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At the moment, when committing to a proposal, we're asked to select a role amongst

  • Professional or Expert
  • Academic or Research-Level Student
  • Avid Enthusiast or Prosumer
  • Beginner or Learner
  • Just Curious

I get the perception that these are in decreasing order of expertise, except that I don't see how academic can rate lower than professional. Could this be clarified?

I'm also uncertain how to apply this to subjects that aren't directly professional. For example, what triggered this question is the French language proposal, where I see that native French speakers have rated themselves all over the map, from “just curious” to “professional” or “academic”. Should the role descriptions be customized for different types of subjects? (For example, for languages: academic, native, fluent, learner, just curious).

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Here's how I see the general breakdown for Language & Usage sites:

  • Professional or Expert

    You have professional-level training and work as a translator, copy editor, or other similar position.

  • Academic or Research-Level Student

    You either teach the language at the college level or are a graduate student with a major in that language.

  • Avid Enthusiast or Prosumer

    You are a native speaker or speak the language fluently, and wish to learn more.

  • Beginner or Learner

    You are taking lessons to learn the language.

  • Just Curious

    You're thinking about learning the language.


As an example, take me on ELU:

  • Professional or Expert

    While I've written several books and done professional-level editing, I don't have the background or training to put myself in this category.

  • Academic or Research-Level Student

    While I've taught classes in English, I've never taught classes on English, so no.

  • Avid Enthusiast or Prosumer

    Native or fluent speaker? Yep, that's me.

  • I think this breakdown misses a critical distinction between fluent and native. I don't feel comfortable putting myself in the same category for English L&U (I speak English fluently, in that I read at normal speed and don't need to grope for words, but I'm not a native) and for French L&U (I'm a native with no particular language-related credentials, but I am an authority on allowed usage in that if I say it, then it's an existing usage). I also wonder where a teacher of the language would fit (professional? but only with formal teacher ed?). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 26 '11 at 7:14
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Academic in this sense does not mean "Working at a college or university" but rather "an academic exercise". If you are doing something professionally, then it's what you do for a living. You are far more likely to be knowledgeable on the subject in that case than you are if you're learning it for the sake of learning it (as an academic exercise).

Coupled with academic is a research level student. Typically, a research level student does not have the kind of experience you would need to be an expert or a professional (yet) but rather are simply doing it for the research credits or resume beefing. This doesn't mean that if you're researching it as a student you can't be an expert in it, it's just that most aren't. Not to the degree that a professional is.

As for language speakers, I think the levels of professional/expert, academic, avid, beginner and curious sum it up quite well. Your typical language speaker would be avid, an academic would be someone who pays a lot of attention to the various grammatical rules of the subject, and an expert would be someone who does translation for a living or teaches the language to others.

In all honesty, I think the naming system they have covers all the bases quite well!

  • Coupled with “research-level student”, your interpretation of “academic” makes no sense. And a research-level student is not the same thing as an unqualified student; research-level means someone who has studied the subject more than a professional. Academic isn't clearly above professional, they're more like two different branches of expertise, but academic is clearly not below professional. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 25 '11 at 23:56
  • @gilles I strongly disagree. I wholeheartedly believe that your average professional will be a grade above your average research level student, especially in terms of a Q&A site. Someone who has studied a topic has very little practical experience in how to solve problems in the real world ("Couldn't get a job, went to grad school, etc"). They'll be great for definitions, but poor for the kind of material that attracts an expert population. And my experience has been that most research level students don't care about what they're researching, they're just doing it for the letters. – corsiKa Aug 26 '11 at 2:23

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