Professionals: What is?

Inspired by the pharmacist thread (which I can’t be bothered to read through, so this point has already been made, I should imagine).

A chemist is a profession. Despite, speaking as someone with lust for the free market, I think a profession carries with it duties that should be ceeded to a higher body, for example with the chemists the prescribing of any given drug.

What do you think makes a professional?

Depends on what you mean. In sports it just means you get paid to play. I guess in general it incorporates obtaining advanced degrees, a governing body, obligations imposed by rules of conduct, continuing education and training.

Anything that you can do to earn a living.

If you sit on a couch, eat bonbons, and watch TV, and complain about it, but are paid to do it, you’re a professional Media Critic.

That kind of waters down the term doesn’t it? I mean you’re saying it is just a synonym for “work”. I think generally it entails some kind of specialized training.

We may be getting into an American English vs British English debate here. A pharmacist (what you call a chemist) is a licensed professional, which is why that job carries certain duties “ceeded [sic] to a higher power”. I don’t see that that necessarily applies to unlicensed professionals.

There are some disciplines where there is a governing body that determines whether one can call oneself a “Professional”. You can’t call yourself a Professional Engineer until you’ve passed the test. There are lots of other disciples where there are no such rules. I know lots of very skilled, competent programmers who earn their living that way, and call them selves “Professionals”, even though no body has bestowed that title on them.

Maybe this belongs in IMHO, because I think that most White Collar workers are professionals…
On edit: contrast Amateur vs. Professional

Wikipedia sez:

This definition is clearly too narrow as it would not apply to prostitutes. Anybody got a better one?

Among white-collar jobs, one aspect of professions is that they have no clear or obvious career path: a lawyer, doctor, teacher, public accountant, pharmacist, veternarian may well be doing substantially the same task the last day of their career as the first. This is a really different mindset from other white-collar jobs where you want an entry level position and then work your way into something very different over time.

Thats good…

Lots of engineers become managers - of engineering. Do you consider this different or not different?

Actually that sounds pretty good. I know about the “oldest” bit, but the barriers to entry for prostitution seem pretty low - lower than fast food worker.

That’s true, but in the US at least no computer designer I know is a PE. I think this type of EE is at least as small p professional as an ME or power engineer, who is going to be licensed. PE or not PE fights used to break out all the time in IEEE letter pages - nowadays I think everyone is more worried about offshoring.

Oh, I completely agree.

Clearly you know very little about accountants and lawyers(and probably the rest of them, but I can’t speak to those).

One does not simply graduate law school and become Johnny Cochrane. One does not simply get their CPA and become…I don’t know…one of the guys Deloitte & Touche is named after. What makes a professional different from a J-O-B is that there is a career progression. Many law and accounting firms have a very rigid career path. A first year analyst does very different things from a partner in a Big-4 firm. Even if a lawyer or accountant doesn’t stay on the partner track, they may leverage their expertise in other ways - teaching, consulting, writing, whatever. What makes them a “professional” is that they have an expertise.

My general rule is that if you can eventually be considered an “expert” in something, you’re a professional with a career. If you’re position can be outsourced or replaced by a robot, you have a jobby-job.

To use an extreme example, a McDonalds restaurant employee generally has a job, not a career and is thus a worker, not a professional. There is no substantial difference between a burger flipper with six months and sixteen years experience. There is, however, a big difference between a doctor, lawyer or accountant wth 6 months experience vs 16 years experience.

At that point, they are managers, not engineers. They aren’t practicing a profession any more, any more than a prinicpal is, or a CFO, or a drug company rep. Those aren’t professions, though they may be a thing you need a professional background to do.

I know plenty of accountants and lawyers. And they do all sorts of things besides practicing law or being public accountants (and notice I qualified “public accountant”). At that point, they are no longer professionals in the most strict, most formal sense, though they may have–may be required to have–professional backgrounds. But if you keep practicing law, then they last day of your job, you are dealing with clients on the same sort of matters that you were dealing with clients on the first day of your job, if you stay practicing medicine you are treating patients for the same sort of thing, if you stay a professional accountant, you are setting up client’s finances. Professions are, in a way, closer to blue-collar jobs than other white collar jobs because they are closely tied to producing a consumer good or service (mostly service).

I don’t think it’s really a question of whether there’s a better one, but of accepting that “professional” means different things to different people in different situations. That might seem rather evasive, but i think it’s reasonable in this case.

The definition you quoted is pretty close to the typical sociological definition of a profession. I just looked back at my undergrad Honors thesis, which deals partly with questions related to the professions, and found a couple of quotes that give a good idea of how sociologists view professions and professionalization.


Note that both authors were writing in the early 1970s, when sociologists really began to take the question of the professions more seriously, and attempted to find non-simplistic ways to describe them.

For sociologists, the professions really are about knowledge, and about control of how it is used, and by whom. This is quite a different animal from simply calling someone a professional because they happen to make money at something, like playing baseball or having sex. I’m not attempting here to make any value judgments about professional baseball players or sex workers, or their worth compared to lawyers or engineers; i’m simply noting that they fit very uncomfortably into the standard sociological use of the term “profession.”

Try this: A professional is one who takes on the discipline of a profession.

I’d like to think, but acknowledge that it might just be dreaming, that a professional is one who feels that the profession is a duty - willingly undertaken - to which the professional feels some obligation. As, for example, the obligation of pursuing excellence for its own sake. A lawyer might take on law because it pays pretty well, but also with at least some feeling that the law is worthy of service for its own sake.

Doctors get paid pretty well, but they also pronounce an oath that speaks of service in the name of making people feel better, or at least live longer.

We are talking about real people here, with common human failings, not less nor more. Not saints. Regardless, I think some idealism is a good thing.

Regarding “Professional Women,” I dunno. It’s something we do in English, sometimes using terms ironically. But maybe there truly are such.

How does one go about making money without producing goods or a services?

Consumer goods and services: lots of industries produce captial goods or goods for the government or support other companies: professions seem to deal directly with households. Again, not really an exclusive rule, but a definite pattern.