Depending on the type of academic institution at which your faculty mentor works, he/she may be more or less involved in certain kinds of activities. Of course, every individual and every academic institution is unique so take our comments with a grain of salt!

In general faculty who work at community colleges, primarily undergraduate institutions and comprehensive universities spend the majority of their time and effort on student instruction while faculty who work at graduate research universities tend to spend a significant fraction of their effort in research related activities in addition to student instruction at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. Faculty salary, teaching and service assignments, and workloads are often determined by academic rank. There are three academic ranks: assistant, associate, and full professor.

Assistant Professor

For the first six years of a faculty member’s career they are Assistant Professors. They are generally regarded as probationary faculty members. Their teaching, research, and service accomplishments are usually evaluated annually by the other tenured members of their department. Faculty at the rank of Assistant Professor usually do not have tenure.


Normally during the sixth year a probationary faculty member’s teaching, research, and service contributions to his/her department and discipline are evaluated by his/her peers both inside and outside the university. The particular process is somewhat unique to each institution but in general involves some form of evaluation at all levels of the institution from the faculty member’s own department all the way up to and including the Board of Trustees of the college or university. If the accomplishments in each area are determined to be strong, the faculty member is awarded “tenure” by his/her institution. This means that unless the faculty member commits a grievous act, they will hold their position at the college or university until they choose to leave. Tenure is truly a unique academic phenomenon. Tenure allows a faculty member the freedom to share their ideas, pursue research projects, etc. that may test current societal norms or theories and which allow both the individual, the university, and society to make significant advances that might otherwise not be possible.

Associate Professor

Upon receiving tenure, at most institutions faculty are also promoted to Associate Professor. Some graduate research universities will recognize probationary faculty at an earlier stage however. So, the rank of Associate Professor does not necessarily mean that the person is tenured.

Full Professor

Unlike promotion to the rank of Associate Professor, promotion to Full Professor does not occur at any set time. When an Associate Professor achieves international distinction in their discipline, they may apply for promotion to the rank of full professor. The evaluation process for promotion is very similar to that for tenure – the faculty member submits a dossier documenting his/her record of accomplishments in teaching, research, and service. The dossier is evaluated first by the individual’s colleagues in the department who hold the rank of full professor. Upon a positive vote, the dossier is then evaluated at increasingly higher levels of the college or university. The rank of full professor is the highest academic rank that is accorded a faculty member at any college or university.