University Professors - What They Do

University professors and lecturers teach courses to undergraduate and graduate students and conduct research at universities. University professors who are heads of departments are included in this unit group.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Teach one or more university subjects to undergraduate and graduate students
  • Prepare and deliver lectures to students and conduct laboratory sessions or discussion groups
  • Prepare, administer and grade examinations, laboratory assignments and reports
  • Advise students on course and academic matters and career decisions
  • Direct research programs of graduate students and advise on research matters
  • Conduct research in field of specialization and publish findings in scholarly journals or books
  • May serve on faculty committees dealing with such matters as curriculum planning and degree requirements, and perform a variety of administrative duties
  • May represent their universities as speakers and guest lecturers
  • May provide professional consultative services to government, industry and private individuals.
  • University professors and lecturers specialize in a particular subject matter such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, sociology, business administration or law.

Job titles

  • physics department chairperson - university
  • botany assistant professor - university
  • food sciences department chairperson - university
  • linguistics associate professor
  • geography department head - university
  • chairperson, food sciences department - university
  • chairperson, physics department - university
  • department head, geography - university
  • computer science professor - university
  • professor of medicine - university
  • French language professor - university
  • English professor - university
  • assistant professor, botany - university
  • university professor
  • lecturer - university
  • engineering instructor - university
  • associate professor, linguistics
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • A doctoral degree in the field of specialization is required for university professors.
  • A master's degree in the field of specialization is required for university lecturers.
  • Licences or professional certification may be required for professors teaching future practitioners in certain professionally regulated fields, such as medicine, engineering, architecture, psychology or law.

Essential Skills


  • Read notes from co-workers, colleagues, students and administrators. For example, they read notes from students requesting appointments to discuss course materials, assignments and progress. They read notes from administrators asking them to submit completed attendance records. (1)
  • Read text entries in forms. For example, they read students' comments in evaluation forms and reasons for changing and withdrawing from courses in course change forms. They scan other instructors' comments in students' historical record forms. They review employers' comments on students' practicum performances on job placement forms. (2)
  • Read e-mail messages and memos from co-workers and administrators. For example, they read co-workers' e-mail messages about dates and times of department meetings and instructional resources and materials. They read administrators' e-mail messages about dates and locations of training sessions and teaching assignments for new courses. They read memos announcing changes in registration procedures, requesting verification of semester timetables and providing directions for administering and returning student surveys. (2)
  • May read policy and procedure manuals. For example, they read policy manuals which outline student attendance requirements and examination procedures. (3)
  • May read a variety of newspapers and industry-specific magazines. For example, language and theatre instructors read newspapers and local magazines to locate articles of interest for use in class activities and discussions. Instructors of firefighters read industry-specific magazines such as Fire Engineering and Fire Chief to remain knowledgeable of the technical and leadership requirements in their field. Business and private training instructors read magazines such as Commerce, Communication World and Macleans. (4)
  • May read discussion papers and reports. For example, vocational school instructors may read reports about changes in industry standards and projected changes in workforce numbers and demands. Instructors of railway occupations may read reports about train accident and derailment investigations to identify safety and procedural changes which may affect course curriculum. (4)
  • May read collective agreements, contracts and requests for proposals. For example, department heads may read collective agreements to confirm salary scale ranges and clauses governing the hiring of part-time instructors. Private training and non-tenured instructors may read employment contracts to verify intellectual properties are protected and cancellation and rescheduling clauses are included. They may read requests for proposals to understand the scope of work being contracted. (4)
  • Read textbooks and course curricula. For example, they read textbooks and course outlines critically to analyze the suggested learning objectives, to plan assignments and instructional activities, and to identify resource materials. Department heads and senior instructors may evaluate course curriculum to ensure organizational and external standards are met. (5)

