Have you ever thought about using your professional expertise as a registered dietitian to educate the next generation of health scientists? If you have a dual passion for teaching and learning, becoming a postsecondary educator in health specialties might be your next career move.
“I knew I wanted to get a graduate degree because I wanted to teach at a college or junior college level,” said Jesus Trujillo, a registered dietitian with health care company Kaiser Permanente who also teaches at Sacramento State University and Sierra Community College.
Being on a college or university faculty provides you with the opportunity to not only work directly with students, but also to have time to conduct your own research. You need to be comfortable working independently, as well as interacting with students and colleagues, as you divide time between preparing for your courses by writing syllabi, collecting resources, grading assignments and holding office hours to mentor up and coming health science professionals. Staying current on all trends related to your health specialty can also help ensure you’re able to accurately address questions from students and present them with the most relevant information.
This challenging career path requires you to have a deep understanding of and a passion for your specialized subject matter, which is why your educational background is so important. “Make sure your passion for the content comes through in lectures,” advises Trujillo, who also suggests professors dedicate extra time to craft a positive and fulfilling lecture that will also entertain students.
While most full-time university faculty earn their doctorate prior to becoming a professor, some community colleges and other institutions may only require a master’s degree for instructors. Part-time faculty, or adjuncts, also may only need their master’s to teach. Regardless, it’s important you obtain at least one graduate degree in a relevant field when considering moving into this profession. An online Master of Science in Nutrition (Dietetics) from ASU presents a rigorous, high-caliber education for registered dietitians with at least one year of experience who are interested in advancing their skills as practitioners and moving on to the next phase of their career. Designed with working professionals and students’ learning preferences in mind, this program has both a full-time and part-time option.
A typical day in the life of a health specialties professor
The keys to success as an educator, says Trujillo, are patience and flexibility. You should be open to all the different personalities and types of students in your class. This can help you begin each day in the right mindset for the typical tasks a professor may have to complete, including course planning, lecturing, holding office hours, conducting research and participating in professional development.
As a faculty member at a college or university, you can vary the amount of hours you spend in the classroom, opening up time to focus on your area of interest through independent research or working an additional job. The time you’re required to spend teaching is influenced by where you work and what type of instructional role you have. Adjunct or full-time faculty working in small colleges or community colleges most likely will spend the majority of their time either in the classroom or advising students. Working at a larger college or university may enable you to conduct research and serve on committees, taking some of your time away from working directly with students.
Being an educator allows Trujillo to give back to the community by educating young minds and drawing them into the health care profession. “I would say the most rewarding [thing] has to be when I get my professor evaluation at the end [of the semester] and see their positive feedback on my performance and how I did.”
A closer look at the professional landscape of a health specialties professor
Growing enrollments at colleges and universities had led to a projected growth of 15 percent for postsecondary teachers between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is significantly higher than the national average for all positions. The majority of this growth will most likely be in opportunities for part-time faculty, which will allow interested individuals to continue to gain valuable work experience in a related field in conjunction with teaching. College faculty often gain experience by working in an occupation related to their field of expertise.
The median salary for a full-time professor is $99,000, according to the BLS. To be on the higher side of the salary range, it’s important to meet both the educational and professional qualifications typical of the position. This includes obtaining a postgraduate degree and having ample, hands-on work experience in the field.
Becoming a health specialties professor
Graduate degree work is essential to starting a career as a professor. Whether you need a Ph.D. or a master’s degree depends upon the hiring institution. Relevant work experience is also beneficial for those wishing to begin a career in higher education. Trujillo was drawn to the MS in Nutrition (Dietetics) at ASU primarily because he wanted to teach at the college level. He cites this as the driving factor to earn his MS in Nutrition. “I definitely needed something that would be flexible yet challenging, and that’s also from a reputable institution such as ASU,” he adds.
When asked what about the degree program contributed most to his success, Trujillo mentions the research component. “To be able to obtain that knowledge and that know-how to research specific topics, how to get evidence-based information, and then how to disseminate that information … that has been the most beneficial for me.” Trujillo also says a successful professor should have excellent presentation skills and be extremely organized and prepared. Other skills a professor should have include:
- Critical-thinking skills, which enable you to use analyses and logic to arrive at sound conclusions when reviewing existing research or looking at the result of your own experimentation
- Resourcefulness, which lets you adapt to the different learning styles of your students, ensuring they’re all able to grasp information regardless of their experience with the subject matter
- Strong writing skills to give you the ability to publish your own original research and analysis
Learn more about your potential career as a health specialties professor
Deciding to begin a career as a health specialties professor requires you to review your educational background and seek out graduate degree options. According to Trujillo, there are only certain classes a registered dietitian can teach without a graduate degree at the college level, but you can use those experiences, if you’re interested in teaching, as a gateway toward earning your MS in Nutrition (Dietetics) through an accessible online program such as the one offered by Arizona State University.