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Instructor vs. Assistant Professor: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career in academia can be both rewarding and challenging. Two common positions in this field are that of an instructor and an assistant professor. Though these roles share some similarities, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between an instructor and an assistant professor, and we provide additional academic professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is an Instructor?

Instructors are typically responsible for teaching students in a classroom or laboratory setting. They develop syllabi and lesson plans, deliver lectures, facilitate discussions and grade assignments. They may also advise students on their academic progress and career goals. Many instructors also conduct research in their field and publish their findings in academic journals. Some instructors may work in a more specialized role, such as teaching student-athletes or providing instruction in a particular trade or skill. Others may work as independent contractors, providing instruction to students in an online or distance learning setting.

What is an Assistant Professor?

Assistant Professors typically teach undergraduate and graduate students at colleges and universities. They develop and design curriculum, create syllabi, deliver lectures and lead classroom discussions. Assistant Professors also conduct research in their field of expertise and publish their findings in academic journals. They may also serve on committees, advise students and provide professional development opportunities to colleagues. In some cases, Assistant Professors may also provide administrative support to department chairs or other faculty members.

Instructor vs. Assistant Professor

Here are the main differences between an instructor and an assistant professor.

Job Duties

Instructors and assistant professors often perform similar duties, like teaching classes, meeting with students and writing course materials. However, an instructor may have fewer administrative responsibilities than an assistant professor. For example, an instructor may only need to schedule and organize class meetings and activities, while an assistant professor typically needs to schedule and organize student exams and grade papers. Instructors also may have less involvement in school policies than assistant professors. An assistant professor is usually a department head or leader who creates new policies for their students.

Job Requirements

Instructors typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the field, though some employers prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Many instructors also have several years of experience working in their field before they start teaching. For example, an instructor who teaches welding might have worked as a welder for several years before becoming an instructor.

Assistant professors usually need a doctorate degree to enter the field. They might also need to complete postdoctoral research or fellowships to gain the skills and experience necessary for the job. Additionally, assistant professors must have excellent communication and writing skills so they can publish papers in academic journals and present their findings at conferences.

Work Environment

Instructors typically work in a variety of environments, including schools, community centers and libraries. They may also travel to different locations to teach their courses. Assistant professors usually work in traditional university settings, such as classrooms or laboratories. However, they may occasionally visit other institutions to give lectures or attend conferences.

Instructors often work long hours during the school year, but assistant professors have more predictable schedules that include regular office hours. Instructors can choose where they want to work, while assistant professors must apply for positions at specific universities.


Both instructors and assistant professors need to have excellent communication skills. This is important because they need to be able to deliver lectures and lead class discussions effectively. They also both need to be able to break down complex information into manageable pieces that their students can understand.

Instructors typically need to have good organizational skills. This is because they often have to manage a large number of students and ensure that the class runs smoothly. Assistant professors may also need to be organized, but they typically have more support from administrative staff.

Assistant professors usually need to be research oriented. This is because a large part of their job involves conducting research and publishing their findings in academic journals. Instructors typically do not need to be as research focused, although they may still need to keep up with developments in their field.


The average salary for an instructor is $57,993 per year, while the average salary for an assistant professor is $77,042 per year. The salary for both positions may vary depending on the type of institution at which you work, your level of experience and your location.


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