The Assistant Vs. Associate Professor Comparison

The terms “assistant” and “associate” professors are often used interchangeably by many people. Most students even rank assistant and associate professors equally.

But that is not the case. Not all professors are equal. A hierarchy in academic settings distinguishes one professor from the next.

What are the differences between an assistant professor and an associate professor? How long does it take to rise through the professorship ranks? What are the steps to becoming a professor?

This article promises to unravel some mysteries of academic structure.

Differences Between Assistant And Associate Professor

Let’s break down the difference between both professors.


Associate and assistant professors have similar responsibilities. They are both in charge of teaching courses, doing research in their fields of specialty, and performing a range of administrative tasks.

They work in a department where they and their colleagues design a curriculum that fits the requirements of the institutions.

However, associate professors can pursue their research interests, whereas assistant professors typically work on projects assigned by a full professor.Furthermore, the two positions have different academic responsibilities.

As university lecturers go through the academic career ladder, they’ll be saddled with demanding academic tasks such as participating in university committees, peer-reviewing research articles, and supervising Ph.D. students.


An assistant professor is a junior faculty member, while an associate professor is one step up from an assistant. Typically, an assistant professor will be promoted to associate professor or leave the university after seven years.

However, it’s logically possible to remain an assistant professor indefinitely. If an assistant professor chooses to progress, he’ll be promoted to an associate professor. A tenured track usually accompanies this promotion.


Lecturers promoted from assistant professorships to associate professorships are eligible for tenure. They usually need to obtain excellent grades on student assessment forms and undertake research that adds to their field’s expertise.

Based on their primary duties as a lecturer, associate professors have research and publication obligations. Therefore, associate professors are expected to publish their work in books and academic journals after performing the research.

On the other hand, assistant professors should spend most of their time in the classroom. They either use a standard curriculum assigned by the school or design their own.  Assistant professors also offer counseling hours to meet and mentor students.

They also conduct projects, essays, and examinations to evaluate their students’ progress  in the classroom. Outside the school, assistant professors often attend conferences in their fields to promote their research.


Associate professors earn more than assistant professors. The American Association of University Professors survey shows that assistant professors make an average of $83,362 annually, while associate professors earn $95,828.

However, factors like a lecturer’s university, department, state, and others may impact their salary.

How Long It Takes An Assistant Professor To Become An Associate

Faculty members appointed as assistant professors typically have six years to earn tenure and promotion to associate professor.

Suppose a faculty member does not receive tenure as an assistant professor after six years. In that case, the faculty member will get a one-year notice of non-renewal of their tenure track appointment, and their position at the university will terminate at that time.

What Does A Lecturer Need A Tenure?

As a tenured faculty member in a university, you would be protected from being fired unjustly from your position. In addition, this job security gives you some academic independence.

In some universities, associate professorships are tenured, while tenure is reserved for full professorships in other universities.

Tenure can be earned within 6-7 years, depending on the academic institution. Most times, the tenure process usually takes a longer period. The method entails progressing through the academic ranks from the instructor, lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and finally full professor.

During these stages, a tenure board will assess your performance as a lecturer and researcher to know whether you are credible for promotion to a higher rank.

Is It Compulsory For An Assistant Professor To Have A Ph.D.?

The assistant professor is usually a new doctoral graduate commencing his career in higher education as a junior lecturer in an academic setting. Even though an assistant professor is at the lowest faculty level, a Ph.D. is required.

Most colleges prefer to employ assistant professors with some teaching experience gained throughout Ph.D. studies.

Is Associate Professor The Highest Rank?

No, the associate professor isn’t the highest rank. An Associate Professor is in the middle of the academic hierarchy. A full professor is the highest rank attainable by a professor, and it is rarely attained before a person reaches their mid-forties.

However, a Full Professor may be bestowed with additional honorary titles or posts. These titles can be chaired, distinguished, and named Professors.

Full professors with a Distinguished Professorship typically earn more money and have greater status than other hierarchies. Furthermore, they have reduced teaching loads to focus more on their research.

How Long It Takes To Become A Professor In The USA

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to have doctoral degrees, you’ll need at least eight years of university education. Obtaining postdoctoral education or earning job experience in one’s area can lengthen the time it takes to become a professor.

Furthermore, how long it takes to become a professor depends on the field. Career fields like science and health courses may require additional licensure. For example, nursing professors often need to get a nursing license to teach, extending their career path.

Is It Possible For A Professor To Lecture In Two Departments?

Yes, a professor can teach in two departments. This lecture pattern is called joint, secondary, or courtesy appointment. The goal is to enable faculty to lecture or research cross-disciplinary topics.

A person with a joint appointment is normally a full member of both departments and receives funding from both. However, secondary and courtesy appointments indicate a less formal relationship between the two departments.

Is It Possible For A Professor To Have Other Jobs?

Yes, some professors have other jobs apart from academia. For example, some people love combining teaching and working in the industry. In this case, a professor will have to teach as adjunct faculty. Working as adjunct faculty means a professor has to teach university courses, usually undergraduates.

A university hires an adjunct lecturer temporarily, usually for a year, and they usually only teach one or two courses at a time. However, they do not enjoy the same academic benefits as a full-time lecturer or professor,

The use of adjuncts for teaching has been widely criticized in the United States. The criticism is because these positions require a high level of competence and training yet are typically low-paid, unstable, and without benefits.

Furthermore, it’s incredibly tough to make a full-time living as an adjunct. However, you can consider an adjunct position if you have a steady job in the industry with a decent salary. Also, if you’re considering teaching part-time, adjunct jobs can be a fantastic way to test the waters and see if teaching is right for you.

What Is The Retirement Age Of A Professor? 

Most academics retire before 70, usually at 65, allowing only a small percentage of professors to work into their 70s, mostly those who have been the most successful during their careers.

However, with their employer’s permission, members can retire at 55.

What Is A Retired Professor Called?

After retirement, professors who choose to remain involved in academia are given the honorary title of emeritus or emerita.

This title can be awarded to a member of the academic staff in a university professor, professor, or associate professor who retires after ten years of full-time equivalency.

Likewise, a professor who has offered meritorious and distinguished service to the university may be awarded Professor Emeritus after credible recommendations.

The recommenders must be the dean of the college, members of the department, and the school faculty to which the retiring professor belonged.

Which Country Pays Highest Salary To Professors?

Canada is the best option for academics joining the academic profession for the first time. The United States ranks fifth in average salaries based on purchasing power, trailing its northern neighbor and Italy, South Africa, and India.

How Do Professors Earn Extra Money?

Professors have several ways to increase their source of income. Sources such as working as a consultant can be quite profitable to professors. Professors can serve as consultants and offer executive workshops in the business world.

In addition, professors can consult for businesses and corporations based on their research and expertise.

Overall, Is It Worth It Being A Professor?

Professors are often well-compensated, earning enough to live comfortably and raise a family. However, someone with a professor’s expertise and experience could almost likely make significantly more money in the private sector in the labor market.

Occasionally, professors have time for vacations. Some of these academics take professional holidays to a location where they can combine research and tourism.


Academia has its own set of confusing traditions and norms. Even simple tasks such as emailing your professor can be perplexing. Should you address them as “Professor,” “Doctor,” or another title?

If someone’s job title includes the term “professor,” you can address them as “Professor Last Name.”

However, it’s noteworthy to remember that even if assistant and associate professors share the same title, they differ in many ways.The differences are in their ranks, responsibilities, research, and salary structure.

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