Academic Lingo

Colleges use a wide range of terms which may seem strange or confusing at first. But not to worry, this guide will walk you through some of the most common terms.

  • Professor - A professor is simply a teacher in a college environment. However, the term "professor" typically is used for someone who holds a Ph.D in their field.


  • Visiting Professor - Visiting professors are professors who don't normally teach at your college or university. They usually hold a Ph.D, and have been invited to teach a subject for which they're valued and respected by the academic community. Generally, they come to the school to teach for one semester or possibly one year, often to cover the classes of a professor who's on sabbatical (see below).


  • Adjunct Professor - Adjunct professors are part-time professors who are not on a tenure-track (see below). They don't necessarily need to have a Ph.D. They are often full-time professionals in their field who teach only a few classes each week to students at the college. For example, a dance class might be taught by a professional dancer from a nearby dance company, or an art class might be taught by a successful community painter.


  • Instructor - Instructors are full-time teachers who don't have a Ph.D. They should be treated with the same respect as professors, however, because their jobs--and the power they wield--are essentially identical.


  • Faculty - The word "faculty" (or "faculty member") refers to anyone who teaches at the college.


  • Tenure - Tenure is a form of job security for professors, and is a concept unique to the world of academia. The process goes like this: people who want to become professors must first earn their Ph.D, then be hired by a college or university. The professor is then said to be on a "tenure-track"--she isn't tenured yet, but she's on her way. The professor must work for the university for several years (4-6 is the standard), teaching, researching, publishing, and making positive contributions to the institution. If her work is of high quality, and if she's seen to be a valuable member of the academic community, she is granted "tenure," which means she can't be fired without some major justification. Her job is fixed, in other words. This is important, because it grants professors a large degree of academic freedom. They can research whatever subject they want, and can voice opinions contrary to popular ones without getting fired for it. It's a way to protect professors while allowing them to authentically pursue their academic interests.


  • TA - Teaching Assistant or Teaching Adviser. TAs are usually upperclassmen or graduate students who assist professors during class. TAs may grade papers and exams, lead labs or seminars, or fill in during office hours (see below).


  • GI - Graduate Instructor. This may also be abbreviated GSI, for Graduate Student Instructor, or even GA or GSA, for Graduate Adviser or Graduate Student Adviser. These are graduate students who teach classes at the college. It is very common for lower level classes to be taught by a GI instead of a professor.


  • Office Hours - These are designated times when you can meet with the professor in his or her office. It's a great idea to take advantage of this resource. During office hours, you can get feedback on your writing or exams, and get help in areas that you find challenging. It's also a great way to establish a rapport with your professor. If you can't make it to the professor's office during the designated office hours, you can usually arrange an appointment for a time that works for both of you.


  • Sabbatical - This is a break from teaching, usually given to tenured professors so they can focus on research, or on another area of interest in their field. Sabbaticals may last a semester or a full year, and must be approved by the school's administration.




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