The Differences Between Assistant, Associate, and Full Professors

Did you know that some professors can’t be fired at all?

That’s right; professors who got tenured can’t lose their job because of their unpopular positions.

Tenure means academic freedom!

However, not all professors are tenured.

That’s the key difference between assistant, associate, and full professors:

  • Assistant professors are entry-level professors and are on the tenure track.
  • Associate professors are middle-level professors (most of them do not have tenure yet).
  • Full professors are senior-level professors who got tenured.

Let’s look at it in detail!

From assistant to full professors

Getting tenure is a long journey!

First, you need to become an assistant professor.

Assistant professors are not anyone’s assistant; these professors on the tenure track. They usually have a six-year contract, and in the fifth year, they can apply for tenure. The tenure application process takes up to a year. If the assistant professor passes an extensive review of his work, he gets promoted to the rank of associate professor.

Associate professors are respectable researchers and have made a name for themselves in their field. They either already have tenure or are close to obtaining tenure. After a few years, associate professors have the option of applying for promotion to full professor. This process takes a few years: a committee needs to review its publications, research, and teaching. If the professor’s work has grown substantially since they became an associate professor, they are promoted to the rank of full professor.

Full professors are tenured and have a significant impact on their field of study. Getting a full professorship is a proof that you have an international reputation among your peers.

Different duties

Associate, assistant, and full professors are all responsible for teaching courses and researching their area of expertise.

However, the duties of each position vary significantly. As you climb the academic ladder, you get more and more administrative responsibilities like:

  • Serving on committees
  • Being given administrative responsibilities
  • Peer reviewing research papers

It can be challenging for associate and full professors to focus on their research!

Learn more

Check out this page where I ranked each professors from assistant to emeritus!

I also wrote other articles about academic rankings that might interest you: