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Academic Glossary

Academic Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject or discipline, and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose. When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given scientific paper.

Academic conference

An academic conference is a conference for researchers (not always academics) to present and discuss their work. Together with academic or scientific journals, conferences provide an important channel for exchange of information between researchers.

Academic Journal

An academic journal is a peer-reviewed periodical in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is published. Academic journals serve as forums for the introduction and presentation for scrutiny of new research, and the critique of existing research. Content typically takes the form of articles presenting original research, review articles, and book reviews. Academic or professional publications that are not peer-reviewed are usually called professional magazines.

Academic Poster

Posters are used in academia to promote and explain research work. They are typically shown during conferences, either as a complement to a talk or scientific paper, or as a publication. They are of lesser importance than actual articles, but they can be a good introduction to a new piece of research before the paper is published. Poster presentations are often not peer-reviewed, but can instead be submitted, meaning that as many as can fit will be accepted.

Academic Supervisor

A research supervisor (often referred to as simply "supervisor") is responsible for the general oversight of an academic research project.

Academic recruitment

Recruitment for the purposes of undertaking work or study within academia, such as studying towards a postgraduate degree or working in a teaching and/or research position.


See 'Academic Supervisor'

Associate Professor

See 'Reader'

Call for papers

A call for papers (CFP) is a method used in academic and other contexts for collecting book or journal articles or conference presentations. A CFP usually is sent to interested parties, describing the broad theme, the occasion for the CFP, formalities such as what kind of abstract (summary) has to be submitted to whom and a deadline.

Conference paper

An oral presentation given during an academic conference.

Curriculum vitae (CV)

The curriculum vitae is abbreviated as "CV" and is also referred to as a "vita" (without the "e"). In the US the CV is a comprehensive overview of one's educational background and academic qualifications. It is the standard statement of credentials within academe and the research world, and the foundation of an application for an academic or research position, akin to the resume for job markets beyond academe. Individuals applying for administrative positions in academe may be asked for either a resume or a CV.


A doctorate is an academic degree that indicates a high, if not the highest, level of academic achievement. A terminal degree in most countries, some Central and Eastern European countries place the doctorate second only to the habilitation.

Emeritus Professor

The title given to a retired faculty member who achieved professor status. Many emeriti faculty remain active, teaching, researching, and advising part-time.


See 'Research funding'


See 'Research funding'

Impact factor

The Impact factor, often abbreviated IF, is a measure of the citations to science and social science journals. It is frequently used as a proxy for the importance of a journal to its field.

The impact factor of a journal is calculated based on a three-year period. It can be viewed as an approximation of the average number of citations in a year, given to those papers in a journal that were published during the two preceding years. For example, the 2003 impact factor of a journal would be calculated as follows:
  • A = the number of times articles published in 2001-2 were cited in indexed journals during 2003
  • B = the number of "citable items" (usually articles, reviews, proceedings or notes; not editorials and letters-to-the-Editor) published in 2001-2
  • 2003 impact factor = A/B
  • (note that the 2003 impact factor was actually published in 2004, because it could not be calculated until all of the 2003 publications had been received.)
A convenient way of thinking about it is that a journal that is cited once, on average, for each article published has an IF of 1 in the expression above.

There are some nuances to this: ISI excludes certain article types (such as news items, correspondence, and errata) from the denominator. New journals, that are indexed from their first published issue, will receive an Impact Factor after the completion of two years' indexing; in this case, the citations to the year prior to Volume 1, and the number of articles published in the year prior to Volume 1 are known zero values. Journals that are indexed starting with a volume other than the first volume will not have an Impact Factor published until three complete data-years are known; annuals and other irregular publications, will sometimes publish no items in a particular year, affecting the count. The impact factor is for a specific time period; it is possible to calculate the impact factor for any desired period, for which the web site gives instructions. Journal Citation Reports includes a table of the relative rank of journals by Impact factor, in each specific science discipline, such as organic chemistry or psychiatry.

Job Talk

Otherwise referred to as a "seminar, " "colloquium, " or other discipline-specific term, the job talk is the scholarly presentation given by an applicant during the campus visit. Job talk audiences vary; they always include departmental faculty and may include students and/or other members of the campus community. The job talk is arguably the most important part of the campus visit, and therefore candidates should be certain to clarify all logistical details surrounding it when arranging the interview.


