhD "because he had to". So,

My two questions are:

1) Why do professors need PhD's, if they are no different from teachers, but only teach harder subjects?

2) Personally I myself think that I can teach and educate students just fine without a PhD. Why the PhD needed?

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  • I saw that but it did not have a satisfying answer unforunately
    – K Split X
    Jun 27 '17 at 1:22
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    It seems to me the answer by Hunse answers your question very well. It's pretty much what I would write as an answer to this question. If you're looking for something else, can you clarify your question? Jun 27 '17 at 1:26
  • @NateEldredge According to the answer: "One (advantage) is that students are being taught by an active researcher in the field, someone who is presumably up to date on the state of the art." This is not always true though, professors are either researching or teaching, only a few do both at the same time
    – K Split X
    Jun 27 '17 at 1:30
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    @KSplitX: I'm not sure where you got that idea (unless by "both at the same time" you mean literally within the same hour in the day). My own (state research) university has hundreds of faculty members devoted to both research and teaching. Almost every tenure track faculty at a "research university" (of which there are hundreds in the US alone) spends substantial time devoted to both. I wonder why you think otherwise: what experience is this based on? Jun 27 '17 at 1:43

1) Why do professors need PhD's, if they are no different from teachers, but only teach harder subjects?

If you start from the premise that professors "are no different than teachers", then guess what, your conclusion will be that the qualifications required to be a professor are the same as that for a teacher. This is circular reasoning, so one answer to your question is that your premise is wrong. Professors are different than teachers in that they both teach and do research, and (some, though not all of) the subjects they teach are sufficiently close to the forefront of human knowledge that to teach them effectively actually requires being an active researcher.

Another error your question makes is that you say professors "only" teach harder subjects. That "only" hides a major difference between the subjects that professors teach and the subjects that schoolteachers teach, and having a PhD is precisely the sort of qualification that makes it possible for someone to teach well at that "only harder" level. The term for the kind of fallacious rhetorical device that you're using with your "only" (and a few other parts of your question) is loaded language; you might want to avoid using such language in future questions.


If you believe that the job of a university professor ought not to be bound by the first and last page of a textbook, then a good professor with a Ph.D. will usually bring breath and depth of knowledge that someone without this degree does not typically have.

Certainly we all know PhDs who are terrible instructors while others without are gifted and inspirational teachers, but such situations are exceptional rather than commonplace.

  • Adding onto your quetsion, I do believe that professor's should be accessed based on their teachings to the student, since that's what college or unvierstiy is, a learning platoform. Perhaps a PhD does bring more to the table, but someone without a PhD could easily be as knoweledable
    – K Split X
    Jun 27 '17 at 11:46

For teaching it isn't enough to be one lesson ahead of the students, you need to know how the material you are teaching will be used in practical terms to give the class the right focus.

In principle, you may think this would only be necessary in the most advanced courses, say the last couple of years of the whole degree; but the truth is that ideally, this should start from the first courses. As an example, the most fundamental mathematical tool in quantum mechanics is the decomposition in eigenvectors and manipulation of subspaces. So, a first year linear algebra course for a physicist shouldn't just teach eigenvectors to an operational level, but it should give them also a good intuition and understanding of how this plays together. The same course for a mathematician or an engineer would have to be different, because their requirements are different.

Another part of the story is that from the first course, students have to learn how to think. In my case, the course that taught me the most how to think like a physicist was calculus in one variable, first semester of first year. A mathematician, an engineer, or a good teacher could have perfectly taught me as much calculus as my professor did, but they wouldn't have been able to teach me the physics intuition behind it.

What is the role of a PhD behind all this? Being an active researcher is a way of ensuring that you know the end goal of your course, and you can teach the students how to think. And by the way, in more applied fields, like engineering, I think not everybody should need a PhD, and some of the instructors should come from an industry background (as it happens in many universities).


Why do professors need PhD's, if they are no different from teachers, but only teach harder subjects?

While your question is (understandably) from the student point-of-view, I have to wonder: have you thought about what PhD holders bring to the table for their academic employers?

Now, while some institutions hire those with only a Master's degree into faculty positions, quite a lot of tenure-track positions require a PhD. For those that require it, institutions benefit from hiring PhD-holding faculty in a variety of ways; here are a couple to consider:

  1. Tenure-track hires can boost their department / institution profiles by being awarded competitive research grants, publishing groundbreaking results, etc. How do you become a competitive, successful researcher without a PhD? (Not impossible, but not likely, either.)
  2. In some disciplines, it is desirable for academic departments to seek accreditation of some sort for their programs of study. I realize this is a big [citation needed] moment, but (at least in engineering): departments with faculty having PhDs are not scrutinized by accreditation boards as heavily as those that don't. (I'm on the tenure-track in an electrical engineering department, and have participated in several rounds of accreditation activities.)

Personally I myself think that I can teach and educate students just fine without a PhD. Why the PhD needed?

Alas, teaching and educating students is only part of the position requirements for professors. Other answers have addressed this point fairly well, so I refer you to those answers.

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