10 Tips for Becoming an OT Professor or Instructor
Oftentimes, there comes a moment in an occupational therapist’s career to switch things up. You have done your time in the clinical setting (or maybe you want to break up your consecutive clinical time), and you are starting to explore the world of academia.
More specifically, you are developing a heightened interest in teaching prospective OT colleagues. But where do you begin? We’ve got you covered with these tips to begin your journey in becoming an OT professor!
1. Accumulate Sufficient Clinical Experience
The old saying “Those who can’t do, teach” does not appropriately describe the academic world of an occupational therapy professor. If anything, the more clinical experience a professor has, the greater advantage they have in effectively teaching their students.
OT is all about hands-on experience in healthcare and getting to know patients/clients on a deeper level, a knowledge base that is beneficial to share with students. This specific skillset is central to the profession and can only be gained and refined through dedication to the clinical scene.
2. Teach Continuing Education Courses
If you have limited experience in teaching others, why not give it a try on a smaller scale before making a drastic job change? Talk to your current employer or state OT associations about teaching opportunities.
This could include developing and providing a course at a conference or conducting a seminar during lunch hour at your clinical setting. That way, you have a one-time chance to test your research and speaking skills for a captive audience in order to gauge your interest in the academic scene long-term.
3. Make Friends in the OT World
If you haven’t made valiant efforts to connect with coworkers and fellow colleagues, start now. Having friends in the OT world does wonders for your academic career. Not only are you building a reference list, but you are potentially lining up individuals to mentor you and to provide you with advice when you need it the most. Join and regularly update your membership in state and national associations.
Join social media OT groups. Attend those OT class reunions, go to lunch with your coworkers, join research projects, and get involved in pro-bono work with other therapists.
4. Try Your Hand at Research
Many professor positions involve required research hours which need to materialize into publishable papers. If you don’t like or are uncomfortable with empirical research, then some academic positions may not be right for you. Start by exploring current research in an OT specialty that interests you (some of which can contribute to your annual continuing education hours anyway).
Then take it the next few steps. Create courses based on your research so you can better learn empirical rhetoric. Finally, take it to the final step and participate in or create a research project that you can potentially publish with a scholarly journal. Even if you don’t get your article published, you can still learn from the experience and discover whether or not you like the process.
5. Research Job Qualifications
There really isn’t a universal list of job qualifications for becoming an OT professor. A lot depends on the position, the course(s) you are interested in teaching, and the OT/OTA program you want to join. For example, many general courses for undergraduate OT degrees do not necessarily require anything higher than a bachelor’s degree.
Additionally, some of these courses don’t even require an OT-specific degree. However, as you start moving up the educational ladder into full-time graduate programs, certain courses require higher degrees and specialty knowledge.
Before jumping and applying for available professor positions, thoroughly research the qualifications of the positions you’re interested in. Figure out if you want to teach in a full-time, graduate capacity or in an adjunct position in a community OTA program. Find a position that fits your needs and that you deem attainable.
6. Refer to Your Alma Mater for Pointers
If you want relevant advice, email or set up a meeting with one or more of your favorite professors from OT school. You got to see them teach every day. Now, as a colleague, you can consult with them about their own personal experiences with teaching.
Ask them about what they enjoy about the job. Talk about the gives and takes of the position. See if they can point you in the right direction about how to get started and how to best assess OT instructor job qualifications.
7. Consider Further Educational Degrees
If you are aspiring to become a full-time, graduate OT professor but lack the educational background then it might be time to go back to school. A handful of OT academic positions require a clinical doctorate and/or a Ph.D., especially positions in the States.
However, do not get too overwhelmed with the idea just yet. There are multiple OT doctorate programs that can be completed at your own pace, so it is still doable to complete your degree while working a clinical job.
8. Apply, Apply, and Apply!
Once you have properly matched your qualifications to available academia jobs, go keyboard-happy and apply to as many of these positions as you can. The worst that can happen is that the employer turns you down. Furthermore, if you get offered the position you can always say “No” if you feel like the job is not the right fit for you.
9. Fine-tune Your Interview and Negotiation Skills
If you have been working in one clinical setting for a long time, you might need a refresher on how to interview and to negotiate job benefits. Feel free to take some general interview courses online. Practice with a colleague or a friend. Consult with other professors and see if they are willing to provide you with some interview advice. Interviews “do’s” and “don’ts” change every year, so it is essential that you are up to date on how to conduct yourself in an interview.
Before going into the interview, research current salaries for the position you applied for. Compare average salaries across the country and for your specific state (or country if you want to teach internationally). Having that information prior to the negotiation will set you up for a fair discussion about the pay and the job benefits.
10. Make Room for Self-Reflection: Will This Bring You Happiness?
At the end of the day, everyone should make time to think about where they are in life and where they want to go. Give yourself permission to assess your job situation, whether it’s your current or your future job. If you are not getting any fulfillment from being an OT professor or from your journey to become one, it’s okay to walk away and try something else.
Naturally, the path to trying something new will have bumps. However, if you are still happy and you want to pursue that goal, keep pressing forward!
If you can picture yourself teaching someday, start toying around with the idea early on. Even if you think you will not be involved in academics until several years down the road, there are numerous educational, social, and clinical pieces that you can put into play now so that you are ready for that career change when the opportunity comes. We wish you the best of luck with your future in OT academic endeavors!