See 'Academic Journal'

Journal article

An article published in an academic journal.


Lecturer is a term of academic rank. In the United Kingdom lecturer is the name given to university teachers in their first permanent university position. That is, lecturers are academics early in their careers, who lead research groups and supervise postgraduate students as well as lecture courses. However, in the United States, Canada, and other countries influenced by their educational systems, the term is used differently.

Literature Review

A literature review is a body of text that aims to review the critical points of current knowledge on a particular topic.

Most often associated with science-oriented literature, such as a thesis, the literature review usually precedes a research proposal, methodology and results section. Its ultimate goal is to bring the reader up to date with current literature on a topic and forms the basis for another goal, such as the justification for future research in the area.

A good literature review is characterized by: a logical flow of ideas; current and relevant references with consistent, appropriate referencing style; proper use of terminology; and an unbiased and comprehensive view of the previous research on the topic. It helps with all types of assignments as well.

Masters Degree

A master's degree is a postgraduate academic degree awarded after the completion of an academic program of one to six years in duration.


In statistics, a meta-analysis combines the results of several studies that address a set of related research hypotheses. The first meta-analysis was performed by Karl Pearson in 1904, in an attempt to overcome the problem of reduced statistical power in studies with small sample sizes; analyzing the results from a group of studies can allow more accurate data analysis.

Peer review (also called 'refereeing')

Peer review is the process of subjecting an author's scholarly work, research or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field. Peer review requires a community of experts in a given (and often narrowly defined) field, who are qualified and able to perform impartial review. Impartial review, especially of work in less narrowly defined or inter-disciplinary fields may be difficult to accomplish, and the significance (good or bad) of an idea may never be widely appreciated among its contemporaries. Although generally considered essential to academic quality, peer review has been criticized as ineffective, slow, and misunderstood.

Pragmatically, peer review refers to the work done during the screening of submitted manuscripts and funding applications. This normative process encourages authors to meet the accepted standards of their discipline and prevents the dissemination of unwarranted claims, unacceptable interpretations and personal views. Publications that have not undergone peer review are likely to be regarded with suspicion by scholars and professionals.


See 'Academic Poster'

Postgraduate Degree

Postgraduate education (synonymous in North America with graduate education, and sometimes described as quaternary education) involves studying for degrees or other qualifications for which a first or Bachelor's degree is required, and is normally considered to be part of tertiary or higher education. In North America, this level is generally referred to as graduate school.


See 'Doctorate'

PhD retention and attrition rates

Doctorate-awarding institutions of higher education are increasingly concerned about PhD students leaving the program before completion, which costs the institution money. Attrition rates at the graduate level are high - thus there is a growing focus on attracting and retaining dedicated graduate students, with greater attention to helping them to succeed.

Postdoctoral fellow

(or 'Postdoc') Someone who holds a PhD (or MD, other doctorate, or the equivalent) and is appointed to a position for advanced research and training. Postdoctoral positions are found at universities, research centers, and industrial businesses. They are very common in the natural sciences and are also available in the humanities and social sciences. The term of postdoctoral work typically ranges from 1-3 years. A postdoctoral fellow (colloquially "post-doc") is a temporary research position held by a person who has completed his or her doctoral studies.


See 'Postdoctoral fellow'

Postdoctoral researcher

See 'Postdoctoral fellow'

Professional Affiliation

A learned society is an organization that exists to promote an academic discipline or group of disciplines. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification, or may be an honor conferred by election.


The meaning of the word professor (Latin: professor, person who professes to be an expert in some art or science, teacher of highest rank) varies. In some English-speaking countries, it refers to a senior academic who holds a departmental chair, especially as head of the department, or a personal chair awarded specifically to that individual. For example, in the United Kingdom , Australia and New Zealand it is a legal title conferred by a university denoting the highest academic rank, whereas in the United States, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, individuals often use the term professor as a polite form of address for any lecturer, or researcher employed by a college or university, regardless of rank. In some countries, e.g. Austria, France, Romania, Serbia, Poland and Italy, the term is an honorific applied also to secondary level teachers.

