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I often go to meetings and professional events outside academia.

I am meeting new people all the time, and most of them are not acquainted with academic ranks and job titles. It happens often that when they realize that my job title is 'assistant professor' they slightly dismiss me and suddenly give an impression that they see me inferior.

Some even ask me who my professor is. So I don't think I am misinterpreting the situations. Outside academia 'assistant' has often a connotation of a lower and dependent ranking, which may explain it.

I am not obsessed with titles, and I am happy with my job and position, but I have a feeling that in these situations it may close doors as I am getting dismissed before I can show anything.

As I am getting convinced that this happens only because of the job title, I started to think who can I introduce myself with another generic job title that sounds better and does more justice (that I am more senior than I appear: a project leader, supervising people, and do not assist someone).

Is there a synonym that I can use instead? The requirement is that a title isn't fake. I don't want to claim a title that does not belong to me. I just want to find a better way to introduce myself to those who are outside academia. I was thinking about using titles such as senior scientist, research director, lecturer, but these are actual job titles. Principal investigator, while truthful, may not be understood.

Maybe I should also state that I am male, so it is not about gender. I can imagine that if I were female it would be even worse.

  • 19
    It could help to know what country this relates to. – Dan Romik Jan 4 at 17:04
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    As Dan says, the 'correct' answer to this question depends on which country you are in. 'Professor' means different things in different countries. – Ben Aveling Jan 6 at 10:07
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    It is a lower ranking than Professor. But you're probably right that some will (reasonably) interpret it as "Assistant to the Professor". – Flyto Jan 7 at 17:27

11 Answers 11

39

I think you should just introduce yourself as

I work as a professor at the University of X.

omitting the assistant rank that can cause misunderstandings.

The following conversation line feels also very safe:

– Where do you work?

– I do research and teach at the University of X.

which might be a better fit since it explains your job in a short sentence. However, nothing wrong with the first line that does not require a question to feel natural.

The actual rank (assistant/associate/full) might matter in a formal (mostly, written and official) context and rarely means a lot outside of the academic system. And that seems to be exactly the situation you happen to encounter issues.

Related questions:

Cultural and linguistic differences can play a role, so it might not be as appropriate in certain countries; though, I doubt that would matter at all in a circle that is not familiar with academic ranks at all. Moreover, it is likely that there is no confusion because the rank in the other language is very different.

You might also dig in the direction of "Head of XXX lab" (in case it applies) or "research group supervisor", but I don't think there is a good reason. An assistant professor is a professor and no elaboration is needed in a laid-back unofficial atmosphere.

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    Good answer, upvoted, but “I do research and teach at the University of X” can come across as “I am being deliberately vague about my job title at University of X”. Which will actually be true in OP’s case, but probably defeats the purpose of what he’s trying to achieve. – Dan Romik Jan 4 at 18:02
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    In the UK it would be misleading to describe yourself as a professor unless your job title was "Professor" - a relatively senior rank in the hierarchy that you do not hold. – JeremyC Jan 4 at 23:05
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    Same for Australia. It would be extremely misleading to call yourself a Professor if you were not one. Even an Associate Professor is a high rank. – curiousdannii Jan 5 at 12:42
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    To add to @DanRomik's comment, that phrase might equally well apply to grad students and postdocs, and possibly by people who aren't even employees of University X. – Kimball Jan 5 at 14:29
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    @JeremyC Yes, but in the UK the OP wouldn't be an Assistant Professor. They would be a post-doc researcher, or a Lecturer, or a Reader. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jan 6 at 17:48
24

Try this: (Example)

"I am currently a faculty member at the University of Texas, English Department (2013 - Present)" - since assistant professor vs. associate professor are simply ranking progress of a Ph.d on faculty simply state the basic.

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  • Yes, this is the best advice. It is what I do when it is not quite clear if my audience understands academia or not. If they understand academia and want to know mor, it is easy for them to ask a follow-up question. – Dawn Jan 6 at 1:07
5

What about something along the lines of "Junior-ranked professor"? - this conveys both that (a) you are a professor for practical purposes (i.e., you do research and teaching), and (b) that you don't have a high seniority. This does leave out the fact that you do not have tenure, but industry people often do not care about this.

