Researcher (HE)

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Job Description

University-based researchers work in a wide range of fields in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, although the science subjects use by far the greatest number of researchers. They are usually based in one or more university departments and work on projects alone, or collaboratively with colleagues in the same institution or in another university. Many researchers also work with people outside academia, for example in the public or private sectors. The hours of work are flexible and can be determined by the individual depending on the needs of the project. Researchers can expect to work for long hours, especially as deadlines draw closer. More senior researchers are involved in hiring other staff and in managing budgets and applying for funding to maintain the projects on which they are working. Many senior researchers are also required to supervise PhD students in their field and may be asked to do a small amount of general teaching in the department in which they are based.


  • Plan research projects, including one's own role
  • Seek funding for projects from external and internal sources
  • Lead pilot projects/feasibility studies if required
  • Undertake research, either laboratory or office-based or in the field
  • Record findings
  • Present findings to peers at conferences or in published articles
  • Keep records and accounts of the management of the project
  • At a more senior level, manage other staff
  • At a more senior level, supervise PhD students and perhaps some undergraduate teaching too

Salary and Conditions

Many researchers do not have permanent positions; their jobs are on temporary contracts for the life of the particular project. Researchers can spend many years jumping from project to project without any real job security. Projects can last anything from a few months to a number of years. However, this flexibility and variety suits many people. The starting salary for a researcher with a doctoral degree is around £26-30,000, rising to £35-40,000 for those with more experience in senior posts.

Entry Criteria

Some researching posts welcome applicants who have not yet completed their PhDs, but many university-based positions are for post-doctorates (i.e. someone who has their doctorate already). As well as a formal qualification, employers are usually looking for a particular set of skills obtained from similar sorts of research, including using certain statistical methods or certain pieces of equipment. They will also expect you to display an in-depth knowledge of the overall field of research.

Career Path

Researchers start out by assisting on someone else’s project usually for a period of a few months or a year. By doing this, they gain experience and are then able to move on to longer term projects and managing their own budgets and staff at a more senior level. Early career jobs are often referred to as Postdoctoral Researcher or Research Associate, Assistant or Fellow. Later on, job titles usually include ‘senior’ in the title, such as Senior Researcher, Senior Research Associate, Senior Research Fellow. There is some interchange between being a university researcher and being a university lecturer, especially at more senior levels. A researcher is involved less in the teaching and administration side, although this will form part of the job, whereas lecturers are expected to juggle all three aspects.

Major employers

University-based researchers are mostly employed in publicly funded universities or HE colleges. There are many different sorts of these in the UK. Oxford and Cambridge are the most prestigious, followed by research-based institutions such as the Russell Group. The post-1992 group of universities, which used to be Polytechnics, are also large employers of lecturers. There is one private university in the UK, based in Buckingham. Every large town or city in the UK now has its own university.

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