Professors are qualified experts, of the various levels described above, who may do the following:
  • conduct lectures and seminars in their field of study (i.e., they "profess"), such as the basic fields of science, humanities, social sciences, education, literature or the applied fields of engineering, music, medicine, law, or business;
  • perform advanced research in their fields.
  • provide pro bono community service, including consulting functions (such as advising government and nonprofit organizations);
  • teach campus-based or online courses with the help of instructional technology;
  • train young or new academics (graduate students).

The balance of these five classic fields of professorial tasks depends heavily on the institution, place (country), and time. For example, professors at highly research-oriented universities in the U.S., and as a general rule in European universities, are promoted primarily on the basis of their research achievements as well as their success in raising money from sources outside the university.


Published articles, reviews, and books are an important component of a CV. Unpublished works may also be listed in some disciplines if appropriate terminology is used. A publication is forthcoming when it has been completed and accepted for publication but has not yet appeared in the journal or other medium. A work can be classified as under review or under submission when it has been submitted to a publisher but has not yet been accepted. If you are currently writing a piece but have not yet submitted it for review, you may list it as in preparation if customary in your field. Graduate students should be careful to follow disciplinary practice and not to include too many works that are under review or in preparation as these can appear to inflate the CV. Consult with your adviser and other faculty in your field.

Reader (or Associate Professor)

In the academic hierarchy in the United Kingdom and some universities in Australia and New Zealand, reader is the rank between senior lecturer (or principal lecturer in the New Universities) and professor. The title of Reader is given in recognition of research and scholarship.

In some systems Readers are parallel to senior lecturers (old universities) or principal lecturers (new universities); in these systems promotions to reader are made on the basis primarily of research merit while promotions to senior/principal lecturer are made on the basis of teaching ability. Readers can be primarily or totally research positions, with limited or no teaching responsibility.

Release time

A reduction in work responsibilities, usually teaching, to enable a faculty member to pursue scholarly research, creative projects, or professional development activities. Release time is commonly granted with no reduction in salary for a predetermined period, usually for a semester or a year. The amount of release time varies greatly, depending upon circumstances and funding, from a small percentage (perhaps one course) to 100% of an appointment. Release time can be a negotiation point for job applicants, as it can provide junior faculty members with the dedicated research time necessary to achieve tenure.

Research Assistant (or RA)

A Research Assistant is a junior graduate scholar, employed on a temporary contract by a college or university for the purpose of academic research. A research assistant usually works on a project supervised by one or more full-time academics who are responsible for administering the funds from which he or she is paid.

Nowadays, most research assistantships are awarded to graduate assistants, i.e. graduate students who work towards an advanced degree (e.g. M.S. or Ph.D.). Depending on the funding, these appointments generally last until the completion of their degrees. In some universities the title research associate is used instead of "assistant", although a research associate is more likely to have a doctorate.

This differs somewhat from a Clinical Research Assistant, individuals employed largely by hospitals and medical centres involved in the running of clinical trials. These individuals are usually employed in salaried, full-time positions, and assist study investigators with recruiting and enrolling research subjects, IRB correspondence and compliance, and grant applications. These positions are usually held by individuals who have just finished their undergraduate education for a year or two, before enrolling graduate school.

Research Associate

See 'Postdoctoral fellow'

Research Assessment Exercise (or RAE)

The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) is an exercise undertaken approximately every 5 years on behalf of the four UK higher education funding councils (HEFCE, SHEFC, HEFCW, DELNI) to evaluate the quality of research undertaken by British higher education institutions. RAE submissions from each subject area, (or unit of assessment) are given a rank by a subject specialist peer review panel. The rankings are used to inform the allocation of quality weighted research funding (QR) each higher education institution receives from their national funding council. Previous RAEs took place in 1986, 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2001. The next is scheduled in 2008.

Research fellow

See 'Postdoctoral fellow'

Research funding

Research funding is a term generally covering any funding for scientific research, in the areas of both "hard" science and technology and social science. The term often connotes funding obtained through a competitive process, in which potential research projects are evaluated and only the most promising receive funding. Such processes, which are run by government, corporations or foundations, allocate scarce funds. Total research funding in most developed countries is between 1.5% and 3% of GDP; Sweden is the only country to exceed 4%.

Most research funding comes from two major sources, corporations (through research and development departments) and government (primarily carried out through universities and specialised government agencies). Some small amounts of scientific research are carried out (or funded) by charitable foundations, especially in relation to developing cures for diseases such as cancer, malaria and AIDS.


