My question is quite simple. In Industry, you get your job, be productive, get an MBA (in many cases), get into management, etc., etc.,

In academia, you are productive, get your research published, etc, etc.

To what extent are the promotional and "climbing the ladder" procedures similar? How can academics learn from this to get promoted faster?

  • 3
    Answer: Not at all.
    – Tom Church
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 3:17
  • The academic equivalent of management is becoming department head, dean, provost, and president of the university (and this is generally treated as a ladder.) Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 16:11
  • As one of the answers shows, you really need to specify what part of the world you're asking about. If you do this, I will support the question being open. Commented Nov 21, 2015 at 23:51

2 Answers 2


They are really not very similar at all.

(This answer describes common structures at US universities.)

There are a number of very significant differences between "promotion" in academia and in industry.

  • The vast majority of faculty members will be promoted at most twice in their entire career. Once from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor, and once from Associate Professor to Professor.

  • Promotions cannot be granted unilaterally by a single manager. Either of the two promotions mentioned above typically requires something like: a majority (or supermajority) vote of the faculty in the department, the recommendation of the department chair, the approval of a dean and a provost (and maybe a Promotions Committee), and often the university president and the board of trustees. All of these are required for the promotion to take place.

  • Promotions cannot be sped up. University policies usually require a fixed minimum (and sometimes maximum) number of years of service at one rank before being eligible for promotion. In some cases a candidate may be able to negotiate to adjust these timelines at the time of hiring, but usually not afterward.

  • Entering management isn't the "normal" path. The Professor ranks described above are not really management positions, and the duties of each rank are roughly the same: teach, do research, engage in institutional service. The most common "management" position for a professor would be department chair, and in many cases this is a fixed-term position, after which the professor resumes their previous duties. A professor could also try to become a dean; but since this typically means the effective end of their research and teaching career (or at least a drastic reduction or long hiatus), it's not something they do lightly.

  • Management structures in academia are relatively flat. A department chair may supervise up to 40-50 tenure-line faculty members or more, and perhaps a larger number of non-tenure-line faculty, postdocs, etc. A dean may supervise a similar number of departments. At my medium-sized university, there are only three levels of "middle management" between an ordinary assistant professor and the university president. As a result, there are relatively few "management" positions available, compared to the number of "rank-and-file" professors.

  • Universities are to some extent run from the bottom rather than the top. Significant decisions are often made (or recommended) by vote of the rank-and-file faculty, rather than by an executive; this concept is called "shared governance". As such, management has less power than they would in a company, and professors don't need to move into management to have some influence on the overall direction of the institution.

As such, the sort of things that are commonly recommended when seeking promotion in business (showing value to the organization, currying favor with management, demonstrating ability to supervise others, etc) are not nearly as effective for advancement within academia.


It also depends a lot on the country and the academic community you're working in.

In the UK for example, once you hold a Lecturership, there are relatively clear criteria for promotion, usually entailing getting grants, publishing in decent journals, supervising PhD students, teaching, etc. The procedures for promotion are relatively transparent here.

In contrast, in Germany there is generally no such thing as a path for academic promotion. You can do a postdoc at a certain university and get stellar results, yet it is usually expected that you find your next higher-level appointment at another institution. Assistant Professor appointments ("Juniorprofessor") sometimes come with a tenure track option, with more or less well specified criteria that may get you a tenured position. But tenure track is still rather the exception than the rule in Germany. The only promotion can be obtained on the Full Professor level (from "W2" to "W3"), and is practically always a matter of negotiation (e.g., if you get an offer from another university).

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