I've recently gotten a job as lecturer and economics course module developer at a new university this fall. The position is intended as permanent. There is opportunity for funded research but that isn't an objective of the chairs due to the newness of the university.

What is strange is that the position is called "Assistant Professor" which makes no sense due to the size of the institution and the lack of research required by it (It is a private university).

I am currently enrolled in a PhD program but have some time to defend my thesis. I'm wondering if it's fair to call myself an "assistant professor" or not being that I haven't been endowed with my PhD yet.

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    The answer to this question is written in your employment contract or offer letter. Your job title is whatever it says in that document. Your PhD is irrelevant to your job title. Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 22:58
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    You don't carry such titles with you. They apply to a specific job. If you change institutions, that new place will give you some appropriate title.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 23:02
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    Professor is not necessarily someone who does any research, nor is it about institution size. Professor as a title has existed before our modern concept of formally required research or publication culture, and will with any luck outlive it. :) If the University says you are a professor, you are one.
    – BrianH
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 23:35
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    It really depends where you mean. In your email signature? In your class? In a conference? Certainly wherever your title is shared you use the formal one. Also for students we tend to refer to all kinds of instructors as professor to maintain the hierarchy or whatever. but in a private conversation with a researcher, we generally just refer to people without phd by their name. Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 3:48
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    The country probably matters for this - there may or may not be different restrictions on academic titles depending on your location; e.g. for my university it would be simply illegal to award someone the academic tile of associate professor if that person doesn't fit certain criteria which generally include a doctor's degree (there are some specific exceptions for e.g. music and arts).
    – Peteris
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 10:49

5 Answers 5


the position is called "Assistant Professor"

If you hold an appointment as an assistant professor, then you are an assistant professor. Still, I understand your concern....

kinda makes no sense due to the size of the institution and the lack of research required by it...however this is a bit of a no-name brand institution

Context is everything.

  • I agree it would look foolish or pompous if you use your title in a way that gives the impression you are a professor at an R1. When meeting colleagues at different institutions, you may wish to describe yourself as a lecturer or say "my title is assistant professor, but it's mostly teaching" or something unambiguous like that.
  • On the other hand, everyone at your home institution should understand what an "assistant professorship" at that institution entails, so there is no issue with you using the title internally.
  • Similarly, non-academics don't know or care about the subtle differences in academic rank, "I'm an assistant professor" is fine in such contexts.

Regardless, your PhD (or lack thereof) is irrelevant.

Sadly, such overloaded terms in commonplace in Anglophone academia. Many of us with doctorates select the salutation "Mr./Ms." to avoid being confused for an M.D. ("real doctor"). Those with PhDs from online schools face a similar dilemma.

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    "my title is assistant professor, but it's mostly teaching" or something unambiguous like that. — This is unnecessarily deferential. The job title title does not imply working at an R1. “I'm an assistant professor” is fine.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:29
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    Disagree. As I mentioned, it's an awkward situation due to the overloaded terms. But if I walk into a hospital and call myself "Dr. Cag51", I'm going to look like an idiot -- or a fraud -- when I can't answer medical questions and have to explain that I'm not "that kind" of doctor. Though technically allowed, I would be wiser to preemptively avoid creating this false impression. OP's situation -- in certain contexts -- is similar.
    – cag51
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 11:26
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    Seriously? What kind of snobs do you hang out with? Calling yourself "doctor" in a hospital when you only have a PhD is problematic because the confusion could cost someone their life. Calling yourself an assistant professor without qualification when you don't work at an R1 has no such consequences.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 17:20
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    I would have a trust issue if I met someone at a conference who claimed to be a professor but I later found out their only job responsibility was teaching — Why?? This strikes me as a dictionary example of snobbery, especially given your conflation of "not working at an R1" (your first bullet) with "only job responsibility is teaching" (your later comment).
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 10, 2019 at 20:41
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    Any false impressions are on you, not them; again, see dictionary under "snobbery". OP is an assistant professor. Just. Like. You.
    – JeffE
    Commented Aug 11, 2019 at 17:25

Academic titles are not something you award yourself. In the US, Assistant Professor has a specific meaning and is assigned by a university. Other places it may have no meaning at all.

But, I think people would react poorly to you doing that. Your title is Lecturer, as you state. Use that, and only that until you are awarded a different one.

