From ArticleWorld

Professor is generally the term used for the highest ranking academician on a college or university faculty. Professors usually have a major research interest and by and large are pre-eminent in their fields. Usually one of the senior academic staff within a department becomes a professor as a result of specialist research and teaching. Some large departments have more than one professor each with their own area or subject of specialty.


In descending order, the other ranks are associate professor, assistant professor, and instructor. Graduate teaching assistants are generally not considered faculty. The basic concept is of tenure. A tenured professor is one who has a permanent job and cannot be dismissed from service and hence can hold open views on controversial subjects without the fear of losing his/ her job. The down side is that this system allows lazy and middling professors to carry on in the same vein without needing to improve.

Diverse classifications

In America the hierarchy begins with:

  1. Assistant professor: This is the first rung in the ladder and a typical assistant professor holds a masters degree and in some cases a Ph.D or even a post-doctoral. This is known as a tenure track position which is to say that it sets the path for becoming tenured professors.
  2. Associate professor: This is generally granted after 6-7 years, although the time period varies between departments and universities.
  3. Full professor: The average age of a full professor usually is 55 years, and a full professor typically always is a tenured professor.
  4. Distinguished professor: This title is granted to the top 1%-5% of tenured professors in a college.

In most commonwealth countries including U.K.:

All teaching staff below the full professor, in order of hierarchy, are called lecturers, senior lecturers and readers. Full professorship is limited to only the most senior staff members.

In Germany, to get into the race of professorship a doctoral candidate has to take a Habilitation, which is like writing a second thesis.