AskDefine | Define lecturer

Dictionary Definition



1 a public lecturer at certain universities [syn: lector, reader]
2 someone who lectures professionally

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person who gives lectures, especially as a profession.
  2. A member of a university or college below the rank of assistant professor or reader.
  3. A member of the Church of England clergy whose main task was to deliver sermons (lectures) in the afternoons and evenings.


person who gives lectures
  • Finnish: luennoija, luennoitsija
  • Hungarian: előadó
  • Swedish: föreläsare
member of university or college
  • Finnish: lehtori
dated: member of the Church of England clergy
  • Finnish: apupappi

Extensive Definition

Lecturer is a term of academic rank. In the UK lecturer is the name given to university teachers in their first permanent university position. That is, lecturers are academics early in their careers, who lead research groups and supervise postgraduate students as well as lecture courses. However, in the U.S., Canada, and other countries influenced by their educational systems, the term is used differently.

United Kingdom

Academic usage

Lecturers in the UK hold (for the most part permanent) positions in a university which involve carrying out both teaching and research. The term was originally used in contrast to Professor, which was an extremely prestigious and high ranking position typically held by only one or a very few in a department, and Readers. Neither position traditionally required any teaching, although normally professors or readers would do so at least occasionally by choice.
Currently in most universities in the UK all of these positions require teaching. However, a professor is still the most prestigious and highly paid position, and is normally achieved as a promotion after a readership. The promotion to reader requires external letters of recommendation (as does a professor, similar to US tenure), a strong publication record and (often) a strong record of gaining research funding. Traditionally, a senior lectureship was theoretically equivalent to a readership and demanded the same salary, but reflected prowess in teaching or administration rather than research, and was far less likely to lead directly to promotion to professor. However, in recent years a Senior Lecturer has also had to demonstrate strong research prowess, as well as sound teaching and administrative skills. Some consider Senior Lecturers as a rank between Lecturers and Readers in many universities, whether their promotion was achieved through teaching or research, and they will normally be promoted to Readerships before reaching Professorships. Senior Lecturers and Readers, however, remain on the same payscale and in many departments still are comparatively senior staff.
"New" British universities (that is, universities that were until recently termed polytechnics) have a slightly different naming scheme than that just described, which can confuse naive or foreign academics looking for positions (see table.) Also, some established universities have recently begun using somewhat more American terminology (see note on table.) Further, the oldest and most prestigious universities (e.g. Oxford and Cambridge) have more arcane arrangements. At Oxford in particular, lecturing is a heavy teaching position, while most people who will eventually acquire the more senior academic ranks come into the university initially as research fellows, not lecturers.
The UK has largely given up the tenure system. This means on the one hand that lecturers have permanent positions as soon as they pass a probation (which normally requires no more than three years and is much less arduous than tenure), but on the other that a University can decide to make an entire department redundant (e.g. Exeter University 1990 and 2005), laying off even senior academic staff such as professors. Because there is no tenure hurdle, UK academics can spend their entire careers in the lower tiers of the academic hierarchy.
Most lecturers in the UK have a doctorate (Ph.D., DPhil etc.). In many fields this is now a prerequisite of the job, though historically this was not the case --- even senior academic positions such as readerships could be held on the basis of research merit alone without formal doctoral qualification.
In the UK, in some fields, before a candidate is appointed to a lectureship, it is often the case that candidates will spend some time as a postdoctoral researcher, a position that carries a low salary but allows one to learn the ropes and to establish new research paths following a Ph.D. specialisation.
The career path can often be along the following lines:
Teaching Assistant or Graduate Teaching Assistant (whilst undertaking a PhD) - Research Assistant and/or Research Fellow - Teaching Fellow (or Lecturer in post 1992 universities) - Lecturer (or Senior Lecturer in post 1992 universities) - Senior Lecturer (or Principal Lecturer in post 1992 Universities) - Reader (on same payscale as Senior lecturer) - Professor -

Ecclesiastical usage

A lecturer is typically an assistant curate serving in a Church of England parish. It is an historic title which has fallen out of regular use, but several churches in the UK still have clergy with the ancient title Lecturer including many London churches, St. Mary's Church, Nottingham and Carlisle Cathedral.

Australia and New Zealand

Australian and New Zealand university models are based on the United Kingdom (primarily English and Scottish) model. Their approach to promotion policies and rank are an obvious case in point. One difference however is their use of the North American "associate professor" role, which in this context is equivalent to the British reader role and therefore a more senior position than a North American associate professor. Some universities use associate professor and reader, while others use associate professor alone; few now use reader alone.

