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Academic Rank

Here's my understanding of how academic ranks equate between the U.S. and Canada and the UK. If there are differences between American and Canadian academic ranks, I'm currently unaware of them. Please correct and amend this chart as much as necessary.

U.S. and CanadaUnited Kingdom
Distinguished/University/Institute Professor (tenured)Professor
(Full) Professor (tenured)Reader
Associate Professor (usually tenured)Senior Lecturer
Assistant ProfessorLecturer
Adjunct instructor (or professor)/Sessional (paid on a course-by-course basis)Associate Lecturer

Now how would you address each of these people? All of them who have the appropriate degree (not all of them) can safely be addressed as "Doctor", although many would rather not use the title.* In the U.S. and Canada, all university-level academic intructurs can be addressed as "Professor". In the UK, "Professor" is only appropriate for the most highly-ranked university-level instructors. Many departments or institutions have their own conventions, such as addressing all teaching staff by their first name.

Yet, in an environment as rank-reliant and conservative as academic often is, what titles people are entitled to and what titles people choose to use really matter for maintaining decorum and smoothing interactions with instructors at other ranks. Can any other generalizations about titles and means of address be safely made, or is everything else done on a case-by-case basis?

* garrity, whose post on titles inspired this one, writes that the older generation of academics in her department prefer the purportedly rank-equalizing "Mr."


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2005 02:23 pm (UTC)
my dad (academic) gets called Prof, but when i was at uni, i was expected to address all the teaching staff by their first names. their door plaques and course notes had their titles but otherwise i dont really remember being aware of the practical differences.

(but then, undergrads get treated like scum by pretty much everyone, until they get to their final year. then they _might_ advance to amoebas. if they're lucky)
Dec. 21st, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC)
I think that since all the positions from 'lecturer' up in the UK are tenured they all equate to "professor+" in the US. In particular, "reader", is a pretty senior (and not very common) title. In the UK profs are addressed formally as "Professor X" and everybody else as "Doctor X" (assuming they have a doctorate). In practice in my department we used first names except for the full profs and a few geriatric lecturers.
Dec. 21st, 2005 09:38 pm (UTC)
At St. Andrews, we referred to Professors as Professor, lecturers as Dr., or, in the case of one with an MA, as Ms.--only one Professor was referred to by his first name. I think full Professor and higher most accurately equate to Professor, while Reader is somwhat nebulous, and the lecturer titles refer to Assistant and Associate Professors. Instructor, is, I believe, a sessional title there.
Dec. 21st, 2005 02:32 pm (UTC)
Probably worth pointing out that university and college titles almost always (depends a bit on context) trump departmental ones in the UK and are used without the incumbent's surname. Thus Peter Bayley who was Professor of English and Master of Collingwood was addressed simply as "Master" in college but, presumably as "Professor Bayley" in the department. The Vice Chancellor, despite also being a professor of engineering was always "Vice Cnancellor".
Dec. 21st, 2005 02:34 pm (UTC)
And even in the US it's not always that straightforward - I've had friends who were academic but not tenured say that they corrected their students who called them "Professor" if they weren't, particularly those who were still graduate students.

So I still don't know what to call my advisor - Dr. H? Professor H? First-name? I go with Dr. H.
Dec. 21st, 2005 03:15 pm (UTC)
Can't really be helpful here: though I sometimes think I'm as annoyed by the people who call me Professor as a default (hello? if you know who I am - and since you usually want me to write you an article I assume you must do - you should know I'm not employed in the university system!) as by those who address me as '[firstname]' in initial email/letter contact. Also, I like being Dr because not only does it get over the whole Miss/Mrs/Ms thing that so many people still fail to get their heads around, it also makes me completely gender-neutral, since startingly few people get the (there is one) gendered spelling of my first name. I take malicious pleasure in this.
Dec. 21st, 2005 04:20 pm (UTC)
I can't keep it straight myself, I don't pretend to understand the titles at all.
Dec. 21st, 2005 05:28 pm (UTC)
Oh my. It depends so much on the place in the US. my last CC (Community College) one was an Instructor till one had tenure (a three-year process) and then one became Professor witht the consent of the Faculty Senate. And it never mattered, except on business cards. So there were people with MAs who were professors and PhDs who were adjunct faculty ... and half the people who teach there go by first name.

My new place, one is allowed to choose one's title, pretty much. I tell my students they can call me Dr. ADM or A, but not MS or Mrs or Miss. At Beachy U, we called pretty much all our faculty Dr, unless someone pulled us aside and told us it was Professor or the faculty members told us to call them by their first names. At Grad U, most of the tenured faculty were still Dr, the dinosaurs were Professor, and the associate faculty, who were only a few years ahead of the grad students, were first-name folks.

Oh -- I just remembered I did a summer course at Warwick with Jack Scarisbrick once. The first day of class, some big-haired girl from Texas announced to him that in the US, we always called profs by their first names, and could we just call him Jack, or JJ? About half of us cringed, and about a third of us continued to call him Professor, as did the English students helping out on the course.

Oh -- and Germany? My advisor there was Herr Doktor (Doktor) Professor. He had two doctorates, and had DDP on his nameplate, but we only had to say the DOktor once. In a pinch, we were allowed to say Herr Professor.

Can you tell I haven't had my tea yet? I think chilperic is probably the best equipped to answer this with authority, btw.

