Postgraduate Researcher (HE)

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Job Description

Postgraduate 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 postgraduate researchers work with people outside academia, for example in the public or private sectors. They have a supervisor overseeing their project who will usually be a lecturer, senior lecturer or professor from the department in which they are based. The hours of work are flexible and are determined by the individual depending on the needs of the project. Usually, though, postgraduate researchers work long hours, especially as deadlines draw closer.


  • Plan research projects
  • Seek funding for the project from external and internal sources
  • Undertake research, either laboratory- or office-based or in the field
  • Record findings
  • Write up findings in the form of a dissertation or thesis
  • Keep records and accounts of the management of the project

Salary and Conditions

Many postgraduate researchers do not receive a salary as such but will be funded by a research council or internally by their university; postgraduate researchers are also sometimes offered the chance to earn extra money by teaching in the department where they are based or undertaking administrative roles. Funding bodies award around £13,000-15,000 per year for three years to cover those doing a postgraduate degree and there is also extra money available for those who need to travel to do their research.

Entry Criteria

Some PhD programmes require you to complete a Masters degree first, while other people progress straight to doctoral work. However, all postgraduate work requires a good undergraduate degree in a related field (usually a 2.1 or higher). Exceptions to this might be made in rare cases when practical experience can be substituted for formal qualifications. Universities are also looking for a particular set of skills for doing research, such as the ability to be well-organised, work independently and have an understanding of the academic system.

Career Path

Postgraduate research is traditionally the training ground for those who want to go into academic research or lecturing. Many postgraduates also go down different career paths, for example private research or working in university management.  A postgraduate researcher also may be involved in the teaching and administration side of the department in which they are based, although this will form only a small part of their role with the main focus definitely being on their research project. Many universities also offer training courses for postgraduate who wish to go on to academia.

Major employers

Most postgraduate work is done 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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