Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rename the Professors Poll

As you may have seen, there is a new poll in the sidebar to the right. The poll will be live for a week. I suppose I can add to it if any new exciting nominations are made. The perceptive reader will note, on reading the poll list, that I have failed to come up with a serious list of viable alternatives, but went ahead with the poll anyway for its entertainment value (such as it is).

As I have been discussing this week (and a few other random times in the past), the motivation for this effort is the unsatisfactory nature of the current terms for professorial ranks. "Assistant Professor" is particularly annoying and kind of demeaning as a term, and "Associate Professor" isn't much better.

I realize that some people think that becoming Chair or Dean or Vice-Assistant Provost represents career advancement, and although I will not argue that Dean > Professor in terms of the academic power structure, becoming an administrator represents taking a different career path and is not necessarily the only way to advance your career as a Professor.

Some of my close colleagues have some extra words they can put in front of their Professor title -- e.g. endowed chairs (either the permanent or the folding chair sort). These titles are nice to have, especially since some of them come with some unrestricted research funds. Even if the title name consists of a couple of extraordinarily long or strange names (+ middle initials and/or nicknames) of the benefactors of the chair -- e.g., the Hildegaard Z. ("Muffin") and Llewellyn O. ("Smurfy") Erlenmeyer-Foo Distinguished Chair -- these are still nice positions to have.

One of my Endowed Chair colleagues has recently discovered that he gets more rapid and positive responses to his e-mails if he put his Endowed Chair title in his sig file than if he leaves the title out. He doesn't want such title-impressed people to exist, but, since they do, he appreciates that he can at least get their attention now.

For the un-endowed and administratively disinclined Professors facing the long stretch between final promotion and retirement, perhaps there are some adjectives we can add to make life a bit more interesting. The poll at right focuses on the Big Three (replacements for Assistant, Associate, and "full"), but some of the categories are versatile enough to permit some fine-scale additions to the Professor rank.


barbara said...

I don't have big suggestions, but I can contribute a little european perspective.

Italy has a system pretty much like third, second, first - except third is called researcher.

In Germany associate/full used to be C3/C4 and now is W2/W3. I find this somewhat unpoetic.

France has a 2x2 system: you can be researcher or professor, and each has two levels.

The UK has lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and professor; professor is very rare and is more the equivalent of a named chair.

PonderingFool said...

Prokaryotic, Eukaryotic, Organic


As for prokaryotic, don't let Norm Pace find out.

How about DNA, RNA and Protein for molecular biologists following the sequence hypothesis.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

Some of my close colleagues have some extra words they can put in front of their Professor title

There are some extra words I frequently put in front of various PI's names, but they're largely unprintable, unless I co-opt PhysioProf.

Anonymous said...

I agree assistant professor is demeaning, but not as much as "junior", which brings to mind images of twirly helicopter caps, short pants, and lollipops.

Lorie Kloda, MLIS, AHIP, PhD said...

I'm a librarian and at my university librarians are on the tenure-track. I'm going up for tenure and promotion this year, and look forward to being promoted to Associate Librarian. When non-librarians see my title "Assistant Librarian" (in my signature or on my business card) they assume that I'm some kind of shelver.

On another note, the Dean of Libraries once asked me why I didn't want to go into management. She seemed to assume that the only way to "move up" in the academic library world was to be an administrator. I think this is because she moved to North America from another country where librarians, typically, were not awarded tenure or promotion in the same sense as some of us are here.

Seamonkey said...

I am in my second year as a tenure-track prof. Last year we started the new faculty happy hour. We added some "not so new anymore" faculty...and by the end we even had a few "used" faculty. So that is what I propose for our 'ranks'. It was also proposed that those that have switched jobs, could be called "previously owned" instead of used - but that did not go over so well, if you can imagine.

leah said...

how about tertiary, secondary, primary?

Anonymous said...

In Belgium the top rank is "Ordinary Professor"... really, "ordinary', how's that for unflattering? My thesis advisor was 'promoted' to ordinary professor during my phd, I remember teasing him about it mercilessly about it!
(yes, I realize I was fortunate to have a very good-natured advisor/mentor who took it in good spirit)

Regarding the poll: as a microbiologist, I take exception at the implication that eukaryotic is somehow superior to prokaryotic. By definition, a single-celled organism has the ability of doing with a single cell what it takes most multicellular organisms millions of cells to do. Now that's multitasking genius ;-)

Anonymous said...

Are the titles Administrative Assistant or Assistant to the Dean also demeaning?

Doctor Pion said...

Cool poll.

Isn't there a rank higher than professor in some european universities? I seem to remember someone serving as a reviewer of the special second dissertation that was written as part of getting promoted to an uber-PhD level.

PS -
I think you need to get cards printed up that actually say Hildegaard Z. ("Muffin") and Llewellyn O. ("Smurfy") Erlenmeyer-Foo Distinguished Female Science Professor or at least put it in the side bar. That rocks.

Anonymous said...

How about Full, Fuller, Fullest?

Anonymous said...

What's the logic behind Green, Titanium, and Platinum? One is a color, the second is an early transition metal that is rather common, and the third is a Platinum group metal... Why not just have all of them as Platinum Group metals and have ranks increase in worth? Nickel, Silver, and Platinum. The best part is that you've still got six metals to play with to incorporate other ranks. Plus a lot of nickel compounds are green.

Female Science Professor said...

The only logic, if you can call it that, is that Assistant Professors are "green", as in inexperienced. The others are similar to some credit card and/or airline/hotel frequent customer categories that use metals to signify levels.

Anonymous said...

In France Assistant Professors are called maître de conférences, which roughly translates as "Master of Lectures". It's even cooler than the British "lecturer"!

And if you're only doing research, the lowest level is chargé de recherche, meaning "in charge of research", or "burdened with research", as you wish...

Doesn't really help, does it?

Anonymous said...

Guilty here... I am a librarian and full professor and darn proud of that accomplishment. I add "professor" in front of my name in emails to enlighten the teaching faculty and administrators I work with who often think of librarians as people who only check out books. When I'm working internally with library colleagues, the sig file is just my name.

I'm not sure we need to rename the ranks though what does it say when 21% of the votes (as of today) are for eager, disallusioned, and coasting...

Unknown said...

First thing coming to my mind was a joke about Cadet,Scout,Ranger,Ace (taken from Tux Math and the pilots background): everybody should know at least the order of those. ;)

More pragmatically, it would make sense to make the titles correspond to the responsabilities. In Computer Sciences the responsabilities are divided as follow:
1- as an assistant professor you should focus on your own research and are not really free to direct PhD students by yourself (should co-direct);
2- as an associate professor you can and should supervize students by yourself;
3- as a full professors are usually busy writing grants and taking responsability for larger groups, hence directing other researchers as well as students.
That yields to 1-Researcher, 2-Supervisor of Research, 3-Director of Research. With the inconvenient that 2 and 3 seem not to do direct research anymore, which is not always false ( but not always true either.