Coincidentally, in Germany, "Juniorprofessor" is an official designation for a position quite similar to an assistant professorship elsewhere, except that by default, it does not have a tenure track, so after at most 6 years, such professors have to find a new job.

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5

In the UK, there are currently two competing sets of ranks. Some universities use the traditional British structure of Lecturer - Senior Lecturer - Reader - Professor, whereas others use the more international one of Assistant Professor - Associate Professor - Professor. Job advertisements will often indicate how the ranks used in that university correspond to the other set, and this is normally Assistant Professor = Lecturer, Associate Professor = Senior Lecturer / Reader (some places have two classes of Associate Professor to distinguish this) and, unsurprisingly, Professor = Professor.

So I would use "university lecturer"; it may not be your job title, but you do (I presume) actually deliver lectures, people will probably understand it better than "assistant professor", and it is a title some other institutions would use for your current rank. In the UK at least (and I think in Europe more generally, although I don't have direct experience of that), it would be clearly wrong to use "professor", which without modification would be interpreted as a full professor. (Someone with the title of Associate or Assistant Professor would still be referred to as "Dr X" in the UK, not "Prof. X".)

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    In some places "lecturer" is used as the job title for non-tenured, non-tenure track teaching positions (i.e. significantly lower in the hierarchy than a typical assistant professor). As such, describing oneself as such could have the opposite effect. – mmeent Jan 5 at 12:03
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    @mmeent In the UK, that would be a "teaching fellow". Perhaps the only conclusion we can come to is that any option would be misleading in some places, and the answer is dependent on country (which OP hasn't specified). – Especially Lime Jan 5 at 14:42
  • I work at a university that is moving from the "old" system to the "new" - apparently it has been made clear to those that have changed job title that if your job title is "associate professor" that doesn't entitle you to refer to yourself as e.g. Prof. Marsupial. I opted to stay as an SL (and would be Dr Marsupial if I didn't prefer to be called by my first name). I really don't understand why someone would prefer to be an "associate professor" rather than an SL. – Dikran Marsupial Jan 7 at 15:09
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    Some universities might also consider Reader to be equivalent to many US Professors, and UK Professor to be more like "Distinguished Professor" or "Professor with a chair" or something. And some mix the two systems, going Lecturer-> Senior Lecturer -> Associate Professor ;-) – Flyto Jan 7 at 17:30
5

ok, so this answer is late, but no-one seems to have suggested

tenure-track professor

this sounds better to me than assistant professor and if someone asks you can explain that you are on a career path towards tenure / full professor

if you have tenure then

tenured professor

might be an option

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5

In the US, if you say something like "math professor", no one will assume that you are referring to the actual rank. I think this is the most natural way of saying what you do for a living in an informal context. "Faculty member" is also OK if you don't want to get into what your field is.

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3

If you want to stay vague, I would go with

I am an academic / in academia

but I think it is more useful to be subject-specific

I am a mathematician / chemist / historian at the University of X.

That way people understand that you are a researcher and a teacher, and what your area of expertise is.

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2

When talking to people that are not deeply into academia, I call myself "researcher [at the University (of Somewhere)]" to start with. Currently, I am postdoctoral researcher, some day I might be assistant/associate professor - I guess I will keep it that way.

It's a word everyone should be familiar with (unlike postdoc or assistant professor), and it makes sure that people don't think I am a teacher (which I might do as well, but it's not the main part of my job), and they have some idea what I might be doing (likely not, but it wouldn't be better when I tell them I am professor).

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1

Unless you're bothered about the teaching aspect, How about "scientist"?

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0

I like anton-menshov's response. In talking with non-academics, you can also quickly convey the reality of your position by calling yourself a "beginning professor" at University X. Then they know you are in fact a professor, and they know where you are among the different types of professors.

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My suggestion based on what I would do: Just present yourself with your name and surname. Then, if other people ask about your job, you can explain that you are an Assistant Professor. If people consider your preparation only considering your Title, then you are sure that these people are not good at their work, so it's not good to have a collaboration with them for future projects. There are Professors that are less prepared than students and researchers.

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  • You said: “Maybe I should also state that I am male, so it is not about gender. I can imagine that if I were female it would be even worse”. There is not any proof and evidence that for females it’s worse for the recognition of the academic titles. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite. – Gab Jan 7 at 21:42

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