EDUCATION REPORT - Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Lecturer... What's the
Written by Nancy Steinbach
20 April 2005
I'm Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Education
A listener at Hefei University of Technology in Anhui
Province, China, has a question for our Foreign Student Series.
The question involves the system of job names in American
higher education. Zhang Xiang wants to know the difference
between positions like professor, associate professor and
In the United States, a person who wants to do research and teach at a college or university
usually has a doctorate, the highest degree. But sometimes a school may offer positions to
people who have not yet finished their doctorate.
Such a person would be called an instructor until the degree has been completed. After that, the
instructor could become an assistant professor. Assistant professors do not have tenure.
A person with tenure cannot be easily dismissed. Such appointments are permanent. University
teachers and researchers who are hired with the understanding that they will seek tenure are said
to be on a tenure track. Assistant professor is the first job on this path.
Assistant professors generally have five to seven years to gain tenure. During this time, other
faculty members study the person's work. If tenure is denied, then the assistant professor usually
has a year to find another job.
An assistant professor who receives tenure becomes an associate professor. An associate
professor may later be appointed a full professor.
Assistant, associate and full professors at American universities perform many duties. They
teach classes. They advise students. And they carry out research that is published. They also
serve on university committees and take part in other activities.
Other faculty members at American universities are not expected to do all those jobs. They are
not on a tenure track. Instead, they might be in adjunct or visiting positions. A visiting professor
has a job at one school but works at another for a period of time. An adjunct professor is also a
limited or part-time position, to do research or teach classes. Adjunct professors have a
Another position is that of lecturer. Lecturers teach classes, but they may or may not have a
If you have a general question about the American education system, send it to
email@example.com. And if you would like to find the other reports in our Foreign Student
Series, go to voaspecialenglish.com.
This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Gwen Outen.