A research professor is an employee of an academic institution who focuses on performing research, doing little or no teaching. Research professor positions are sometimes described as “post doctoral programs on steroids,” because they allow people to focus on research and take advantage of the institution's facilities and faculty without the need to teach students. For universities, maintaining research professors is a way to add to the reputation and body of knowledge of the university, as the university can attract attention and interest when these employees publish research results.
In order to become a research professor, someone must generally hold a doctoral degree, and many universities prefer candidates with post doctoral experience. Research experience is also required by most institutions, as they want to see proof that a potential researcher has the skills, experience, and drive to actually conduct research if hired. A history of publication in academic and trade journals can also be a strong trait for an applicant, as it indicates that he or she has successfully completed and written up studies.
Research professors are also usually required to bring in their own funding. The university may provide facilities and advantages such as academic connections, but the bulk of the professor's financial support will not come from the university. Instead, he or she must seek out funding from agencies which will support the research. A physicist, for example, might request National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) funding to support research which will further the exploration of space.
Typically, research professors are not tenured, and they may have limited terms of two to three years. Applicants who want to seek tenure-track positions will need to apply for jobs as teaching professors and work their way up the ranks. For research professors, the lack of tenure can be a disadvantage, because it undermines job security, but the ability to research without having to dedicate time to teaching may be greatly appreciated. The lack of tenure can also be an incentive to work in many different environments, rather than making a professor feel tethered to the same institution.
Access to other members of the academic community, along with the considerable resources of the university, can be immensely beneficial for a research professor. Some academic institutions may also request that their research professors advise graduate students, or take very minimal teaching loads, so that they provide some services to the student body. In positions where work with students will be required, the terms are usually spelled out in the contract the research professor signs at the time of hiring.