So you want to work at a university …

Our expert explores career paths on campus.

So you want to work at a university …

Our expert explores career paths on campus.

Perhaps you’ve been succeeding in your field for several decades and are now inspired to share that expertise in a classroom. Or maybe you’re a recent graduate looking to build a career in higher education. Mike Caldwell, executive director of TCU’s Center for Career & Professional Development, said he often receives questions from alumni who want to return to a college campus as a professional. We talked to Caldwell about how to find employment in higher education. 

What is a professor of professional practice and how does that differ from the traditional professor role?

This type of professor is someone who has direct industry-related experience, who may or may not have a PhD in that discipline.

I’ve worked with people who have 10, 20 years of experience in marketing who are teaching marketing as a professor of professional practice. Their particular skills and experience qualify them for that role. It’s really someone who’s in a non-research teaching role — and that’s the distinguishing factor versus a traditional professor of marketing. 

What about teaching as an adjunct instructor? An adjunct role is a part-time role. That person is teaching one, two, three classes — maybe they have a full-time job outside of academia, or maybe they teach adjunct here and at another institution.

Mike Caldwell

Mike Caldwell is the executive director of TCU’s Center for Career & Professional Development. For more information about careers, visit

At TCU, there is an adjunct pool. For example, if you have a background in English, and you want to teach English in the AddRan College of Liberal Arts at TCU, you would apply to be a part of the adjunct pool in AddRan. You would provide your qualifications and then if an adjunct role becomes available, they may call on that pool. 

If you work in the corporate world, how can you transfer those skills to teaching?  

Quantify and qualify your experience. If you don’t have direct classroom experience, talk about how many trainings you’ve presented, how many presentations you’ve delivered. Expand your résumé to include a presentation section. Who was the audience, what was the topic? If you’ve delivered something to a professional association annually, indicate that, and also how many people you delivered that information to. 

What is important to understand about the academic job search?

You might need to expand your résumé for an academic search. If you’re applying to a faculty position, you may want to talk about your particular knowledge of subject matter — the content that you are able to deliver to students — and any teaching or presentation experience that you have that would translate to the classroom.

Ensure that you meet the minimum qualifications and make sure that you’ve clearly indicated that you meet those qualifications. If you don’t meet those qualifications, then you may want to look at additional training or coursework that might help.  

Finally, for an academic search, spend extra time with a cover letter. That’s the place you can really articulate how you have transferable skills and how those skills apply to the academic role that you’re applying for. 

Have you worked with recent graduates who are conducting an academic job search straight out of a doctoral program at TCU? 

A lot of them have had mentorship with their faculty, so sometimes it’s in coordination or collaboration with the faculty.  

And this is kind of a segue, but sometimes they may be looking to transition from academia to a corporate role. We can help them: It’s almost the reverse of what I said for the other searches — your CV that’s 10 pages, we need to cut that down to one or two. You need to think about what’s relevant to the position or platform — not necessarily all of the research that you’ve done — making it more skills-based, articulating your value to that corporate experience and providing the transferable skills. 

There are companies that hire research scientists, so it depends on the role. But if it is a non-research position, then you would want to be clear and concise with your résumé.  

If you want to work in higher ed, a lot of positions will at least require a master’s. There are exceptions. And there are also sometimes options that will allow someone to work at TCU and work on their degree as well.
Mike Caldwell

What about staff jobs at a university — do you need an advanced degree for non-teaching roles? Can experience as a student worker help launch a career? 

If you want to work in higher ed, a lot of positions will at least require a master’s. There are exceptions. And there are also sometimes options that will allow someone to work at TCU and work on their degree as well. Our College Advising Corps, for example, is a great opportunity for them to work and complete graduate coursework.

A student who is a resident assistant might do the higher-education program at TCU in the College of Education. There’s a higher-ed leadership track, and there’s a counseling path as well.

There’s a counseling graduate student who’s doing her practicum here in our office. She had experience doing athletic advising and was a student athlete; she would like to translate that experience to work in athletics administration or athletics academic advising.

Why are people drawn to working in higher education?

There’s a lot of pros to higher ed; it’s a place where you see the difference that you make immediately. A lot of times what people are looking for is something that brings meaning or purpose.

Even if you are working in campus police or IT, ultimately, we all know when we’re part of this place that the students are why we’re here. That is something that really brings value to people because they can see how they can make a difference. 

What advice do you have for people searching for a staff role in higher education? 

When I’m looking at applicants who are trying to break into higher ed, it really does make a difference if someone has articulated in their cover letter, application materials or résumé that this is the job they’re applying for. When a job opens at TCU, we get hundreds of applications for it, and sometimes those look like someone has just applied to every job at TCU. Knowing the difference between applying to a job in the Career Center versus the Admissions office versus Residence Life is really, really valuable.  


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