An associate professor is one of several things. This can be a college teacher at a university, four-year college, community college or some post-graduate institutions like law school. The title associate professor could also be a designation given to some doctors who work in hospitals and who also take part in teaching programs at those hospitals. What the professor does specifically will largely depend on place of employment, but one of the main jobs of these professors is to take part in teaching students.
Generally, the term, associate professor, is used to differentiate from the term, professor. In most teaching environments, having full professor stature means having tenure. Tenure typically means that a person possesses significant job security and is unlikely to be able to lose their job provided they want to keep it and perform it well. In many cases, people are hired to an associate professor position first, and may spend many years working to earn a tenured position.
In performing this work, associate professors will design curriculum and teach classes in their area of specialty. They may also serve as academic advisors to students, possibly employ students at the graduate level for work as teachers, teaching assistants or researchers. They’ll need to take an interest in the activity of the department staff, attending meetings or working in whatever capacity is needed in this area. Courses taught might be assigned or some associates are able to design and suggest their own courses and then teach them.
Course load of the associate professor may vary depending on type of work environment. Teachers at community colleges tend to have larger course loads than do those at four-year or graduate universities. One of the reasons for this is emphasis on research and publication. Tenure is more likely for those professors in the latter environment who publish frequently; whereas it may be decided on different things at the community college level. Emphasis on tenure in any but the community college environment tends to mean a lower course load, as it’s expected that the associate professor will spend some of his or her time preparing publishable works.
What this means for anyone considering accepting an associate professor position is that the job might be a combination of research/writing and teaching. There is also a tenuous degree to the nature of the work. It’s not quite the same as taking an adjunct job where a person receives no benefits, but it doesn’t come with the same job security of full professorship. Most people hired as assistant professors are well aware of this fact and will work hard to receive tenure after repeatedly distinguishing themselves in their field through research and publications.