In American English (but not in British English, where the word is not used), a docent has two meanings. Firstly, a professor or university lecturer; and secondly, the corps of volunteer guides who staff museums and other educational institutions. Docent is derived from the present participle (docens, docentis) of the Latin word docēre, meaning “to teach”.
A docent of a university is a doctor who has the right to teach at a university. Qualifications are similar to those of professors: two dissertations and demonstrating the competence of conducting scientific research independently. Unlike professors, docents may not actively take part in senior administrative duties, such as heading a department. Furthermore, their stay at the university may be intermittent, whereas professors are permanent. Instead of a monthly salary, lecturing fees and piece wages are usually paid. However, this is not true in all universities or countries.
In Germany, those who have passed Habilitation, may apply for the title of Privatdozent in a university. In practice, this means research work equivalent to a second doctor‘s thesis. Similar positions exist in other countries touched by the German university tradition. In Turkey, doçent is an academic title between assistant professor and full professor. In Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Hungary, as in Turkey, it is an academic title immediately below that of a full professor (Hungarian docens). It is equivalent to reader in the UK and the associate professor in USA as well as Latvia. In Finland and Sweden, docent (Finnish dosentti, Swedish docent), is a title conferred to a person fulfilling requirements similar to German Privatdozent. Such persons are usually expected to give lectures on their specialties if their professional activities permit this. There used to be a paid position of “docent” in Sweden, to be held for six years, but currently there are only “unpaid docents”, who may use title while holding other positions. In South Africa, the Afrikaans word dosent refers to any full-time university lecturer, independent of rank, as opposed to a lektor which is used to describe lecturers at Technikon and College level.
Docents are educators, trained to further the public’s understanding of the cultural and historical collections of the institution. In many cases, docents, in addition to their prescribed function as guides, also conduct research utilizing the institution’s facilities. They are normally volunteers.
Prospective docents generally undergo an intensive training process, at the expense of the educational institution, which teaches them good communicative and interpretive skills, as well as introduces them to the institution’s collection and its historical significance. They are also provided with reading lists to add to the basic information provided during training, and must then shadow experienced docents as they give their tours before ultimately conducting a tour on their own. Docents are kept up-to-date with continuous training and seminars.
Docents can be found at many institutions, including local and national museums, zoos, historical landmarks, and parks.