Employment Contract Management - Postdoctoral Resarch Staff (SET)

Explore the roles of Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Fellows in Science, Engineering & Technology and details learn about standard and non-standard contract lengths and related issues surrounding research funding.

Research Career Roles

The Senior Management Team has set out a policy framework to support research and early stage academic career structures, and in doing so has defined two research roles in the new research career structure:

  • Post–doctoral Fellow 
  • Research Fellow

Entry to the research career structure occurs following doctoral education. The structure outlines a pathway to a tenured academic position, while recognising that many of those entering the structure will exit to careers outside academia. The Post-doctoral period is a continuous period of training stretching over 4-6 years in Science, Engineering & Technology (SET).

The Post-Doctoral Fellowship period consists of two phases - Post-Doctoral Fellow I and II. These phases have been identified to reflect progression through the training period.

The Research Fellow role will typically involve the jobholder having an opportunity to manage his/her own research programme and in the majority of cases the Fellow will be in receipt of a prestigious research  award which would cover the cost of their salary and research.  This role is similar to a tenure-track position in other jurisdictions. The role allows the Fellow to assemble a portfolio of independent achievement and render themselves competitive for tenured academic positions or other senior roles in enterprise.

Broad description of the 3 roles

Post-doctoral Fellow IPost-doctoral Fellow IIResearch Fellow
This is a research training role, where you will conduct a specified programme of research and research training under the supervision of the PI. The primary purpose of the role is to further develop research skills and competencies including: development of processes of publication; the development of funding proposals; and the mentorship of graduate students. This is an advanced research training role, building on prior experience as a post-doctoral fellow, where you will conduct a specified programme of research training under the supervision and direction of the PI. The primary purpose of the role is to develop new or advanced research skills and competencies including: publishing research outputs; acquiring independent funding; and supervision and mentorship of graduate students. A Research Fellowship offers the post-holder the professional development opportunity to demonstrate capacity for independent and self-directed research and scholarship and the management of a research team. The role allows the Fellow to assemble a portfolio of independent achievement and render themselves competitive for tenured academic positions or senior scientific roles in industry.

Each of the defined roles is offered as a fixed-term contract.

The preferred option of UCD is to offer at least a two year contract for each period of the Post-doctoral phase.  This is to ensure that training which underpins the role can take place and the Post-doctoral Fellow has security and stability during this critical period of career development.

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The preferred option is to offer a minimum of a two year contract for each period of the post-doctoral phase in Science Engineering and Technology (SET) or a contract of a longer duration where applicable.  This is to ensure that training which underpins the post-doctoral role can take place and that the Post-doctoral Fellow has security and stability during this period.  Analysis of employment contracts by UCD HR for researchers shows the frequent use of short term contracts at present. This policy supports a move away from the frequent use of multiple short term contracts and supports the regularisation of contracts for this group so training and development can occur through the Research Skills and Career Development Framework.  Standard contract durations have been agreed for Post-doctoral Fellow I and II.

Standard contract duration for a Post-doctoral Fellow I

A standard Post-doctoral Fellow I contract can be issued for two, three, four or five years depending on the relevant circumstances.  The majority of funded programmes are for two years or more. It is recognised that a very small percentage of funded programmes fall between these exact year durations. When this occurs a contract matching the duration of the research funded programme may be offered. If the PI is confident that any funding shortfall can be addressed, an exact year contract can be offered. This will require additional sign off from the College Finance Manager and the College Principal. To authorise this approval the College Principal will inform the College Finance Office and only in these circumstances can a contract of employment extend beyond the research funded programme.

If a contract of greater than two years is offered at the level of Post-doctoral Fellow I, the job holder will be given the opportunity to move to Post Doctoral Fellow II if he/she is meeting the criteria for this role as outlined in the Post-doctoral Fellow II Job Description and the indicators outlined in the Research Skills and Career Development Framework.

Standard contract duration for a Post-doctoral Fellow II

A standard Post-doctoral Fellow II contract can be issued for two or three years depending on the relevant circumstances.  The majority of funded programmes are for two years or more. It is recognised that a very small percentage of funded programmes fall between these exact year durations. When this occurs a contract matching the duration of the research funded programme may be offered. If the PI is confident that any funding shortfall can be addressed, an exact year contract can be offered. This will require additional sign off from the College Finance Manager and the College Principal. To authorise this approval the College Principal will inform the College Finance Office and 

Contract options for a Research Fellow

The Research Fellow will have typically successfully competed for a prestigious research award at Research Fellow level and will be running a research project and cover their own costs.  A fixed-term specified purpose contract will be offered which will be linked to the completion of their research programmes. 

It is recognised that in very exceptional circumstances a PI running a large research programme e.g. Centre for Science, Engineering & Technology (CSET), may require a Research Fellow to run a research strand. In this case the Research Fellow would not necessarily be in receipt of their own funding. Approval to recruit to this role is required from the Senior Management Team, Finance and Operational and Group (SMT FOG). This post will be advertised, with a requirement for applicants to have been in receipt of their own funding at some time in their career. Only in these circumstances can a contract of employment extend beyond the duration of the research funded programme.

Frequently Asked Questions

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The majority of research funded programmes are for two years or more.  The aim is for UCD to offer a minimum of a two year contract wherever possible.  However, it is recognised that some funding programmes are of less than 23 months duration, or there are times when a certain skill set is required for less than 24 months of the research funded programme. The Senior Management Team have agreed that if this is the case the preferred situation is to see if there are other research funds available and that this should be supported at School and College level to bring the contract duration up to two years, or if the PI feels confident that the funding will be renewed, it can be agreed with the College Principal to underwrite a two year contract.  However if it is unlikely that other funding can be  obtained and there is no other option but to  offer a contract of less than two years the Non-Standard Contract may apply.

A non-standard contract is a contract of employment that is offered to a Post doctoral fellow for 23 months or less.

The following exceptions have been agreed with the Senior Management Team to permit the use of a non-standard contract: 

  • Where a specific skill set is required for ONE YEAR only at Post Doctoral II or Post Doctoral II level on a particular research programme;
  • Where strategic funding for a post-doctoral role could be lost if future availability of funding is unpredictable e.g. industry funding;
  • Where the funding agency stipulates that the post-doctoral contract be issued for less than 23 months;
  • Where the contract is issued for a replacement for a post-doctoral fellow who has resigned during a two or three year contract;
  • Where the contract is issued to cover maternity leave;
  • Where secondments apply.

If a research funded programme is of two months or greater in duration and a PI wishes to offer a contract  of less than 24 months and the reason for this is not one of the above mentioned exceptions,  it will be necessary to bring the proposed role  to the Senior Management Team, Finance Operation Group for approval.

The Research Approval Form will be completed as usual by the PI. There is a section on this form pertaining to Contract Management and if the contract duration is 23 months or less i.e. non-standard, the case for the exception should be included. This will then need to be signed off in the usual way.

This applies to the existing population of Post-doctoral Fellows.

Where ongoing research funding is available for the specific research funded programme that they are working on, there should be an option to extend a contract of sufficient duration to complete their training and research work.  This contract extension is offered on a fixed-term basis.  The duration may extend beyond four years and the contract must state the objective ground and make it clear there will be no further employment at UCD as a post-doctoral fellow once the term of the contract extension expires.  Your Resourcing Consultant will be available to support the extension and the approval process will be through the Online Hiring Form.