Research fellow

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The title of research fellow is used to denote an academic research position at a university or similar institution. A research fellow may act as independent investigator, or under the supervision of a principal investigator. In contrast to a research assistant or research officer, the position of research fellow, normally requires a doctoral degree or equivalent work.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, at many universities, this position is the first career grade of a Research Career Pathway and may be permanent, subject to normal probation regulations. Within such a path, the next two higher career grades are usually senior research fellow and professorial fellow. Although similar to the position of a research fellow, these two positions are research only posts, with the rise of the career grade there will normally be a formal requirement of a moderate amount of teaching and/or supervision (often at postgraduate level). These positions are for researchers with a proven track record of generating research income to fund themselves and producing high quality research output that is internationally recognised.

In the UK, research career grades roughly correspond to the grades of the Teaching and Scholarship Career Pathways the following way: Research Fellow - Lecturer, Professorial Fellow - Professor, whereas Senior Research Fellow somewhere between a Reader and a Senior Lecturer.

In the past, at many Universities in the UK, before the introduction of specific research careers, the term research fellow often referred to a (junior) researcher, who worked on a specific project on a temporal basis. Research fellows tended to be paid either from central university funds or by an outside organisation such as a charity or company, or through an external grant-awarding body such as a Research Council or a Royal Society. Particularly in Oxbridge style colleges, research fellows appointed as fellows of a college tended to, or still do, partially receive numeration in form of college housing and subsistence. In contrast, senior research fellows tended to be established academics, often a Professor on sabbatical from another institution, conducting temporally research elsewhere. Nowadays, at some universities in the UK (e.g. the University of Oxford, the University of Leeds), the position research fellow has entirely replaced that of research associate and might well be a permanent appointment within a defined research career pathway.

United States

In North America, a research fellow is often a Post-doctoral fellow, who undertakes research in addition to doctoral research. Alternatively a research fellow may be a visiting research fellow from another institution, who tends to be at a more senior career level.


The English term research fellow is sometimes used to refer to the holder of a research fellowship from a public foundation that promotes research. Fellowships, form prestiges institutions such as Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, can be obtained by postdoctoral researchers at the beginning of their academic career, by experienced, established scholars and scientists, or even leading authorities in their discipline[1]. This means that the award holder may formally hold a specific title at his or her home institution (e.g. Privatedozent), but may in the context of the sponsor be refer to as research fellow[2].


See also

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