Dec. 21st, 2005 05:38 pm (UTC)
That was one of the things that used to amuse me at AT Kearney. Virtually all the staff in Germany had doctorates and all the Principal/VP level folks would have their phones answered by their AAs. o, if I was calling a peer in Germany I'd get some young woman answering with "Herr Doktor Wagner's office" to which my reply would invariably be "Hi, is Peter in?"
Dec. 22nd, 2005 08:08 am (UTC)
I just remembered something else. Just a German-y thing. I've known my German advisor for years. His daughter is a pretty good friend. I've stayed at their house. He's never been anything but Professor, at the least, and always "Sie." At the language school where I taught, all the faculty except one older German woman used the familiar with each other, but we all used the formal with the secretaries. At the Uni, students regularly used the familiar with each other. Most of the junior faculty (people still writing their Habilitationsschriften, but with the title Doctor) used the familiar among themselves and with me (visiting research fellow), but not with the undergrads. My favourite hierarchies are the arcane ones of academe. Or is it that it's circles, not steps?
Dec. 22nd, 2005 12:48 pm (UTC)
There are so many ways of signifying "ingroupness" and, obviously, languages that have a formal and informal second person pronoun have an extra one! For example, graduates of St. Cyr tutoyent regardless of rank.
Dec. 21st, 2005 05:50 pm (UTC)
At Harvard, the staff were adamant that professors of any level be addressed only as Doctor or Professor, and you weren't supposed to contact them by e-mail or phone directly--you were to contact their staff assistant only. The professors themselves had different takes on this, of course. My advisor preferred Kevin, and many other profs went by their first names. Some went by their last names, no title. And some were to be called Doctor or Professor or God help you. This was at the Divinity School, which is probably less formal-feeling as the Harvard schools go, so who knows how much more strict it may've been elsewhere at Harvard.

At RPI, my undergraduate institution, the physics department was less formal. There were no stern lectures from the staff about how we must always address the professors formally, and we were *supposed* to contact them directly. That may have been facilitated by the fact that the department was small and at an institution that gets far fewer press calls than Harvard.
Dec. 21st, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
My experience in Edinburgh was that many of the faculty were fine with being addressed by their first names, but not all. My former advisor is a Reader, has her PhD, but is listed as Mrs EC in the department contact list. She was very relaxed about titles and insisted we call her by her first name. Some of the dept is Mr/Mrs/Ms, many are Dr, about three or four are Professor and one has what would be called an endowed chair in America. I think there was another, but he retired. Interestingly, one of my other tutors who was also the programme director, I would not call by his first name, even as a postgrad. But he was an old-school Oxford boy, so I think he liked to preserve the distinction of rank.
Dec. 21st, 2005 07:28 pm (UTC)
In Canada, or at least in the part of Canada I'm in now, what are called "adjuncts" in the U.S. are called "sessionals". And I've never seen adjuncts called "professors" either here or in the U.S.; they are always called "instructors."

Where I am now, an "adjunct" is someone who teaches or oversees theses in a different department than the one in which s/he is housed. "Dr. Jones has tenure in the history department but she is an adjunct in Political Science."

You might want to add "endowed chair" to the North America side of your first category?

In North America, I think "Dr." is the safest way to address a university teacher, and it's how I prefer to be addressed. As you've no doubt heard me rant before, I really hate it when students assume (just because I am young and a woman) that I'm their buddy and they can call me by my first name.
Dec. 21st, 2005 10:31 pm (UTC)
I thought about adding endowed chair to the top of the list, and then I remembered that I know an associate professor who holds an endowed chair, and who held it even before he achieved tenure. Endowed chairs are complicated things - they usually denote the top of the pile in N.A., but not always.

Thank you for the sessionals note! I know they're called sessionals there, but I was thinking it was yet another synonym for the position - is it also a word for adjuncts in the U.S.? I'm not certain now. I was thinking it was "adjunct instructors" but when superficially browsing for other opinions, someone who edited the relevant Wikipedia article on the subject listed the position was "adjunct professor", so I presume the phrase is used somewhere in the U.S.
Dec. 21st, 2005 07:49 pm (UTC)
My mother-in-law is an Associate Professor at an American University, who worked her way up from temporary adjunct faculty to I've asked her about this exact thing once in the past (right after she finished her doctorate as a matter of fact), but I forget exactly what she said because I still call her Mom or Bobby (Roberta).

When I was in college the dinosaurs were introduced as Professor but were called Doctor Soandso or Professor Soandso about equally. I don't recall being corrected on mistitling anyone except w/ adjunct faculty, who were very strict about being called Mr./Miss/Mrs vice Professor.

I did have an adjunct faculty for Gen Psych who had her doctorate & she definitely preferred Doctor vice Mrs. (understandably). Many of my professors had nicknames that they made us aware of on the first day of class. I had a Physics Prof. who liked to be called Mr. G (his name was Italian & many students would butcher the pronounciation) even though he had his doctorate & another one (who was a Distinguished Prof.) preferred to be called "Tibby" (short for Thibadeau). Granted this wasn't an Ivy league college, so I'd expect things weren't as formal. /shrug
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 22nd, 2005 12:56 am (UTC)
hmmmm. Adjunct is weird. It started as something that was not bad -- people in other professions or other departments who occasionally taught in a particular department -- so a history prof as an adjunct in WS, or a prominent lawyer who taught a class a year. Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, and Clarence Thomas are all adjunct faculty at Emory, I believe. But now adjunct can mean any contingent, non-tenured/non-tenure-track faculty (not a grad student). There are als 'visiting' faculty -- people who hold short-term appointments. The position I hold now is technically a one-year instructor position, but I know people who hold exactly the same sort of position at Research I schools, and the hold the title of Visiting Assistant Professor and Visiting Lecturer. So who knows?
Dec. 22nd, 2005 04:40 am (UTC)
In Britain, start with "Dr.".

Most UK academics will then say "call me James...." etc.

In Baltimore I was "Professor Farah" (I balked at "Miss Farah") and at Mdx I am just "Farah". Although there is one young man who will keep calling me "Miss", a hangover from UK schools where all male teachers are Sir and all female teachers are Miss. (no last name).
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )