The Graduate Wife Dictionary: Vocabulary of Grad School

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When stepping into the world of graduate school, how many of us knew the lingo used? We know we spent a good while asking our husbands, “What does that mean?” when they first started grad schools. For those of you starting out on your graduate journey, our team thought we’d create a list of words we’d wish we had known when we started our journey! We hope it helps. -Mandy & M.C.

Academic Ranks

Adjunct Instructor- An adjunct instructor is a part time faculty member, often hired on a per course or per semester basis.

Lecturer- Lecturer is the lowest academic rank. At many universities, lecturers are non-tenure track faculty members so they may be on part time or short term contracts that have to be renewed once the term is ended.

Senior Lecturer- After several years of teaching at a university, a lecturer may be promoted to senior lecturer, which often comes with higher pay and more seniority. This is also a non-tenure track rank and many senior lecturers are on short term contracts that have to be renewed after one, two, or three years.

Assistant Professor- Assistant professor is the entry level rank for tenure track professors. At most universities, faculty members serve 6-7 years as assistant professors before they are considered for tenure and promotion to associate professor.

Associate Professor- Associate professor is the middle rank in the tenure track. Promotion to associate professor often comes after a 6-7 year probationary period, with intensive performance reviews. At many universities, this promotion is considered alongside the decision to grant the faculty member tenure or not.

Professor- Professor, while used by many students and people outside of the university as a catch-all term for all faculty members, is technically the highest academic rank. At most universities, becoming a full professor takes at minimum 12 years of service and tenured status.

Professor Emeritus- A professor emeritus is a retired professor, often one that has been granted special recognition by the university for outstanding service. At some universities, professors emeritus may sit on graduate student committees.

Tenure-Tenure is a system of career protections unique to the academic world. Faculty members with tenure undergo evaluation less frequently, have longer term contracts, and are more difficult to fire or layoff than their non-tenured colleagues. Tenure was developed to protect faculty members from being fired for controversial, unpopular, or critical speech and publications.

Tenure Track- The tenure track refers to the career path found at many universities for full time faculty. Tenure track often includes a 2-4 year probationary contract at the assistant professor rank, followed by an evaluation, then another 2-4 year probationary contract still at the assistant professor rank. At the end of the second probationary period, the faculty member is evaluated and either granted tenure and promoted to associate professor, or if tenure and promotion is denied, may have to leave the university and find work elsewhere. In many fields of study, tenure track positions are highly competitive and difficult to obtain, especially for new graduates.

Non Tenure Track- Non tenure track positions do not come with the protections of the tenure track. They may still be full time positions, but are often on shorter contracts that must be evaluated and renewed every 1-3 years. If the university no longer needs a non tenure track faculty member at the end of his/her contract period, the university may choose not to renew the faculty member’s contract and he/she would have to find work elsewhere. Many new graduates begin their academic career in non tenure track positions.







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