What's the difference between a professore straordinario and professore ordinario? What about a professore associato and a postdoc? While there will be some differences university to university, here's a breakdown of the most common academic job titles used in Italy.
Dottorato di ricerca
Italian PhD students need to have a Master’s degree (or laurea magistrale in Italian) before starting their doctoral studies. It takes three to four years to earn an Italian PhD. The first year is spent on coursework, while subsequent years are spent on the dissertation research. In the last months, the student writes and defends their dissertation.
Postdoc positions are gaining popularity in Italy. After earning their doctorate, researchers go on to a postdoc. Postdoc grants in Italy are usually for two years. A postdoc is a continuation of the researcher’s training that allows them to further specialize in a particular field and learn new skills and techniques. It may also require them to take on some teaching responsibilities.
Ricercatore a Tempo Determinato (RTD)
This was the traditional entry level position in Italian academic before postdocs started to become more common. A ricercatore position is nominally equivalent to an assistant professor position in terms of rank, but it doesn’t require the researcher to start their own group or supervise graduate students. A ricercatore focuses on producing high quality independent research and has a light teaching load. There are two types of ricercatore positions: type A and type B. Both types have the same responsibilities but have very different contracts.
Ricercatore type A positions are non tenure-track. Applicants do not need to have any postdoc experience. They are employed with a three year contract that can be extend for two more years after an evaluation. It is common in Italy to hold ricercatore type a position first and then apply for a type B position.
Ricercatore type B positions are tenure track. Applicants for type B positions are required to have at least three years of postdoc experience. A type B contract is for three years with no possibility of extension. During these three years, the researcher is expected to work towards earning their abilitazione scientifica nazionale (“national scientific qualification”) which is required to advance to more senior positions. At the end of the contract, the ricercatore’s research activity is evaluated and they can be promoted to professore associato.
To move up to a professorship position, a candidate must be deemed idoneita or "suitable" for employment in their field. This is done through a national competition where the candidate’s publication record is evaluated. A national committee the makes a list of the candidati idonei who can apply for professor positions for the next four years. Professor associato positions can be either tenure track or tenured. In addition to researching and publishing, a professore associato has double the teaching load of a ricercatore.
A professore ordinario is the highest ranking professor in Italy. Similar to the professore associato application process, candidates need to obtain an abilitazione qualification by passing a national competition. They can then apply to vacant positions at Italian universities. The first three years of the position are probationary during which time the professor is referred to as a professore straordinario. After probation, the professor is tenured.
Professore a contratto
This is a temporary lecturer position to cover teaching needs. They are usually hired to teach a specific course.