Several psychology majors have asked me how much schooling and other preparation they would need to work as a Psychology Instructor at the college level. The answer is: it depends.
If you want to teach as an adjunct (part-time) faculty member at a community college or small college, you may be able to do so with a Master's degree and some teaching experience. In fact, it is theoretically possible to teach full-time with a Master's degree at the community college level, but it is very uncommon since the field is so competitive and the doctorate is the degree most desired by college and university employers. Working part-time as an instructor may be perfect for some and is very rewarding, however, it does not usually provide job security or full benefits depending upon the region of the country in which you work.
Another thing to think about when considering becoming a psychology professor is whether you would like to work at a research-oriented or teaching oriented college, both of which are similar but require different duties and therefore different preparation.
Teaching-oriented colleges include 2-year community colleges and 4-year teaching-oriented institutions usually hold a doctorate degree. Faculty at teaching-oriented colleges spend the majority of their time on teaching courses and interacting with undergraduates. Four-year colleges may expect faculty to devote some time to research. Some of their teaching duties include developing lesson plans, responding to students’ learning needs, grading/evaluating student work, and reading and attending conferences to stay abreast of their field. These professors also serve on college committees that deal with academic, curriculum, budget, and hiring, policy etc. The benefits of being a professor at a teaching-oriented college can be both personal and practical. Many such professors enjoy the intellectually stimulating environment of their work setting and having colleagues who also truly enjoy their subject matter. The majority of them find it personally rewarding to share their love of the field with their students. You may wish to start developing your interpersonal communication skills if you want to work at this sort of institution.
Faculty at research-oriented institutions hold doctoral degrees and conduct research in their specialty area within psychology. They run laboratories in which they train graduate students to conduct research. Many of these professors spend much time writing applications for grant funding to fund their research, a recurrent process that often requires the continual writing of grant renewal applications and research reports. These professors spend less time in the classroom teaching and with students and more of their time focused on conducting and publishing research. Some benefits to being a professor at a research-oriented institution include a flexible schedule, high levels of intellectual stimulation through research and interaction with colleagues, personal satisfaction from researching interesting topics, and professional satisfaction from generating new psychological knowledge. Those professors who are self-driven and have a high degree of curiosity are most likely to be fulfilled in these types of positions. One may wish to focus more on developing their research skills and vitae if they want to work at this kind of institution.
Competition is fierce when it comes to attaining a full-time position as a psychology professor. When comparing the number of positions available at teaching-oriented and research-oriented positions, there are far more available at teaching-oriented institutions. You can learn more about the job prospects for these careers in Chapter 7 of Insider's Guide to the Psychology Major: Everything You Need to Know About the Degree and Profession by Wegenek and Buskist, (APA Books, 2010) or check out the online resources below.
One thing you should be doing now if you are an undergraduate considering either of these career paths is to volunteer as a teaching assistant and to volunteer as a research assistant in order to see whether you might prefer teaching or research activities - or both! : )
The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (APA Division 2)
Description of Requirements for Becoming a Psychology Professor