The title "Associate Professor", which is commonly used in North America, is "usually connected to tenure" in that it is almost exclusively given to tenured or permanent professors who are higher in rank than Assistant Professors. This has also been explained in previous Academia.SE questions, for example:

Within the last year, someone also asked here about the awarding of the Associate Professor title to people without doctorates: Is it true, that there are associate professors, full professors and University provosts without a doctorate in the Western Continental Europe?, and we learned there that in UK there are Professorships awarded in Law and Engineering (and I wouldn't be surprised if also in Medicine) to people without doctorates.

I wonder if there's any precedent for people being given this title without a PhD in Canada? I wouldn't be surprised if people have this title after getting a JD, MD, PharmD, PEng, etc., so even more specifically I am wondering about people who have only an undergrad degree and/or Masters.

The reason for my question, is because it looks like a U15 university in Canada (I might as well just say openly that it's University of Waterloo) says that they will be re-labeling Continuing Lecturers into Associate Professors:

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Continuing Lecturers (soon to become Associate Professors), often enough do not have a PhD (for example here and here). I understand that other Canadian universities (e.g. University of Toronto and McMaster University) also have the "teaching-stream Professor" positions, but advertisements for applying to those positions suggest that a PhD is required.

Since Charles Grant astutely pointed out that Freeman Dyson's full professorship at Cornell was without a PhD, I'd like to be clear that I'm not looking for "one-time exceptional cases" that lasted only 1 year and went to someone who helped Feynman get the Nobel Prize, but more for "regular" positions that are offered frequently (e.g. there's at least one job advertisement at the university per year for a job with the "Associate Professor" title).

  • You are explicitly asking about not just people without PhD degrees but also people without equivalent terminal degrees in other fields like medicine and law? So why do you keep reverting the question to say "PhD" in the title?
    – Buzz
    Dec 24, 2021 at 22:21
  • @Buzz My question is about people without PhDs, and I've now edited the question to say "even more specifically" I'd be interested in cases where people only have up to a Masters degree. The phrase "terminal degree" has multiple issues, and most people don't know what exactly it means (including me). I want my question to be understood by people who see it. I don't know if switching "PhD" to "terminal degree" in my question is the most productive, because a BSc or Masters could be considered a terminal degree.
    – Nik
    Dec 24, 2021 at 22:22
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    It sounds like Waterloo is just giving a fancy-sounding name for an existing position, likely without materially changing anything about the nature of the position, the required qualifications, or the implications for how impressive a person is for holding that position. Also, the fancy-sounding name is “Associate Professor, Teaching Stream”, not “Associate Professor”. So in other words, I don’t see why it matters whether such a thing has precedent or not in Canada, as it’s a move that would be of very little interest to anyone, perhaps including even holders of this position.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2021 at 23:16
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    (…That being said, your question is a legitimate question, so best of luck getting an answer.)
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2021 at 23:17
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    Sounds like a textbook example of job title inflation.
    – Dan Romik
    Dec 24, 2021 at 23:22

1 Answer 1


There are many precedents, especially in the older (possibly now retired) ranks. During the 70s and 80s, there was considerable expansion of the sector and some positions were filled by candidates without PhDs.

This is much less common now because of the oversupply of PhDs in basically every discipline. As with anything there are exceptions so I’m sure it is still possible to get tenure without a PhD, based on the body of work. I can imagine for instance that some departments (v.g. law, political sciences, music, art) would hire experts (former ambassadors, politicians, other public figures) as faculty members, based primarily on their professional expertise and experience rather than their academic qualifications. However, such higher profile hires rarely get tenure by progress through the ranks: they will usually be hired with tenure.

  • +1. Thanks for the answer! Are you able to give specific examples of people at the Associate Professor level (not including "Adjunct Associate Professor" or "Visiting Associate Professor") without a PhD (apart from fields like law, medicine, music, art, clinical psychology etc., where work experience is considered more important for teaching)? The more recent the example the better, because if something happened in the 70s then I'm not too fussed about it today.
    – Nik
    Dec 25, 2021 at 1:16
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    I do not know of a recent example, at least my field of Physics or cognate fields like Chemistry, Math or Comp.Sci. Even teaching stream positions require a PhD. I know of one former colleague (retired ~ 10 years ago) who only completed an MSc and was full. prof in comp.sci, but things have changed so much there it isn’t representative. Dec 25, 2021 at 2:17

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