There are four main ranks at British universities: Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Principal Lecturers / Reader, and Professor.
Lecturers are comparable American Assistant Professors. Most of them have already obtained their Ph.D., in some subjects a completed doctorate is even a prerequisite for employment. Before being appointed to the rank of Lecturer at a British university, the candidate is generally expected to work as a (postdoctoral) research assistant for at least one term, a position that is endowed with only a low salary, but is supposed to help young academics to find out which fields they would like to concentrate their research on.
The British Senior Lecturer is about equivalent to the American Associate Professor. A Lecturer is usually promoted to the rank of Senior Lecturer through the evaluation of his or her achievements in research, teaching, and administration.
The position of Principal Lecturer or Reader can only be obtained through accomplishments in research and can be compared to the American rank of Full Professor. What must be noted, though, is that the ranks of Senior and Principal Lecturer are not as hierarchal as those of Associate and Full Professor at American universities. Most of the time they are considered as being on about the same level, the main difference being a stronger emphasis on teaching at the rank of Senior Lecturer, and an increased concentration on research at the rank of Principal Lecturer.
As opposed to American custom, the term Professor used to be reserved for the most senior academics in the UK and could roughly be compared to the American chaired professorship. Yet lately chaired professorships are being awarded much more frequently, and therefore the British rank of Professor is becoming ever more similar to the American Full Professor.
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