Person conducting peer review for a journal or conference.

Russell Group Universities

The Russell Group is a collaboration of twenty UK universities that receive two-thirds of universities' research grant and contract funding in the United Kingdom. It was established in 1994 to represent their interests to the Government, Parliament and other similar bodies. It is sometimes referred to as the British equivalent of the Ivy League of the United States.


A sabbatical (from the Late Latin sabbaticus, from the Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbathon, i.e., Sabbath. ) is a rest from work, a hiatus.

Scholarships (also called 'Studentship')

A scholarship is an award of access to an institution, or a financial aid award for an individual student scholar, for the purpose of furthering their education. Scholarships are awarded based on a range of criteria which usually reflect the values and purposes of the donor or founder of the award.

Standing faculty

All permanent faculty who either have tenure or are on the tenure track at an institution. Standing faculty usually have such titles as professor, associate professor, or assistant professor.

Statement of teaching

Otherwise referred to as a "reflective teaching statement" or "statement of teaching philosophy, " this brief essay often requested in academic job searches discusses the techniques, ideas, and principles that the applicant employs when teaching. Effective teaching statements usually support theoretical principles with concrete examples from the classroom.


See 'Academic supervisor'

Teaching Assistant (or TA)

A teaching assistant (TA) is a junior scholar employed on a temporary contract by a college or university in teaching-related responsibilities. TA responsibilities vary greatly and may include tutoring; holding office hours; grading homework or exams; invigilating tests or exams; assisting a professor with a large lecture class by teaching students in recitation, laboratory, or discussion sessions; and even teaching their own classes. In some universities (such as the University of Michigan), they are known as graduate student instructors (GSIs). In New Zealand, Australian, and some Canadian universities, they are known as tutors. At Harvard College, Boston University, and other universities, they are known as teaching fellows (TFs). TAs include graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who are graduate students, and undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs), who are undergraduate students. While the term assistant implies that they assist with a class, most (about two-thirds) GTAs serve as the sole instructor for one or more classes each semester; although these GTAs may work under a supervisor or course coordinator, they have the responsibility to prepare and teach class, make and grade homework and quizzes, and even create and administer their own exams. Like professors, GTAs generally have a fixed salary determined by each contract period, usually an academic school year.

Teaching portfolio

A collection of materials supporting an applicant's teaching strengths and accomplishments. If requested by a search committee, the teaching portfolio will factor into the screening process after an initial review of the applicant pool. A teaching portfolio may include a wide variety of materials, such as a reflective teaching statement, a list and description of all courses taught, course syllabi, samples of assignments and exams, student evaluations, among other materials.


Tenure is a part of the formal promotion process at most institutions of higher education and provides a strong degree of job security for professors who obtain it. The purpose of tenure is to protect academic freedoms. The tenure review process is a rigorous, formal peer review process that usually takes place after an individual has held the rank of assistant professor for 4-6 years. Promotion to associate professor and the granting of tenure usually occur simultaneously.

Tenure track

An academic position that is clearly defined as leading to tenure following formal review is referred to as "tenure-track." Many academic positions (designated by such titles as "instructor, " "visiting assistant professor, " or "lecturer"), particularly short-term appointments, are not tenure-track.

Thesis committee (also 'supervisory panel')

A thesis or dissertation committee is a committee that supervises a student's dissertation. This committee, consisting of a primary supervisor or advisor and two or more committee members, supervises the progress of the dissertation and may also act as the examining committee, or jury, at the oral examination of the thesis (see below).

The committee is chosen by the student in conjunction with his or her primary advisor, usually after completion of the comprehensive examinations, and may consist of members of the comps committee. The committee members are doctors in their field (whether a PhD or other designation) and have the task of reading the dissertation, making suggestions for changes and improvements, and sitting in on the defense. Usually, at least one member of the committee must be a professor in a department that is different from that of the student.

Visiting position

A position that is temporary and has a finite term length. These positions are often renewed on a yearly basis, but no guarantees are given to the employee. Visiting positions are often created when a department wishes to fill a tenure-track position but needs a temporary employee until it does. Visiting positions sometimes turn into permanent positions and can be an excellent way to get one's foot in the door.

Viva (also called 'viva voce')

The defense of a scholarly thesis or dissertation conducted verbally.

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