Another very interesting debate in Times Higher Education:
I became a professor seven years ago, after working in higher education for 16 years. It felt like a big deal. I distinctly remember preparing for the interview that would determine whether I would be awarded the title. I anticipated being asked how I would see my role as a professor and so searched around for anything written about what professors are expected to do. I was to be disappointed.
What I found was plenty of guidance on how you become a professor – publish (a lot) in high-impact journals, get big research grants, attain an international reputation and so on. Achievements in teaching and service were mentioned but were subtly sidelined. To adapt a phrase from George Orwell, some bullet points are clearly more equal than others. But there was something almost wholly missing from the literature. What does it mean to be a professor (in the more selective British sense of this term)? In other words, what do you do when you become one?
A simple answer to this question is to just carry on as before: get more research grants, continue to publish, further build your reputation and esteem indicators. However, most UK professors, as I have subsequently discovered from my research on the subject, think it is more than a career grade. It is also a leadership role.
While becoming a professor may demand high levels of individual achievement, being a professor involves more collective instincts. A professor must help others to develop and act as a catalyst for their ideas as well as his or her own. This calls for a different, more selfless set of qualities. In short, being a professor involves intellectual leadership.