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Academics, Who’s who?

Starting out at University, you may be a bit confused by new titles and roles of the academic staff, here’s a guide to help you figure out who’s who and who does what…

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor or just Professor? All are academics involved in the profession of teaching. However, it is confusing as to what the differences between them actually are. All teach at university, the difference between the three positions are levels of experience, expertise, and seniority, with assistant professors generally being less experienced than associate professors who are themselves less experienced than professors. Staff at all levels can be involved in teaching and lecturing.

Assistant Professors

Assistant Professors are academics at an early stage of their careers (usually) and can teach part time or full time. Many are actively engaged in research and research-led teaching.  With greater experience, many may move on to become Associate Professors.

Associate Professors

Associate Professors are academics at mid-career stage (usually) and can teach part time or full time. Many are actively engaged in research and research-led teaching, and may have more leadership roles in teaching or research than Assistant Professors.  With greater experience, many may move on to become Professors.


A Professor is a senior academic who has many years of teaching experience. Professor is the highest rank in the career of an academic. Professors have wide ranging duties and responsibilities and have to teach as well as lead research in their chosen field of study.

This can be confusing, as your lecturers, the professors at all 3 levels, can also teach and lead your lectures. But this is nothing to worry about the mechanics of it all, all would be easily explained once you arrive at Durham.

Academic Advisors

Every student at Durham University will be given a supervisor who is a member of staff in their academic department. Once you arrive at Durham you will be made aware of who they are and are expected to meet up with them in the first few weeks, so you can introduce yourself. Your academic supervisor is someone that you can turn to for advice and help in relation to academic, developmental or even personal matters.

College Mentors

To help you manage the transition from home to university life and to encourage you to get the most out of your time at Durham, you are assigned a College Mentor. They will act as your personal mentor, mainly throughout your first year (but are also there to help you throughout your time as a student). Your mentor will have contacted you prior to your arrival in Durham and you may have already met up during Induction week. The mentor system is optional but gives additional support. The core purpose of the mentoring scheme is to offer personal development guidance, with a particular, but not exclusive, focus on employability in its broadest sense.

If you have academic issues or questions, it is better to talk to your academic supervisor.  You can still ask your college mentor, but your academic supervisor will have more expertise in your course and studies. Advice from both academic supervisors and college mentors is informal and relaxed, it is nothing to worry about – they are there to help – and you can use them as much, or as little as you want.

Freya Smellie

Hey, I’m Freya Smellie. I studied Anthropology at Durham, I was a Sponsorship Executive Member of Team Durham Polo Club, and I’m a media manager for Draper London – a luxury linen brand. I’m a country bumpkin who loves to travel and get involved in many new experiences. Hobbies include finding the best Bloody Marys!

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