Working in...Academic Research

Academic researchers tend to work in a wide range of fields within humanities, sciences and social sciences, however, it is usually the science subjects which use the greatest number of researchers.

Within a university, the researchers are based in one or more departments and will work on projects alone or collaboratively with colleagues. Although they are academic researchers, many also collaborate with people outside of academia, such as the public or private sectors.

The working hours of an academic researcher are flexible and can be determined by the individual but also depends on the needs of the project. Long hours can be expected, especially as deadlines draw closer. Senior researchers are also involved in the hiring of staff, managing budgets and applying for funding to maintain the projects on which they are working. 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. Projects can last anything from a few months to a number of years.

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 usually look for a particular set of skills obtained from similar sorts of research, such skills include 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 for a few months or a year. Through 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. The job title later will usually include ‘senior’ in the title, such as Senior Researcher, Senior Research Associate, Senior Research Fellow. There are some differences 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.

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