I work at an Australian university, and as such, my colleagues have titles and positions which align with the British system. I've met a number of academics which have chosen the title 'reader' over 'Associate Professor'.

Is there any functional difference in choosing one title over another at other universities which operate by the British system? I have noticed that these academics seemingly stay at this level longer than those who take the Associate Professor title, but I fully acknowledge this is a very small sample size.

As an extra question, what is the history of this title? Why is it still used, and does taking the title have any historic meaning?

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    What does "take a title" or "choose a title" mean? Surely your colleagues have little impact on what their university calls their position?
    – xLeitix
    Commented May 13 at 6:36
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    @xLeitix I think some universities have a policy like 'your official job title is "reader" but you may call yourself "associate professor" in correspondence'. Commented May 13 at 9:15
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    @xLeitix / DanielHatton At my university I chose to stay as a "senior lecturer" rather than become an "associate professor" when the shifted to the US system. Commented May 14 at 9:16
  • @DikranMarsupial an Australian university?? (For those not in the Australian system, Senior Lecturer ≠ A/Prof, the latter is a rank higher) Commented May 14 at 12:11
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    @DavidRoberts I work in a UK university (despite being a marsupial ;o) Commented May 14 at 12:37

3 Answers 3


I suspect this is something that will differ from university to university (in fact, I think usage can differ even between departments within one university).

As you perhaps know, once upon a time Australian universities followed the traditional British system (Lecturer -> Senior Lecturer -> Reader -> Professor), with a limit on the number of professors. In recent years there has been a move towards the US system (Assistant Prof. -> Associate Prof. -> Prof.), supposedly to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. However, this change is not universally popular: some people prefer the old titles and some resent the US-centric world view that is implied. There is also the issue that there is not a 1-to-1 match between the traditional titles and the US system, and so some people might see the rebranding as 'a demotion'.

Because this is essentially an HR matter, different universities have adopted different policies. Some use both systems simultaneously, perhaps depending on precise job role (e.g. to differentiate between teaching- and research-focussed staff). Some have essentially given people both titles and allowed them to choose which they use. Some have implemented the change within the promotion process - so that no new 'old titles' are created, but individuals retain the title they had unless/until they get a promotion, at which point they (effectively) sign a new contract with the new title. This may explain your observation that people remain as 'Reader' longer than they do as 'Associate Prof.': people who remain as Reader are those who are disinclined/unable to seek promotion.

  • Given the limit on the number of UK-style "Professors", could it also be that people in the "Reader" position stay there longer because they're waiting for a Professor slot to open up? Versus the US-style system, where the number of "Professors" aren't necessarily limited (with the "limited number of slots" prestige going to "named professorships", e.g. the "Li Ka Shing Chancellor's Chair Professor" at University of California, Berkeley). -- Though I don't know if one institution would have both styles of "Professor".
    – R.M.
    Commented May 13 at 14:41
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    @R.M. The limit on the number of professors is largely a historical artefact now, even in UK institutions. Once upon a time a professor was someone who was, or had been, the head of a department, but that is no longer true, and promotion to professor is handled more or less like any other promotion. Commented May 14 at 9:30

I can only speak for actual British universities, rather than others that use a similar system, but there are two competing sets of ranks used in the UK:

  1. lecturer, senior Lecturer, reader, professor;

  2. assistant professor, associate professor, professor.

Which one gets used depends on the university, not the individual. I don't know of any university where both "reader" and "associate professor" are possible ranks. (So I doubt the academics you met had any choice about the matter.)

There is, however, a distinction, since "associate professor" in 2 essentially corresponds to "senior lecturer / reader" in 1, so a reader is on the higher side of what "associate professor" covers.

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    Senior Lecturer to Reader can be a promotion in title only, not in salary, depending on how well-established in their pay band someone is. Not that I'm anywhere near that level
    – Chris H
    Commented May 13 at 13:19
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    @ChrisH yes, in most places SL/R are in the same band, higher than L but below P. I meant that "reader" is on the higher side in terms of prestige, not necessarily salary. Commented May 13 at 13:28
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    At my UK University, somebody joining at the lowest academic level today and progressing through all ranks would actually go through "lecturer, senior lecturer, associate prof, prof" progression. It used to be "L, SL, reader, prof", however they have decided to replace "reader" with "associate prof" (so, similarly to the answer by avid, no new "reader" positions are created but there possibly exist some legacy ones). Also, SL/R (or rather, currently, SL/AP) are not the same salary band. None of the 4 categories are, but the progression from L to SL band is automatic given years of service
    – penelope
    Commented May 13 at 14:43
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    Yeah, the mappings are not the same everywhere. When Cambridge switched from system 1 to system 2, it mapped "lecturer who's still on probation"-> "assistant professor"; "lecturer who has passed probation" -> "associate professor (grade 9)"; "senior lecturer"->"associate professor (grade 10)"; "reader"->"professor (grade 11)"; "professor"->"professor". Commented May 13 at 17:06
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    Re "I don't know of any university where both "reader" and "associate professor" are possible ranks". The University of Warwick is such a university; at Warwick "associate prof" is considered synonymous with "senior lecturer", and "reader" is one step higher. See e.g. warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/maths/people/staff. (Confusing the issue still further, the formal title is actually "Associate Prof (Reader)" but shortening it to "reader" is standard.) Commented May 14 at 5:45

Reader can have several connotations in the UK system, so it's meaning isn't necessarily clear. In some cases it can be viewed as a stepping stone to being a professor (although many skip that rank and are promoted directly to prof). In some cases it can be viewed as a research-focused senior lecturer that doesn't want to be a full professor (which is likely to have a leadership/management component that may not suit them - I would have been content to be a reader). In some cases it is an indicator of a consolation prize for a dead end in a career (e.g. someone that has been a successful academic but is no longer research active). It always seemed to me that part of the cachet of the title was it's rarity and that nobody really knew what it meant ;o)

I think it is rather sad that U.K. universities are moving to the assistant/associate/full professor system, which seems like abandoning tradition/culture without a real benefit. The UK versions of the titles do not map directly onto those in the US (c.f. the proportions of faculty achieving full prof. status in the two systems) and the titles are no more clear - what does the "associate" in "associate prof." actually mean (of of the justifications for moving systems is that nobody knew what the U.K. titles mean - particularly reader)?

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