The use of professor in English

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Cracker Jack, May 24, 2007.

  1. Cracker Jack Senior Member

    Hello. I would like to clarify one doubt of mine regarding the use of the word professor in English. In romance language like Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese, etc. a person is addressed professor if he teaches in college or university level. This doesn't take into consideration the number of years of experience, post-graduate studies, authorship or marked competence in the field he practices in.

    I've had always this impression that the title of professor in English is reserved to those with highly specialized training and experience in the subjects of his field. In fact, there are professorial chairs that are being created. My question is, is any person teaching at the university level automatically called professor? Please enlighten me. Thanks.
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Sorry, I can't give you a precise defintition (I'm sure others will be able to!). But my understanding is that people who teach in universities are generally known as "tutors"; and that you have to be a very senior tutor - indeed, the most senior tutor within your faculty - to be a professor...

  3. Musical Chairs Senior Member

    Japan & US, Japanese & English
    Generally, people call their teachers "professor" in college/universities. Sometimes, they are called "Doctor [his or her last name]" (abbreviated "Dr.") but if you're not sure, it's always good to call them "Professor [his or her last name]." Sometimes they still are still called "Mr./Mrs./Ms." but this is less common than before college/university.

    Before college, students call their teachers "Mr." or "Mrs." or "Ms." In high school, sometimes there are teachers who have Ph.D's and they are called Dr. (unless they don't want to be called that).

    There are exceptions, though. Some of my teachers like to be called by their first names or nicknames, and some people refer to them by their full names. It always weirded me out to call a teacher by his/her first name though. People always call TA's (teacher's assistants) by their first names.
  4. cycloneviv

    cycloneviv Senior Member

    Perth, Western Australia
    English - Australia
    Technically, here in Australia, Professor is a teaching rank in tertairy level education. I wouldn't have called my lecturer or tutor "Professor xxxx", if he/she was not a professor. I would say "Mr xxxx", "Mrs xxxx", "Miss xxxx", "Ms xxxx", depending on their prefered mode of address. If they had a doctorate but were not employed as a Professor, I would say "Dr xxxx".

    Professors & Senior Professors are higher ranks in the profession of tertiary teaching than simple lecturers/tutors.

    That said, you could have your lectures or tutorials given by a Professor, in which case you would call them "Professor xxxx", but not all lecturers/tutors are professors, if you see what I mean!
  5. Mark1978 Senior Member

    I think in the USA any person teaching at university level is considered a professor. However in the UK that would only give you the title of lecturer.

    Professors are university employees who have had many years of service in lecturing and research and eventually can be promoted to be a professor of whatever subject. e.g. In the computing science department at Newcastle there are around 50 members of staff for teaching and research yet only 3 professors.
  6. TrentinaNE

    TrentinaNE Senior Member

    English (American)
    The system is definitely different in the U.S. One option is to go by the person's official position. If it's Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, or Adjunct Professor, then always address the person as Professor. If it's Instructor or Lecturer, it would be acceptable to use Mr./Ms. unless the person expresses a preference for Professor (even though technically they're not "entitled" to that address).

  7. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Wiki is quite helpful on this:

    As it says, in the UK the rank is mostly kept for people who are heads of their university departments, though there are also visiting professors and associate professors, et al. I think they can keep the title, strictly speaking, after they have left their post.
  8. Cracker Jack Senior Member

    Thank you very much for all your responses. They were all informative especially the link provided by Thomas Tompion. Wow, it's only now that I realize what it takes to be called a professor. Unlike in Europe, anyone can be called professor. However, to be addessed as professor really entails a lot. I am talking about the legitimate professor and not just one who is called as such out of reverence.

    I therefore come to conclude that the title professor among English speakers is not just used indiscriminately but reserved to those who are really professors int he real sense of the word. Right?
  9. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    In AE, it can be used as an affectionate term of honor, as in "Alright, professor! Whatever you say." It's something you could say to a teacher or someone who had quite a bit of knowledge in a certain area, but it's a humorous or affectionate use of the word, not in any way to be confused with a true professor. It's used in the same way as, "alright, boss!" to someone who is not your boss; it's simply an affectionate title.

    "Professor" was also a common honorary "title" given to the band leader by band members in the Big Band and Swing days (1930s and 40s) and still carries over sometimes in Jazz bands today.

    Only college or university teachers with advanced degrees actually have the title of "professor", in my experience.
  10. Starbuck Senior Member

    In American colleges & universities, the term "professor" is a generic title regardless of whether one is an assistant professor (not tenured), an associate professor (tenured), or a full professor (tenured obviously). As one of the other posters indicated, in some departments, such as the theatre department that I work in, everyone is on a first-name basis. This is often the case in arts training programs (theatre, music, art, etc.).

    If the person has a Ph.D., students will often use the term "doctor." But even without a doctorate, the title of "professor" is correct and appropriate for all 3 ranks of professors in American universities.

    Starbuck :)

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