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Difference Between Associate & Assistant Professor

This article explores the degree requirements, career outlooks, salaries, and main duties of both associate and assistant professors, while also marking the subtle differences between them.

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Comparing Associate Professors to Assistant Professors

Professors are at the forefront of their fields and generally work within colleges and universities. But the various titles of those within postsecondary education can be a bit confusing. This article attempts to point out the slight difference between associate and assistant professors.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2014-2024)**
Associate Professors Masters or Doctorate Degree $76,106 13% (Postsecondary Teachers)
Assistant Professors Masters or Doctorate Degree $65,217 13% (Postsecondary Teachers)

Sources: *Payscale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Associate Professors vs. Assistant Professors

The duties of associate and assistant professors are generally the same. Both are responsible for teaching courses that reflect their area of expertise. They work within a particular department, where they and their colleagues develop a curriculum that meets the colleges' standards. While associate professors, however, are permanent instructors who may earn tenure, assistant professors sign contracts on an ongoing basis to secure their livelihood.

Associate Professors

When promoted from an assistant professorship, educators are granted the title of associate professor and may earn tenure. To do that, they typically have to obtain high scores on student evaluation forms and conduct research that adds new knowledge to their field. After conducting the research, they are then expected to publish their findings in books and academic journals. It is important to remember that even associate professors are primarily teachers, their research and publication responsibilities ensure they are maintaining and contributing current knowledge in their field.

Job responsibilities of an associate professor include:

  • Acting as academic advisors for graduate students working on their theses
  • Advising students on which classes to take to keep them on track towards their academic and career goals
  • Writing research grants to obtain funding for further research
  • Participating in department meetings on policies, budgets, and hiring

Assistant Professors

Assistant professors are not appointed tenure positions, but they still have all the responsibilities of tenured professors. Whether using a standard curriculum provided by the school or developing their own, assistant professors are required to spend most of their time in the classroom. They hold office hours to meet and mentor students, as well as assess the progress of their students by administering projects, essays, and tests. Outside of the classroom, they are expected to attend conferences in their field to promote their research.

Job responsibilities of an assistant professor include:

  • Developing a syllabus to serve as a guide to the courses they teach
  • Answering student questions to better their understanding of the subject, field, and university life
  • Writing letters of recommendation for colleges, programs, and jobs
  • Working with the school administration to develop new courses

Related Careers

If you are interested in a career as an associate professor, you may also be curious about a career as a higher education administrator, because both of these require an interest in post-secondary students and making decisions that change their lives. As someone researching a career as an assistant professor, you may be interested in becoming a high school teacher, since these careers are both geared towards educating future professionals.

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