Unless I am mistaken, somehow, if you have defended a PhD then you have a Doctorate degree, which means you are a "Doctor". That remains to be the case, even if you leave academia and go work in industry, or travel the world or whatever.

Does the same thing apply for professorship? In other words, is it so that once you receive professorship, you are indeed always a professor? Or is it connected to your employment as a professor?

And of course there is the middle ground, where you might have assistant or associate professorship and choose to leave academia? Do you then revert back to being a "John Smith, PhD"? Or remain to be "John Smith, Assoc Prof"?

As a follow up question: Does this vary from country to country as well, or is there a generally accepted rule of thumb?

  • 2
    It is a position and not a title. You can keep your titles while you are promoted and you can be called "Prof. Habil. Dr. Dr." XYZ ZYY but not "Prof. Assoc Prof. Dr." because you lose it as soon as you quit your Assoc professorship position.
    – Yacine
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 11:53
  • 3
    Adding a country tag might help to answer this question.
    – Dirk
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 12:39
  • Related.
    – user68958
    Commented May 13, 2019 at 15:56

4 Answers 4


In the US there are no legal rules. I think that few people would use Associate Professor as a title, but rather as a description of the post they currently hold. They would probably use Professor as a title, however. It is a descriptive title even before elevation to Full Professor. Students normally call them "prof" in many places. But the "title" is descriptive, not formal. It is a term of respect when used in this way.

However, if a person leaves academia for some other profession, it is unlikely that they would use professor and variations as a title. They might describe themselves as "former professor".

After retirement you might be "professor emeritus", again a description. On your tombstone you might be "Dr. Stone, Professor of English", the final description.

Other places are more formal about such things, but in the US, not so much.

I am actually "Professor Emeritus", which I interpret to mean that I didn't unforgivably disgrace myself before I retired.


In The Netherlands, the title professor (prof.) is protected and is only allowed to be used by a hoogleraar (US equivalent: full professor). Once retired, they are allowed to use the title emeritus professor (em. prof. or prof. em.). This is not allowed if they stop before their retirement.


Does the same thing apply for professorship? In other words, is it so that once you receive professorship, you are indeed always a professor? Or is it connected to your employment as a professor?

Only when you are employed as a full professor or retired.

Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_ranks_in_the_Netherlands#Full_professors


In the United States, titles (such as Doctor and Professor) are not protected and anyone can use them. In my opinion, referring to yourself as "John Smith, Assoc Prof" if you are not actually employed (anymore) as an associate professor would be a bit odd -- but it's not illegal.

In most other (not US or Canada) countries, the title "Professor" is reserved for full professors. An assistant or associate professor does not get to call themselves professor. Somebody who retires from a Professor position is often referred to as Professor Emeritus, and so (in some sense) gets to keep their title.


In the UK there are many "visiting professors" at a university who have never actually held a professorial post in that or any other university. There is nothing in English law that would forbid them to use the title "Professor" and some of them do use it and are given the title in official documents, for example, when they give evidence to a parliamentary committee.

But I have never heard of anyone who might once have been an assistant professor, but no higher, use the title later on. Frankly, it is just too junior a title to boast about.

England being England, however, beware of laughing at academics who boast that they are or were "Students" of Christchurch, Oxford. In that college, in that university 'student' has a technical meaning much more glamorous that one might think.

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