Is My College Teacher a Professor or a Lecturer?

Do you call your college teachers a professor or a lecturer? Some professors prefer to drop the formalities and just go with a “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Mrs.” or just drop all the honorifics and go on a first-name basis with their students. However, some professors and lecturers will want to uphold classroom formalities and expect their students to address them as such.

But what is the difference between all the terms used in an academic institution? Your college or post-graduate teacher can be a Mr. Smith, Dr. Smith, Professor Smith, or simply John. We define the terms “teacher,” “lecturer,” and “professor” and explain the key differences among them.

What Is a Teacher?

Image from Pexels

In the most general definition, a teacher is someone who helps students learn and gain knowledge for a certain skill or field of study. Anyone can be a teacher; as long as they help you learn in either a formal or informal setting, then they are technically a teacher.

The term “teacher” is an umbrella term for anyone who teaches. This includes:

  • Teachers – those who are licensed to teach in primary and secondary schools;
  • Tutors – people who are paid to give private lessons outside of school hours;
  • Professors – instructors in colleges and universities;
  • Instructors – people who focus more on practical skills than academic concepts (e.g. driving instructor, yoga instructor);
  • Coach – someone who teaches skills most commonly used in sports (e.g. basketball coach);
  • Trainer – people who teach skills usually inside the workplace;
  • Governess – a woman who teaches young children basic skills before entering formal education.

So, professors and lecturers can be considered teachers, too. However, because the term “teacher” is too general, it does not capture the aspect of their titles which suggests a higher level of learning.

What Is a Lecturer?

A lecturer refers to a post-secondary teacher who teaches in a college or university. They can teach both undergraduate and post-graduate students. Unlike professors, they do not need a Master’s or Ph.D. to teach. What they bring to the table, however, is their working experience in the field which gives them the qualifications to teach a certain course.

Universities hire lecturers based on their careers, which they continue to pursue despite teaching in a university. This means that few (or barely any) lecturers are ever full-time teachers in the university. Their teaching hours vary depending on their schedule, which means they are part-time lecturers and get paid less than those who teach full-time.

What Is a Professor?

A professor is also a post-secondary teacher who teaches undergrads and post-grads in any higher institution. However, a professor teaches students within their field of academia, which they have been studying for many years. Because their career is linked to the university and they don’t have jobs outside the institution, it’s required that they have a Master’s or Ph.D. in their field.

Most professors work full-time in the university; newer professors will be monitored for their performance, while older professors who have proven their skill in their field may be given tenure. Also, aside from teaching, professors have the job of doing research in their field that can further their specialization and publish their findings in academic journals.

Difference Between Lecturer and Professor

Educational Background

Professors must have a Master’s Degree, Ph.D., or any degree related to their field higher than a college diploma. A professor can be a part-time professor if they are still working on their Ph.D. and need time to work on their diploma. Afterward, they can become full-time professors and focus on both teaching and research.

Lecturers, however, have a more flexible educational requirement. Since they have careers in their field outside of the academe, they have their experience to share with their students. So, in a way, their lectures are based on more applied studies rather than concepts written in books. While most lecturers go on to have a Master’s degree, some lecturers show exceptional talent and skill even with just a college diploma. Universities can make exceptions for them, so they can go on to be a lecturer without needing further studies.

Job Description

Lecturers work part-time. This means they have a regular job, then conduct classes revolving around that work schedule. If they have a regular nine-to-five job, this means they teach at night or on the weekends. However, most lecturers are usually CEOs, consultants, or high-ranking employees in their field, so they have the flexibility to hold classes at regular hours on certain days.

Lecturers aren’t required to publish papers like professors since their focus is on their career. However, they may have published articles or conducted seminars independently because of their job. They may teach certain concepts taken from the syllabus or the book, but they usually teach a specialization related to their job. Because they are part-time, they do not have to participate in administrative, departmental, or committee-related matters in the university.

Professors, however, teach both the general courses related to their field and the specialized classes for majors in their area. Because they are full-time, their class schedules aren’t revolved around their availability. They are also expected to do research and publish in an academic journal. They may also have to be active in administration and departmental concerns.

Some professors may also teach more classes than others who focus more on research. Other professors may also be focused on research altogether and not teach classes. A research associate or research faculty member, for example, will not be required to teach but may be required to meet a certain amount of published research. They won’t receive tenure, but they can be paid almost as much as a teaching professor does.


Because lecturers are only part-time, they receive lower salaries than full-time professors. The average annual salary of a lecturer in the United States is $56,712, while a full-time professor is $102,402. Associate professors also earn more than lecturers with an annual salary of $79,654. However, take note that lecturers have a professional career, and their stint as lecturers is only part-time. This means that their overall income is much more than their lecturer salary.

Visiting Scholar

Both lecturers and professors may have what is generally known as a visiting scholar. This can be a visiting lecturer or a visiting professor who the university can invite to teach for a short-term period before going back to their regular routine.

For lecturers, this can be a an expert professional in the field invited to share their insight on the industry. It can be an economist known for analyzing the effects of local governments on the economy invited to teach economics and political science majors. Or, it can be an award-winning director sharing his craft with film students. In both cases, both lecturers may not have experience teaching, but their careers have provided them with a lot of insight that may be valuable for students.

Visiting professors, on the other hand, can be a professor from a different institution invited to teach a specialization that professors in another university do not have. For example, a literature professor who specializes in LGBT+ Literature may be invited to teach a class of literature majors on contemporary literature. Or, a professor in the United States specializing in the history of foreign relations between the US and Japan may be invited to spend a term or two teaching their specialization in a Japanese university.

Is My Teacher a Professor or a Lecturer?

In most cases, it’s easy to determine which one your college teacher is. Most universities have a page on their website listing the professors in every department. Under the faculty member’s name, you may find their status (full-time or part-time), rank (lecturer, assistant lecturer, associate professor, full professor), and a profile showing their academic credentials.

Your teacher may also mention facts about his or herself that may hint whether they’re a professor or lecturer. A professor will talk about the papers, articles, research, or books they have published, while a lecturer will mention experience from their job outside of the university.

Overall, however, it may not matter whether your teacher is a professor or a lecturer. Accredited universities will always have high standards on their faculty and won’t hire just anyone to teach their students. So, whether you end up with a lecturer or a professor for your course, if you trust the quality of your university, it will still be a learning educational experience towards earning your degree.

About the Author



Scroll to Top