Document use

  • Locate data in lists, tables and schedules. For example, they locate course numbers, credit hours, scheduled class times and locations, test dates, maximum enrolment numbers and instructors' names in their institutions' course catalogues and annual calendars. Theatre instructors review lists of upcoming productions in their local communities to better advise students and plan extra-curricular activities. Mathematics instructors refer to lists of calculus derivation formulae to select appropriate functions. (2)
  • Locate data on product and document labels. For example, instructors scan envelope labels on student survey packages to ensure the accuracy of data such as academic divisions, departments, programs and dates. Instructors of firefighters scan Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System labels on fire extinguishers to identify chemical contents, inspection dates and precautionary measures. (2)
  • Locate data in entry forms. For example, they locate times and dates on permission and release forms for tournaments, debates and other institution-sponsored activities. They scan student feedback forms to locate scores on rating scales, responses to questions and written comments. (2)
  • Record data in forms. For example, they complete requisition forms for textbooks and photocopying by specifying quantities required, dates needed and special instructions for printing and binding. They complete time sheets by indicating the number of regular and overtime hours for each pay period. Instructors supervising practicum students complete vehicle logs indicating dates, locations and numbers of kilometres travelled. Trainers in private industry complete summary forms which indicate session dates, locations, clients' names, course numbers and numbers of participants. (3)


  • Write reminders, short notes and e-mail messages to co-workers, colleagues and students. For example, they write reminders in daybooks about changes to assignment due dates and tasks to be completed. They may write notes on students' assignments and examinations to indicate corrections needed. They may write notes to administrators on matters such as timetable changes and class sizes. They may write e-mail messages to information technology coordinators about use of portable computers. Private training instructors send e-mail messages to inquire about room reservations and furniture set-ups for upcoming training sessions. (1)
  • Write memos to co-workers and students. For example, instructors write memos to inform students of dates and times of upcoming activities such as presentations, field trips and examinations. Department heads write memos for staff on topics such as changes in registration procedures and new requirements for accessing laboratories. (2)
  • May write letters of reference. For example, they may write reference letters supporting students' applications for practicums and jobs. (3)
  • Write course outlines and lesson plans. For example, they write course outlines which include instructors' contact information, course overviews and objectives, required course materials, exercises and assignments, assessment dates and evaluation criteria. They may include policies on attendance and late assignments and outline their instructional approaches. They write lesson plans and associated instructional materials and assignments. Language instructors may provide explanations and procedures written for students with differing abilities. (3)
  • May write proposals and grant applications. For example, private training instructors may write responses to requests for proposals in which they outline their qualifications, work plans, personnel and procedures for evaluation and report on training content. Instructors may write grant proposals in which they outline research and development objectives, intended audience, research methodology and the manner in which they will present their findings. (4)


Money Math

  • Calculate expense claim amounts for travel and course supplies. They calculate reimbursements for travel using per kilometre rates and add amounts for accommodation, meals and classroom resources they purchase. (2)
  • Calculate invoice amounts. For example, instructors confirm prices for resource materials and calculate discounts, applicable taxes and totals. Private training instructors may calculate invoice amounts for professional service using hourly and per diem rates. They add amounts for related expenses and calculate applicable taxes. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Prepare course, facility and program schedules. For example, department heads prepare instructional timetables for their programs. They work with variables such as numbers of students enrolled in each course and availabilities of instructors at particular times and dates. They make adjustments in response to increases and decreases in student enrolments. (3)
  • May monitor and adjust course, program and department budgets. For example, instructors manage small budgets for supplies and consumables and for facilities they operate. Department heads verify costs allocated to their budgets. They may create and adjust annual operating budgets for their departments as a result of increased student enrolments. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Calculate quantities and types of learning materials required for projected student enrolments. (1)
  • Measure students' abilities and knowledge using tests, rating scales and other instruments. They develop mathematical methods to quantify learning. (3)

Data Analysis Math

  • May collect and analyze enrolment and course completion data. For example, department heads compare numbers of students completing each class. They examine gender distributions, ages and ethnicities of students. They also compare completion rates for each instructor. (3)
  • Compile data and analyze assessment and test results. For example, instructors compile data on numbers of correct and incorrect responses to each examination question to determine reliability and validity of questions. They calculate means and standard deviations for sets of marks. They calculate students' average marks across a number of assessments such as assignments, presentations and tests. They compare individual results to class averages. (4)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate time required to complete learning activities within each lesson plan. (1)

