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Professor vs. Associate Professor: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on February 5, 2024
A professor is a senior academic rank at universities, signifying the highest level of expertise, whereas an associate professor is a mid-level, tenured academic rank below a full professor.

Key Differences

A professor is a senior academic rank in universities, often indicating a faculty member with extensive experience and contributions to their field. Associate professors hold a rank below full professors, having achieved tenure but not yet the highest academic standing.
To become a professor, one typically requires years of academic research, teaching, and publications. Associate professors are on the path to becoming full professors, having demonstrated significant academic achievement but still progressing in their careers.
Professors often lead research projects, mentor doctoral candidates, and have a strong influence in their academic departments. Associate professors, while also involved in research and mentoring, are generally building their reputation and body of work to reach full professorship.
The title of professor is usually awarded after extensive peer review and recognition in their field of expertise. Associate professors have cleared major hurdles in academia, like earning tenure, but are yet to attain the pinnacle of academic career progression.
Professors typically have more responsibilities in university governance and policy-making. Associate professors, though involved in departmental affairs, usually have lesser roles in administrative and policy decisions compared to full professors.

Comparison Chart

Academic Rank

Highest academic rank in universities
Mid-level, tenured academic rank

Experience and Contributions

Extensive experience and significant contributions
Significant achievements but still progressing


Leading research, mentoring, departmental influence
Active in research and mentoring, growing influence

Path to Title

Awarded after extensive peer review and recognition
Achieved after earning tenure, progressing towards full professorship

Role in University Governance

Greater involvement in policy-making
Lesser administrative roles compared to full professors

Professor and Associate Professor Definitions


Plays a key role in university governance and policy.
The professor was instrumental in reforming the university's academic curriculum.

Associate Professor

Actively contributes to academic publications and conferences.
The associate professor presented her findings at an international conference.


Often leads significant research projects in their field.
The professor's research has been pivotal in advancing renewable energy technologies.

Associate Professor

Engages in teaching, research, and some administrative duties.
The associate professor is popular among students for his engaging lectures.


Engages in high-level teaching, especially in graduate programs.
The professor teaches advanced courses in quantum mechanics.

Associate Professor

Involved in mentoring graduate students and junior faculty.
The associate professor is supervising several doctoral theses this year.


A senior academic rank in universities, denoting expertise and leadership.
The professor chaired the department of physics for ten years.

Associate Professor

Building a reputation and body of work in their academic field.
The associate professor's recent publication has garnered significant attention.


Has a strong influence on their academic discipline.
The professor has published extensively in the field of artificial intelligence.

Associate Professor

A mid-level academic rank, typically tenured, in the path to full professorship.
The associate professor recently received a grant for her groundbreaking research.


A college or university teacher who ranks above an associate professor.


A teacher or instructor.


One who professes.


The most senior rank for an academic at a university or similar institution, informally also known as "full professor."


A teacher or faculty member at a college or university regardless of formal rank.


(archaic) One who professes something, such as a religious doctrine.


A pianist in a saloon, brothel, etc.


The puppeteer who performs a Punch and Judy show; a Punchman.


One who professed, or makes open declaration of, his sentiments or opinions; especially, one who makes a public avowal of his belief in the Scriptures and his faith in Christ, and thus unites himself to the visible church.


One who professed, or publicly teaches, any science or branch of learning; especially, an officer in a university, college, or other seminary, whose business it is to read lectures, or instruct students, in a particular branch of learning; as a professor of theology, of botany, of mathematics, or of political economy.


Someone who is a member of the faculty at a college or university


What distinguishes an associate professor from a professor?

Associate professors are mid-level academics progressing towards the full professorship, with less experience than full professors.

What are the responsibilities of an associate professor?

They include teaching, research, and contributing to departmental activities.

Can associate professors conduct research?

Yes, they actively engage in research and often lead their own projects.

How long does it take to become a professor?

It varies, but typically requires many years of academic achievement and recognition.

What qualifications are needed to become a professor?

A doctoral degree, extensive academic contributions, and recognition in their field.

What is the primary role of a professor?

A professor engages in advanced teaching, research, and contributes significantly to their field.

Are professors involved in university governance?

Yes, professors play significant roles in decision-making and policy formulation.

Do professors only teach graduate courses?

While they often focus on graduate education, they may teach undergraduate courses too.

Does an associate professor have a say in departmental decisions?

Yes, though their role is usually less than that of full professors.

Is tenure guaranteed for associate professors?

Associate professors usually have tenure, which is a significant career milestone.

Are professors required to publish regularly?

Yes, continual publication is often expected to maintain their standing.

Can professors work outside academia?

Yes, some engage in consulting, research, or other professional activities.

Are there different specializations within the professorship?

Yes, professors specialize in a wide range of academic disciplines.

How is a professor's influence in academia measured?

Through research contributions, publications, and impact in their field.

Are professors always involved in academic research?

Generally, yes, as research is a key component of their role.

Is it common for associate professors to become full professors?

Many aspire to, but it requires meeting high academic standards.

What career path leads to an associate professorship?

Typically, it follows earning a Ph.D. and gaining experience as an assistant professor.

Can associate professors mentor PhD students?

Yes, they often supervise doctoral candidates.

Do associate professors participate in academic conferences?

Yes, presenting and attending conferences is common.

Do professors have more administrative responsibilities?

Yes, they often have greater administrative and policy-making duties.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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