I had the privilege to sit down with a very successful university professor. He has taught for over 36 years in six different countries, and has published several books on Economic Development. Professor Aloysius Ajab Amin from Cameroon, Central Africa, who also happens to be my dad, gave me some insightful tips on how he has come to be so successful as a university professor.
Q. Why did you get into teaching in the university?
A. Since primary school in Cameroon (elementary school in the US), I knew three things I wanted were to drive, to travel, and to get to the top degree of whatever I studied. I made a goal at that time to get the top degree of whatever subject I chose. Getting to the top would give me the flexibility to do what I want to do. I learned that the only way to really learn is to teach. I did not like the managerial aspect of teaching in the government so I found that teaching in the classroom gave me flexibility in doing the things that I wanted to do. It gave me freedom to say what I thought, and help others to reason critically; to be able to mold and fend for themselves.
Q. How did you get to becoming a university professor; what are some things you did before?
A. I was a teaching assistant, a research assistant, and I took a subject-learning course. Through this course, I was asked to write a book on Economics. My professor told me that for over 30yrs of his teaching, he hadn’t gotten an efficient assistant like me. I was the first African to get a PhD in the Economics Department at Penn State University.
Q. Can you remember what countries you have taught in?
A. Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Senegal, Kazakhstan, United States. I have presented papers in many other countries such as China.
Q. How is the money? Does it pay enough to live comfortably with a family?
A. Yes, it pays enough to have a comfortable life with you and family. It could pay a lot more if you get involved in research. For example, some colleagues teach only 2 days a week and it gives them freedom to do that and work on other projects.
Q. So you already mentioned flexibility, what are some other benefits of being a university professor?
A. Another benefit is you can send your kids to university for free or at a discounted rate depending on where you are. You have freedom of thought and speech. You have vacations and time off, but that is also time to do more research. Teaching and research go hand-in-hand. As a professor, you have time off where you can be lazy, but to be productive you always have to be busy doing research. Hence, sometimes you do not really have a vacation. It also gives the opportunity to do administrative and managerial activities.
Q. Anything you do not like about this profession?
A. As a professor I find myself involved in administration, meetings, taking difficult managerial decisions, which I do not really like. Some people may like it, but if I were only teaching that would be fine. Teaching also involves a lot of patience, though you have freedom, but you also need to be able to deal with all sort of characters. It builds your level of patience.
Q. What do you like best about being a university professor?
A. To be able to impart and acquire knowledge from young people and help them make use of the knowledge in the future. Also getting comments and notes from former students about how they were impacted and have been changed by what they learned and are currently doing. I also like helping young people have good personal and career development.
Q. Considering being a professor, what are some things I should do first?
A. Know your subject well, try to get the highest qualifications in your subject. Some people are very smart, but are not able to impart that knowledge on other people. Learn how to communicate effectively and deal with people of different characters, different backgrounds, and different behaviors. Be open-minded. Realize that no route is easy; no profession is easy. If you are trying to achieve a goal and an objective and you realize that the road is so easy, nice and smooth, you may not achieve your objective, but if you realize that the road is tedious and difficult, you will find that you will achieve your objective and it will be durable.