Students often find the different academic ranks confusing: some professors are granted permanent employment (also known as tenure) while others are on what is called the tenure track. Assistant and associate professors are both on the tenure track. So, how can one differentiate between these two types of professors?
In short, an associate professor is one step up from an assistant professor. Assistant professors are entry-level professors and are on the tenure track, but do not have tenure yet. Within 7 years, an assistant professor can be promoted to associate professor: a role with a better salary and heavier duties.
An associate professor is sometimes given tenure, but that is not always the case. For example, most associate professors at MIT are not yet tenured. To get access to the academic freedom provided by a tenured position, professors usually need to be granted a full professorship.
In this article, we will look at the main differences between an associate professor and an assistant professor.
The role of associate and assistant professors is very similar: they are both responsible for teaching courses, conducting research in their areas of expertise, and doing various administrative duties.
However, associate professors are expected to develop their own research line, while assistant professors usually work on the topics given by a full professor. In this aspect, associate professors have more academic freedom and better job security.
Furthermore, the academic 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
Associate professors at some universities have been granted the right to formally supervise Ph.D. students.
The roles of an associate professor and an assistant professor vary from one university to the next. For example, some universities allow associate professors to vote on who gets tenure.
As mentioned in our article about professors’ salaries, associate professors earn more than assistant professors. In fact, the average salary of an assistant professor is $77,493 per year, while associate professors earn $87,761. Be informed that those salaries may be impacted by the department of the lecturer, his university, state, and other factors.
The Journey 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 assistants; these professors are 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 proof that you have an international reputation among your peers.
I have published a category page about academic ranks and the different types of professors where you can learn more about associate professors, adjunct professors, emeritus professors, visiting professors, endowed professors, distinguished professors, tenured professors, and other faculty members with a doctorate degree.
There is also an article that covers the main activities of professors: teaching, research, and administrative duties.