Oral communication

  • Discuss prices, products and delivery times with suppliers. For example, instructors verify the availability and costs of textbooks with bookstore staff and publishers. Vocational school instructors order items such as tools, high visibility vests and flares from suppliers. Instructors of firefighters order exams from the National Fire Protection Association. (1)
  • Discuss ongoing work with co-workers and supervisors. For example, they discuss class schedules with other instructors. They meet supervisors and administrators to clarify expectations on task assignments and new policies such as program management. (2)
  • Discuss instructional approaches and strategies with co-workers, colleagues and supervisors. For example, they may discuss ways to make courses both engaging and interactive and their insights, experiences and instructional approaches with co-workers and colleagues. Vocational instructors discuss students' experience with work placements with students and business partners. Instructors may discuss the effects of shortened deadlines on application acceptances and the increasing use of on-line courses with their supervisors and generate recommendations to address common concerns. They also discuss the merits of their programs, student satisfaction levels, requirements for additional resources and class schedules. (3)
  • May facilitate and chair meetings and make presentations. For example, heads of departments plan and lead staff and departmental meetings. They promote professional development opportunities, review requirements for course outlines and suggest procedures for helping students who are experiencing difficulties. They facilitate discussions on course content and assessment criteria. Vocational and technical institution department heads may chair industry advisory committees to establish and ensure compliance with industry standards. Instructors may make presentations to a variety of professional, public and industry-specific audiences. Instructors in private industry and government may facilitate strategic planning sessions. (3)
  • Mentor, coach and counsel students. For example, they speak to students about absenteeism, seek information about students' academic backgrounds and experiences and counsel students on their progress. Vocational and technical instructors coach and supervise practicum students working in industry settings. (3)
  • Instruct students in their areas of expertise. They explain course objectives, assignments and participation expectations. They present theory, ask questions of students and engage them in discussions and activities. They challenge students' viewpoints and concepts to further their understanding of course content. They modify their content delivery as appropriate to ensure they engage all students. (4)


Problem Solving

  • Experience equipment malfunctions. For example, when equipment such as photocopiers and overhead projectors are not working, they inform departmental secretaries of the equipment malfunctions and adjust their learning plans. When they experience computer malfunctions, they attempt to assess the cause of the difficulty, call their institutions' help lines for assistance and ask for assistance from information technology technicians. (1)
  • Find that classrooms, labs and shop spaces are unsuitable for planned instructional activities. Instructors rearrange classroom furniture, lab equipment and work areas in shops. When a room is not dark enough to view videos and PowerPoint presentations, they modify their teaching plans and draw on their background knowledge and experience to deliver their presentation in an alternate format. When equipment such as overhead projectors are not available, instructors may attempt to rent equipment from suppliers and borrow units from nearby schools. (2)
  • Incorrectly estimate times for instructional activities. When there are too many planned activities, instructors adjust their lesson plans and make accommodations to ensure that key learning objectives are covered. When they have exhausted all planned activities midway through their classes, they introduce other activities and discussions that will engage the students for the remaining class time. (3)
  • Find that students are unable to grasp content, are performing inconsistently and are not engaged in learning activities. They talk with the students individually to determine probable causes. They may work with career counsellors to reassess students' academic abilities and find appropriate support and training for them. When performance is inconsistent, instructors review students' tests and marks to determine patterns. They discuss these inconsistencies with students. When students appear disinterested in course content and activities, instructors review their current lesson plans and make adjustments to their instructional strategies. (4)

Decision Making

  • May determine teaching assignments for instructors. For example, department heads review factors such as instructors' abilities, backgrounds and interests when assigning courses. (2)
  • Determine course content, sequence of learning activities and teaching methods. They review curriculum guidelines, student feedback from previous courses and resource materials available. They use personal experience and professional knowledge to make decisions about the content and flow of courses and programs. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Assess appropriateness and effectiveness of instructional resources and learning materials. They review their course outlines and learning objectives and consider availability, format and costs of resources. They consider levels of class participation associated with each instructional activity and associated time requirements. They think about students' learning styles and interests and reflect on their own subject matter expertise and experiences with various materials. (3)
  • Assess fairness, validity and reliability of examinations. They ensure examination questions truly reflect course content and objectives. They review the wording of examination questions to prevent misinterpretation. They analyze statistics such as numbers of students correctly completing each assessment item and review distribution of difficulty levels of questions. (3)
  • Evaluate students' knowledge and skills at various points in the instructional cycle. They review learners' intake assessments, interim progress reports and course completion results. They consider classroom attendance and participation, presentations, practical demonstrations and performance using content-specific criteria and assessment rubrics. Theatre production instructors consider atmospheres students create through their stage designs, use of materials, lighting, costumes and accessories. Instructors of firefighters consider performance criteria for each task, the use and placement of equipment and interactions with other firefighters. They may consult other instructors to gather additional insights and observations. (3)
  • May assess candidates' appropriateness for vacant instructional positions. For example, department heads review candidates' academic qualifications, background and experience. They consider candidates' levels of practical knowledge and familiarity and experience in using various technologies. They conduct interviews to identify thinking and communication skills and attitudes and conduct reference checks to verify previous work experiences and confirm their impressions of candidates' abilities. (3)
  • Conduct formal evaluations of instructional programs and individual courses. For example, department heads solicit feedback from students and instructors on course contents and materials. They hold meetings with industry association advisory committees and discussions with practicing professionals in their fields. They review courses' contents and compare them to similar courses in other institutions. They review industry magazines to ensure they are current with new techniques and technologies. (4)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

College and other vocational instructors plan and organize each day within the framework of established class schedules. They plan and sequence instructions to meet learning objectives specified in course outlines and adjust their instruction in response to students' abilities and needs. Department heads may need to reorganize their job tasks to accommodate students' requests, respond to instructors' needs and provide reports, projections and updates to college administrators. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Department heads plan and schedule the work of instructional staff. Instructors may participate in strategic planning initiatives. (3)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember names of students who require additional instruction and learning resources.
  • Remember many passwords required to access computers, databases and voice mail systems.

Finding Information

  • Find information about students by interviewing them, reviewing education and training records and consulting other instructors. (2)
  • Find information on industry trends and changes in their fields by reading trade magazines, searching the Internet, speaking with colleagues and by listening to industry experts and job placement hosts. (2)
  • Gather data on curricula by soliciting student comments, conversing with colleagues, reviewing course materials and outlines and convening industry advisory committee meetings. (3)

Digital technology

  • Use word processing. For example, instructors write letters to their supervisors and reference letters for students. They create examination, rating and evaluation forms. They create course outlines and prepare assignments and handouts. (2)
  • Use databases. For example, instructors access students' records in institutional databases to locate data such as home addresses and to enter grades and comments. They access institutional, public and national library databases to locate journal articles and instructional resource materials. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, instructors exchange e-mail messages with students, co-workers and colleagues. Private training instructors exchange e-mail messages with clients about courses they are designing. They use program features such as distribution lists and out-of-office replies. Instructors enter appointments, assignment due dates and tasks to be completed in their on-line calendars. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, instructors may use software such as Blackboard and Web CT to post lecture notes, assignments and supplementary information for students. They may use software such as Banner to record student grades and programs such as LXR-Test to develop banks of questions for use in generating examinations. (2)
  • Use Internet. For example, they use Internet browsers to locate learning resources and to order instructional materials. They browse their institutions' web site to learn of new programs and initiatives. (2)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they create and display slide shows using presentation software such as PowerPoint. They may create multi-media presentations using text, graphics, audio and video. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, instructors use spreadsheet programs to create tables in which to record student marks, calculate statistics and display features such as distributions of marks. Private training instructors may create spreadsheets to display course and program activities and financial transactions. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

College and other vocational instructors work with administrative staff to establish class dates, times and locations and finalize student registrations. They may team teach courses involving theory and laboratory components. They may supervise part-time instructors.

Department heads work with educational assistants, career counsellors, registrars, information technology support staff and instructors to administer and coordinate programs. (3)

Continuous Learning

College and other vocational instructors must remain knowledgeable in their areas of expertise and are responsible for setting their own learning goals. They learn on the job while preparing courses, through their daily discussions with co-workers and students and by reading professional and trade magazines. They may attend annual content area conferences. (3)