United States and Canada

Some American universities have Lecturers whose responsibility is only undergraduate education, especially for introductory/survey courses that attract large groups of students. In contrast, U.S. professors have permanent or tenure-track positions which include responsibility for research. The most common US terminology for these non-tenure track academic positions is "Instructor," or "Adjunct Professor". However, this non-British usage of the term "lecturer" is increasingly coming in to use (e.g. at Harvard, Stanford and MIT), creating confusion on the term's meaning. Many US lecturers or adjuncts are themselves graduate students and may be taking courses and working towards Ph. D. dissertation. Some have already completed the Ph. D. but do not yet have a tenured position as a professor. A full-time lecturing position in North America (in contrast to part-time adjuncts performed during a PhD) usually involves courses with heavy teaching and/or marking loads and does not normally allow for time to do research. Such positions are also not normally permanent and therefore do not allow for hiring or formally advising other research group members or graduate students.
Academics desiring a position as junior faculty might choose to first work as lecturers in order to secure the teaching experience required to qualify them for a tenure-track position. The position is generally less prestigious than the entry-level assistant professorship (which is the equivalent of a UK lecturer). The salary is considerably lower than a US professorship, and tenure is generally impossible. US lecturing may not require a doctoral degree, depending on the university (see the article, "professor"), though a Master's degree (or at least 18 hours of graduate level work in a particular field) usually is required.
Many US universities are currently hiring more part-time and full-time lecturers to replace full professors who die or retire. Using lecturers to teach an increasing number of courses is viewed as a cost-saving measure by some university administrations, or as a means of reducing teaching load on professors so they can concentrate on research and fund raising. Many of these positions are being sponsored by regional studies programs for the purpose of training and specialization on a particular region.
It should be noted, however, that the title is sometimes, paradoxically, used in just the opposite sense: in some institutions, a "lecturer" is actually a higher rank than full professor, a sort of "grand old man" of the college or university: Amherst College, for instance, long listed Henry Steele Commager as "lecturer," the only one in the college, placing him in a symbolic position of seniormost member of the faculty.
In some schools "lecturer" is a temporary post for visiting academic celebrities -- a famous writer may be made a "lecturer" for a term or a year, for instance, teaching a course and leading a lecture series, without regard to their academic degrees.
Thus, the sequence from juniormost to seniormost teaching faculty position in most US universities and colleges is:
  • teaching assistant (a graduate student)
  • adjunct professor (a part-time, untenured post; often holds a doctorate but not always)
  • instructor (usually a newly-minted Ph. D.; no tenure; not on a tenure-track)
  • assistant professor (except for medical schools, usually a full-time post; doctorate necessary)
  • associate professor (a full-time post, usually with tenure)
  • professor ("full professor" -- only a few, usually, in each department)
  • "chaired professor" (a professor who holds a named, sometimes endowed, chair, as the "John Smith Professor of Economics" -- a step up in prestige from a "simple" full professor; sometimes called "distinguished professor" or "university professor")
with the term "lecturer" very flexible in its meaning and usage.

Germany, Austria, Switzerland

Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, have a kind of lecturer (in the US sense) in the Privatdozent. Privatdozent or PD is a purely academic title that gives the holder the right to teach at the university but is not necessarily linked to a function in a university department. Traditionally, PDs, like the US but unlike the UK lecturer, do not lead their own research groups. However, in Switzerland and Germany, now many PDs do have permanent full-time appointments at universities and lead independent research groups. The teaching by PDs is normally paid with lecture fees, generating an additional income.

Other countries

In other countries, usage of lecturer may vary unpredictably. For example, in Indonesia, the term lektor is used for five different fairly senior research and teaching positions approximately equivalent to the US associate professor, while in Poland lektor is a term used for a teaching-only position, generally for teaching foreign languages. In France, the term lecteur is the name of the lower category of teaching in university and other higher-level education structures, mostly in literary and foreign languages courses. Samuel Beckett's first job in Paris was as lecteur of English at the École Normale Supérieure.
For an explanation of terms other than lecturer used in academia, see the article on academic rank.


lecturer in Arabic: مُحاضر
lecturer in Bosnian: Docent
lecturer in Czech: Docent
lecturer in German: Lecturer
lecturer in French: lecteur (université)
lecturer in Hebrew: מרצה

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bible clerk, Bible reader, Boanerges, acolyte, almoner, anagnost, assistant, assistant professor, associate, associate professor, beadle, bedral, capitular, capitulary, chalk talker, choir chaplain, churchwarden, clerk, deacon, deaconess, discourser, elder, elderman, emeritus, expositor, expounder, homilist, instructor, lay elder, lay reader, lector, parish clerk, praelector, preacher, precentor, professor, professor emeritus, pulpitarian, pulpiteer, reader, retired professor, ruling elder, sacrist, sacristan, sermoner, sermonist, sermonizer, sexton, shames, sidesman, succentor, suisse, teaching elder, thurifer, tutor, verger, vergeress, visiting professor
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