Even if you have a PhD you aren't an Assistant Professor unless a university says you are. And if you leave that university you lose that title. Caution is advised.

Since the question was edited, just ask the institution what you can call yourself. But note that the title doesn't carry with you and other institutions might not accept it. Again, caution, especially in job applications and such.

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    The job title is "assistant professor" however this is a bit of a no-name brand institution. This is why im cautious with the title.
    – EconJohn
    Commented Aug 8, 2019 at 23:05

Can I call myself an assistant professor without a PhD

I think the problem here is that you don't get to choose what to "call yourself" (in professional contexts, particularly in your CV). Your job title is chosen by your employer. What you have control over is whether to take the job or not. If you took a job that has the title "Assistant Professor", then you are now an assistant professor, and it would be dishonest to represent yourself otherwise in a CV, email signature, business card, or similar professional communication. So yes, not only you can call yourself that, but in fact you cannot really not call yourself that.

At the same time, while your concern that this would look strange seems legitimate, to me it seems that the signal that you would be sending by presenting yourself as an assistant professor without a PhD is not so much that you are being dishonest or misleading, but rather that the institution you are working for has low standards for the professional qualifications of its professors. So perhaps I would suggest that when you tell people about your job, try to make sure that "assistant professor" is always accompanied by "[name of university]" so that no one has reason to suspect you of empty boasting. Hopefully if you explain your situation in a matter of fact (and accurate) way without appearing to be either boastful or apologetic, then instead of getting a bad impression, the person you're talking to will actually take away the fact that you are an industrious and ambitious person who is not only working his way towards a PhD in economics but also manages to have a steady full time job teaching at a local university while doing so. That's not too shabby if you ask my opinion.

Edit: to clarify, in casual conversation it is not entirely necessary to parrot the official job title. So for example as an answer to a question about your job, you can say “I teach at [name of university]” and not “I’m an assistant professor” if that makes you more comfortable. You probably shouldn’t use the word “lecturer” though, since at least in United States academia that means something very specific that doesn’t quite fit your situation.

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    I'm not sure I (completely) agree here. My "official" title is something like research associate. At some universities, that's a undergrad working 10 hrs/week in someone's lab. At others, including mine, it's a soft money position for people with PhDs and postdoc experience. I certainly wouldn't claim to be the dean or something, but I feel okay "rounding" my title off to postdoc or research scientist. Likewise, OP can go with his official title or something like "lecturer..."
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 13:36
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    @Matt well, it’s your decision what to do of course, and I don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the truth. But I think a more appropriate way to deal with this type of situation is to write your official job title and then clarify it by adding your “interpretation” in parentheses, or square brackets, or as a footnote, etc. E.g.: “Research Associate [postdoctoral research position]”. This comes across as more professional if you ask my opinion, and shows a good level of attention for details as well as respect for the truth.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:40
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    (See also this)
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 15:50
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    Surely this is context-dependent? A few situations may require your exact verbatim job title (e.g., a background check), but I would also look askance at someone who introduced themselves socially as "Research Associate IV - Medical" at a party. I would not be surprised to learn that a friend-of-a-friend working as "a" professor is, in fact, only an assistant professor.
    – Matt
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 18:36
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    @Matt absolutely, I tried to make that clear in my answer. The places where I feel it’s most important to be precise are on the CV, email signature and business card. Even in those places I would go with “Research Associate” rather than “Research Associate IV - Medical”, which appears to be an internal HR-type designation and not a job title in the sense that I think is being discussed here.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Aug 9, 2019 at 18:39

"Professor" is a courtesy title so your official offer letter is the official arbiter of this, along with whatever the campus directory lists you as. If your offer letter says something like "... the position of Assistant Professor in ... " then you are a professor, if it says "... the position of Lecturer in ..." then it wouldn't be appropriate to be called a professor. For example, when I taught a class as a graduate student style of address came up and I told the students if they wish to address me as professor in or out of the classroom they can, but X or Y would be more correct.


In some countries, an academic that is just an MSc holder can get to the ranks of Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, and Professor. When you have a PhD, you're addressed as Assistant Professor Dr. XYZ, Associate Professor Dr. XYZ, Professor Dr. XYZ. This varies from one country to another. Just follow the specificities of your location.

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