Academic titles in the US can be confusing and may even seem meaningless to new college students.
After all, why should you care whether the person leading your lecture is an associate professor, a lecturer or something else altogether?
But knowing what academic titles mean can help you better understand your professors and their research, and will allow you make informed choices when building relationships with professors.
Read on for a rundown of the basic academic titles you are likely to come across while studying in the US.
Sometimes referred to as a full professor, this title denotes a senior professor who has been given tenure. A tenured professor is guaranteed a job until retirement, which is why tenure is greatly coveted by those working in the academic world.
(Bonus: Often times, American students will call their professor simply “prof” — but only in social settings with fellow students and never to the professor himself!)
This is one of the academic titles leading up to that of full professor. An associate professor is considered of mid-level seniority and usually already tenured.
Before being promoted to the mid-level associate professor level, most profs start out as assistant professors. After putting in some time at the university, these introductory-level professors may either be promoted or dismissed from the position.
A lecturer, sometimes also called an instructor, holds a full-time position but usually receives little to no funding for outside research, and is not eligible for tenure. Lecturers generally teach introductory undergraduate courses. Some may not hold a PhD.
Also sometimes called adjunct lecturers or faculty associates, adjunct professors are part-time faculty members paid on a class-by-class basis. In some cases, as with lecturers, an adjunct professor may not hold a PhD. Adjunct professors are often asked to teach due to the expertise and career success they have in a certain field.
Teaching Assistant (TA) or Teaching Fellow (TF)
These are bound to be the people you have the most contact with at school. TA’s or TF’s are usually graduate students who support a professor by helping with grading, leading small discussion groups outside of lectures, and sometimes even filling in to lecture if the professor is unavailable.
Research professors are unique among academic titles because they generally have no teaching duties. For this reason, research professors usually are paid via external sources, like grants.
Why Should You Care About Academic Titles?
You’re probably wondering why in the world you should bother caring about these US academic titles. But consider the following example: You’re planning on applying to graduate school after you receive your bachelor’s degree. You know you should start building strong relationships with your professors now to guarantee good references in the future.
You might really like that assistant professor in English, but their academic title tells you that they may no longer be working at your school by the time you graduate. When it comes to future references, it’s best to build strong relationships with those holding higher-ranking academic titles, like full professors, who will still be around when you need them.
Here’s another example about why academic titles matter to students:
Let’s say you know for sure that you will not be continuing school after you get your undergraduate degree – you’re planning on getting a job and starting your career. This is where adjunct professors, who usually have been asked to teach on the basis of personal career success, can be of use!
Professors are a Resource
US colleges and universities have many resources to offer students, and one of those resources is the professors who work there. Finding out about academic titles will help you choose the best college courses and get the most out of your university experience. That’s why smart students know to take academic titles seriously.