A recent job posting at a British university has specified available openings at multiple levels: lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and professor. However, it's not clear how to map these titles to American equivalents. For instance, where would someone who has finished up several years of an assistant professorship and is interested in moving into such a position be classified? Would it be as a senior lecturer or reader?
Usually, lecturer is the lowest open-ended position (although there are exceptions), and professor is the highest one, everything in between can be quite specific. For instance, Swansea University is considering four different grades from 2013:
- Lecturer (replacing Lecturer Grade 8 and Tutor)
- Senior Lecturer (replacing Lecturer Grade 9, Senior Professional Tutor and Research Fellow)
- Associate Professor (replacing Senior Lecturer and Reader)
- Professor (that one at least is unchanged!).
Each title comes with a set of expected criteria. In addition, a concept I've seen several times in the UK is the notion of academic pathway, which can characterise further the criteria for the positions. For instance, at Newcastle University, where I'm currently working, we have three main academic pathways, with the corresponding positions. In order to illustrate the different expectations based on the pathways, I included the expectations w.r.t. the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). I also include the grade (positions above G are usually open-ended, although there are exceptions).
Teaching & Scholarship Pathway (the "standard" pathway):
- Grade E: Teaching Assistant (encouraged to become recognised at UKPSF Descriptor 1)
- Grade F: Teaching Fellow (be recognised at or be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 2)
- Grade G: Lecturer (likely to be working commensurate with the achievement of Descriptor 3 and are encouraged to work towards it)
- Grade H: Senior Lecturer (expected to be recognised at or be working towards UK PSF Descriptor 3)
- Grade H: Reader (be recognised at or be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 3 or 4)
- Grade I: Professor (be recognised at or be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 3 or 4)
Teaching & Research Pathway:
- Grade F: Lecturer (should be recognised at UKPSF Descriptor 1 and be working towards Descriptor 2)
- Grade G: Lecturer (should be recognised at UKPSF Descriptor 1 and be working towards Descriptor 2)
- Grade H: Senior Lecturer (should be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 2 or 3)
- Grade H: Reader (should be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 3)
- Grade I: Professor (should be working towards UKPSF Descriptor 3)
Research & Innovation Pathway (since there is no teaching expected, UKPSF is not relevant):
- Grade E: Research Assistant
- Grade F: Research Associate
- Grade G: Senior Research Associate
- Grade H: Principal Research Associate & Reader
- Grade I: Professor.
In other words, you should not try to translate the title, but instead understand where do you fit within the academic pathways of the university offering the positions. When it comes to teaching, it can be particularly useful to understand where one fits within the UKPSF, in order to match the corresponding title with the scheme used at the university. For instance, showing that you are working towards obtaining Descriptor 4 could be helpful to get a Reader position instead of a Senior Lecturer.
My impression is that: Lecturer and Senior Lecturer are roughly equivalent to an untenured, but tenure track Assistant Professorship in the US because both Lecturer and Senior Lecturer positions are full time, open ended positions. Reader is equivalent to a tenured Associate Professor and Professor is equivalent to full Professor.
They aren't exactly equivalent however. Most places in the UK don't actually have what americans would think of as tenure, I think.
The people that would be called "instructors" or "lecturers" in the US are non-tenure-track, contingent labor hired for one term or one year at a time and often not even full-time, although this varies. I don't know what the name of such a position would be in a UK university, or whether such positions are as common in the UK as they have sadly become in the States.
I got my PhD in the UK and have been working in the US for the last 5 years. My understanding is that an Assistant Proffessor is basically a lecturer and a Full Professor corresponds to a Professor in the UK. Things get somewhat trickier in the middle though. A US Associate Professor could be translated as either Senior Lecturer or Reader but I would go for the latter.
The UK Professor rank is quite a bit more selective than the US full Professor rank; it more closely matches a Distinguished or named Professorship. Most American full Professors would be classified as Readers or Principal Lecturers in the UK system. (Reader and Principal Lecturer are generally equivalent; the older UK universities tend to use "Reader" while the newer ones tend to use "Principal Lecturer.") Look at faculty lists of UK universities and see how few Professors there are.
Many American Associate Professors would be placed at the Senior Lecturer rank, although some would be Lecturers. While the US hierarchy requires promotion from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor after five to seven years, some UK universities have faculty (aka academic staff) who serve in the Lecturer rank for longer than seven years.
American Assistant Professors would be placed at the Lecturer rank.
These equivalencies are generalizations, of course. You may want to look at the distribution of academic ranks among the faculty (and their corresponding scholarly accomplishments) at the universities you're interested in.
Academic rank data for UK faculty (i.e., “academic staff”) are compiled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. Table 11a at https://www.hesa.ac.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3081 (bottom of the table) shows that of full-time faculty, 14% are Professors, 27% are Senior Lecturers or Senior Researchers, 52% are Lecturers or Researchers, and 7% are “other grades.”
I assume that Readers and Principal Lecturers are included in the “senior lecturer/researcher” category, since the Reader and Principal ranks are not always used at the newer universities. (Note that these data are for 2007/08. The 2008/09 data seem to combine full-time and part-time faculty, and the more recent data require payment for access.)
Data for US faculty are available in the 2014 Almanac of Higher Education (Chronicle of Higher Education) at http://chronicle.com.www.library.manhattan.edu/article/Full-Time-Instructional/148195/ Among full-time faculty, 24% are Professors, 20% are Associate Professors, 23% are Assistant Professors, 14% are Instructors, 4% are Lecturers, and 14% are "other ranks."
For a general overview, see the sources cited by William J. Moore et al. in “Academic Economists’ Pay and Productivity: A Tale of Two Countries,” which is freely available through Google Scholar. Moore et al. state, “For many years, the rank of professor in UK universities was reserved for a very select group and often there was only one professional chair per department and that person served as head of the department (Brown, 1963). .... To control costs, the UK system has placed limits on the proportion of faculty in the senior ranks (reader/senior lecturer and professor) at each university. Periodically, the University Grants Council and government have raised the senior limit in response to market forces (Bett, 1999). In contrast, most US universities do not place limits on the number of senior positions. As a consequence, the proportion of professors is much higher in the US than in the UK. Currently, less than 25 percent of UK academic economists hold the rank of professor (Blackaby and Frank, 2000).” This isn’t the best source, of course, but it came up right away in Google Scholar and it seems to address the question reasonably well.