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What does it mean when the posting says they are looking for an associate or full professor? Does this mean that only people that are currently in tenure-track positions will be considered? Would the search committee consider applications from non tenure-track applicants?

Any advice would be much appreciated!

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5 Answers 5

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Sometimes people who are employed outside of academia, say in senior industry positions or at research labs, may be hired as associate professors or even full professors if they have impressive enough publication records. There is no requirement to already be an associate or full professor, or to already have an academic job of any sort.

It’s also not uncommon for people who are assistant professors and are just about to be considered for promotion to associate professor at their own institution to also apply for associate professor jobs elsewhere. If they are at a career stage where their own institution would consider them for promotion, other universities would likely be willing to consider them for such a position as well.

In rare cases, someone may succeed in being hired for a tenured position as an associate professor directly from a postdoc position, skipping the tenure track phase. Needless to say, you’d have to have some pretty stellar achievements under your belt for this to be a realistic possibility.

The only hard criterion for being hired as an associate professor is that you must be impressive enough that people will want to hire you as an associate professor.

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It could mean a person currently on tenure track, but it might mean, and is more likely to mean, someone who is already an associate or full professor elsewhere. Someone eligible for a mid level or senior position.

If you aren't at least an assistant professor your resumé would need to be pretty extraordinary to be considered. Someone widely known and respected in your field might be considered but the bar would be pretty high. After all, the job is about research and teaching, which are, perhaps, more likely to be skills of those who are already academics.

In particular, a recent graduate with a new doctorate would have almost no chance of being considered unless the dissertation were a solution to a long standing and very important question. It can happen, but vanishingly rare.

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    Probably 'everywhere' should be 'elsewhere', or it would have to be a truly extraordinary candidate.
    – Anyon
    Dec 31, 2022 at 15:00
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    @Anyon, yep, good catch. Old eyes and a sometimes unhelpful spell corrector catch up with me pretty often. Fixed.
    – Buffy
    Dec 31, 2022 at 15:09
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    John Pardon is a good recent example of an exceptional case. (PHD from Stanford in 2015, full Professor in Princeton since 2017.) Dec 31, 2022 at 17:02
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Have a look at the corresponding selection criteria. They will spell out who they want. For example, I have seen full professor positions going to people with excellent industry connections with very few publications. In another example, I have seen universities set a minimum requirement in terms of citations before one can apply. It all depends on the strategic plan of a university.

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The locale matters a lot here as well. Germany, until rather recently, basically did not even have tenure tracks or assistant professors. Instead, people worked as postdocs or in other academic or industrial positions until they were sufficiently experienced to apply as professor. With the introduction of "Juniorprofessor" positions this is slowly changing, but I would imagine that even today most people hired as professor have never been a Juniorprofessor in their life.

In other countries, where the assistant-associate-full professor chain is a more well established it may be less common to "jump ranks", but I doubt it's strictly impossible anywhere.

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In academic hiring in the US there are several different dimensions that matter including: tenure status, salary, and rank. There are also many different kinds of institutions, so what I am going to say means that it won't apply everywhere.

Normally, where I teach, a position that is advertised specifically for an Associate or Full Professor would be for someone who would be expected to take a leadership role in the department, either as chair, heading a center or institute, or creating a new program. Most of the time such a person is already at that rank and they would already have tenure and that tenure would transfer (there are different mechanisms for this).

As other people have mentioned, in some departments, such as computer science or business sometimes someone with a lot of industry experience usually also including a publication record will also be hired at those ranks because the assistant professor salaries are not competitive and don't reflect their seniority. However those people would be hired without an award of tenure.

Overall, the advice to read the advertisement carefully is really good.

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    "Normally, where I teach, a position that is advertised specifically for an Associate or Full Professor would be for someone who would be expected to take a leadership role in the department, either as chair, heading a center or institute, or creating a new program." is far from universal (even in the US). Jan 2, 2023 at 18:47
  • Hence "where I teach" and " it won't apply everywhere" so I'm not sure what you are commenting on.
    – Elin
    Jan 7, 2023 at 20:08

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