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I just have a few questions on professors

  1. Feb 21, 2008 #1
    I just have a few questions on professors

    a) What is the system for professors i.e. do you get a job as a post-doctorate fellow (<--?) then go to associate professor then move up to professor?

    b) When your a professor, do you have certain classes and have time where you are paid to work on mathematics and make new theorems and stuff?

    c) What is the salary of a professor?

    d) How hard is it to become a professor at the top University (like Princeton, Harvard, Stanford)(I believe they are called Evey league uni's (?))

    e) How hard is it to get a job at the IAS (Institute for Advanced Study or Clay mathematics)?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 21, 2008 #2
    a) You get a job as a postdoc. You get a few more jobs as a postdoc. Maybe in 10 years you get a job as an adjunct professor. Then maybe in 10 years you get a job as an associate professor. Then maybe if you're good with politics and your research goes well and you attract craptons of grant money then one day they eventually give you tenure. Then you retire, get a nice Emeritus in front of your title, and they stop paying you.

    Well, sometimes it works out better than that. Statistically, you bounce around between postdocs until you burn out and leave.

    b) You generally have classes to teach, grad students to supervise, research to conduct, grant applications to write.

    c) Varies greatly by field, institution, seniority, etc etc etc.

    d) Really damn hard to do deliberately. There is a major imbalance in many fields (of which physics is notably one) between Ph.D.s generated and available professorships. Lately, any increase in funding is usually met with a corresponding increase in the number of postdocs hired, not professorships available.

    e) No clue. I imagine it would depend on where you are in your career, what your body of published research looks like, and when you ask them.
  4. Feb 21, 2008 #3


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    In the USA, the formal "tenure track" normally consists of assistant professor, associate professor, and (full) professor, in that sequence.

    An assistant professor is untenured, and has a contract which is renewable on a year-by-year basis. Normally, if he does not get promoted to associate professor by the end of his seventh year, he must leave (the "up or out" rule).

    At the "Ivy League" universities, it is very unusual for an assistant professor to be promoted and receive tenure. For that reason it is not considered a "mark of shame" to be denied tenure at those places, and you can probably easily find a job at a slightly less prestigious school. I think in those cases you can often get tenure at the second school after only a couple of years or so.

    Associate professors and (full) professors are tenured, and cannot be fired except under severe circumstances (e.g. financial emergency). Normally an associate professor can be promoted to (full) professor after about seven years, with a significant increase in salary.

    Visiting professors are outside the tenure system. They are hired temporarily, usually for one year to fill in for a professor who is on sabbatical. They usually are considered as normal full-time positions otherwise. After I finished my Ph.D., my first position was as a two-year visiting professor, to cover two consecutive sabbaticals.

    Adjunct professors are also outside the tenure system, and are often part-time positions. They usually don't get the full benefits package that other professors do, and are not considered "regular" members of the faculty at most institutions. They are hired on a year-by-year or even semester-by-semester basis.
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2008
  5. Feb 21, 2008 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    The above answers are very good, I can add some additional information-

    First, there's a difference between "teaching oriented" and "research oriented" institutions. I am at a research-oriented institution, and affiliated with a basic science department within a research-oriented medical school. From my perspective:

    Tenure: the award of tenure means that I have demonstrated the ability to create a self-sustaining research program. Self-sustaining means I can pay a large portion of my salary via research grants, as well as pay for the various students and techs. Teaching and service are minor considerations. Tenure can mean I have a garunteed job and a garunteed salary; it can mean I only have a garunteed job but no garunteed salary. Starting from initial appointment of tenure-track assistant professor, I have 7 years and 2 tries to get tenure (the 'tenure clock'). If I go up 2 times and am rejected both times, I no longer have a job here. Tenure application packets are very large documents- they contain all student evaluations obtained from every taught class, for example.

    There is also a difference between promotion to associate professor and award of tenure.

    Post-doctoral positions are 1-2 year temporary things, non-renewable, and generally mean someone moves to a different institution at the conclusion of the position. Here, there's an intermediate step called 'Instructor', between post-doc and assistant professor that lasts up to 4 years. People can get stuck doing multiple post-docs fairly easily.

    As a tenure-track faculty member, I am responsible for my time- I am responsible for getting grant support, so I need to do the activities required to get grants- perform research, write papers, write proposals. Teaching responsibilites here in the medical school are minimal, but over in the engineering school and arts&sciences, faculty can be assigned to a particular course to teach. Again, the primary interest at a research-oriented institution is for the faculty to perform research. A common complaint is how to maintain a research program in the face of teaching and service duties.

    As for salary, if that's a consideration you will be very dissapointed. I don't do science for the money. Nobody around here does.

    As for getting a gig at a top-ranked institution, you simply need to demonstrate that you have international prominence. You need to present letters of recommendation (around 20, IIRC), and most of these should be from other world-renowned scientists with direct knowledge of your research, who can state that your work has profound implications for their own research. And you need another dozen or so indicating what an awesome teacher you are, and more indicating that your participation in scientific societies has materially benefited world-wide scientific communication and participation.

    Basically, if you can demonstrate that the target institution would be stupid to not make you an offer, you should be wondering to yourself if you can do better than whatever institution you are applying to.
  6. Feb 21, 2008 #5


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    To add to the above, there are also non-tenure tracks within academics. These are often a step between post-docs and a tenure-track job where you can build up your research credentials, obtain funding, and thus start a tenure-track position by hitting the ground running instead of needing a year or two of it (counting against your tenure clock) while you get started on funding.

    Some also take education-track positions (the names of these vary from place to place), which are also non-tenure track and renewable on various contract lengths. These are common in med schools as well, because the tenure-track and research-track faculty simply don't have the time to commit to the more intensive courses the med students need to take (it's much easier to get research done while taking out a couple hours a week to give an undergraduate lecture than to teach a medical school course that meets for a couple hours every day), so they need to hire people dedicated to teaching. In the past, these positions were typically renewed on only an annual basis, which has made it difficult to attract qualified applicants (people don't want to move to a new location only to risk not having a job in a year if the department changes the curriculum or asks a "dead weight" tenured faculty member to start taking on more teaching in lieu of research funding). So, there is increased pressure now for these contract lengths to get longer. It's not tenure, but it's pretty stable/secure. For example, one might have a 3 year contract, and 1 year into it, know it's renewed for an additional 3 years, so generally have about 5 years of job security at a time, which is better than you would get in industry, and certainly enough forewarning to relocate should your contract not be renewed. Some people prefer these types of positions if they have relocated with a spouse, or have young children, and don't really want to work the insane hours that tenure-track faculty need to put in to work up to tenure.

    As Andy pointed out, promotion and tenure do not always go together. One can be promoted to associate professor without getting tenure. This entitles you to a higher salary, but not long-term job security. This can often happen in the year when someone is coming up for tenure when it appears all is going well, they qualify for the promotion, but the official awarding of tenure has not yet occurred. Another situation where they may not go together is when someone's research program is successful, but they haven't gotten involved in enough committees (service to the school), so are denied tenure on the first round and need to reapply, but there's no reason to kick them out of a job yet.

    You can also get promoted through non-tenure track appointments. One can be promoted from research assistant professor, to research associate professor in a non-tenure track.

    So, there isn't always a set path to follow, and quite a bit of flexibility available depending on where you apply and what you want to do with your career.
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