Accounting academia: lecturer or professor?

You are an accounting professional considering switching careers and pursuing an academic track or maybe you just want to teach accounting in your spear time. You could be a student thinking to become an accounting educator in the long run. You are wondering about available options, and which option would better fit your personality or lifestyle choice. In this article, we will describe the usual track(s) to become an accounting educator. We will also discuss the pros and cons about working in academia.

1. Accounting academic positions

If you browse university webpages listing the faculty and staff directory, you will notice a variety of titles used to describe academic positions. In terms of faculty members, there are in general two types of faculty tracks (and hence titles):

Non-tenure track

  • Lecturer, senior lecturer, adjunct lecturer, or instructor
  • Faculty specialist
  • Clinical professor


  • Assistant professor
  • Associate professor
  • (Full) professor

Tenured faculty members have permanent employment and can be disciplined and fired only for a cause (e.g., intellectual dishonesty, discrimination, immorality, theft of university property, incompetence, refusal to perform reasonable assigned duties). Non-tenure track faculty members may lose employment due to the budget pressures or changes in teaching needs as well as for a cause.

Note, here we are listing common titles used in the United States, and other countries may use different names. Also, some universities may provide tenure-track options for faculty specialists or clinical professors. As such, by just looking at the title, it is impossible to say with 100% certainty weather a given faculty member has a tenure or on the tenure-track. But in general, lecturers, faculty specialists, and clinical professors are less likely to be offered a tenure-track in contrast to assistant, associate, and full professors.

To become a non-tenure track faculty member, you will usually need a combination of education and/or work experience that exceeds the undergraduate level of knowledge and skills. In other words, to teach undergraduate students, one usually needs a graduate degree (master’s or higher) in the area taught or an alternative qualification such as a substantial practical or clinical experience. The expectations for education and work experience for non-tenure track faculty will vary across universities and across time, depending on teaching needs. Universities usually need to document and verify instructor qualifications (before assigning a course) to meet accreditation requirements.

To teach graduate students, faculty members usually must hold a terminal degree in the area taught. A terminal degree is the highest degree that can be awarded in a specific academic field. In accounting the terminal degree is a PhD (doctoral) degree. Most individuals who receive a PhD in accounting pursue a tenure-track positions as professors.

Tenure-track job contracts are usually offered to faculty with a terminal degree. A tenure-track contract usually involves a 6-7 year “probation period” during which an assistant professor needs to demonstrate professional credentials sufficient to be awarded a tenured (permanent) position. The requirements for tenure vary across universities but in general assistant professors must demonstrate research excellence to receive tenure. Teaching excellence and service to the profession (e.g., advising students, serving on department and university committees, reviewing papers, serving on a professional standard-setting board) are also important but usually are not as highly ranked (weighted) in the tenure review process. If an assistant professor is awarded tenure, he/she gets promoted to an associate professor position (with tenure). Sometimes, assistant professors maybe promoted to an associate professor position without tenure. To receive next promotion from an associate to full professor, faculty members usually need to continue demonstrating their research and teaching excellence in their respective field.

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