Academic Research Career Levels Standard Taxonomy Review

The CASRAI-UK community has identified a number of issues related to the lack of an accurate and consistent way to classify researchers and scholars by the stage they are at in their academic career. In short, how does the community denote ‘research age’? There is fragmentation in the level of information - across research institutions, research funders, disciplines and countries. A classification taxonomy is needed in multiple stages of research information collection: eligibility for funding opportunities, Athena Swan and the Race and Equality Charter Mark. This activity looked at what definitions are currently in place in the UK context (REF, ECR, HESA categories, etc.) and what commonalities exist across these contexts. The output is a list of 7 terms that we propose as an international standard for classifying “academic stage” in a research career. This taxonomy draws heavily on the excellent work undertaken by the Medical Research Council for their Interactive Careers Framework:

See this post for background on the Open Review. This review is open until June 30, 2017. The proposed standard taxonomy is NOW READY for review below.

To comment on the content below either click the blue “Reply” button at the bottom or select a passage of text in the report and click the “Quote” pop-up to create a comment about that section only.


The purpose of the proposed “Academic Stage” standard taxonomy is to inform/assess academic research career stage for an individual. Various competencies and characteristics for each stage across a range of areas of activity are described. These sub-areas are to support identifying the core competencies an individual is likely to have acquired at a given stage of their career, and as they transition between stages. An individual may not meet all competencies across all sub-areas, and so individual judgement will still need to be used. This taxonomy is a guide to support individuals and leaders in assessing level of independence, external reporting activities (e.g. REF) and if an individual might be eligible for certain funding schemes which have a career stage criterion.


Up to undergraduate degree level. Working towards a recognised qualification up to completion of an undergraduate degree. Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: Developing firm knowledge-base in the fundamentals of a field; fundamental core skill-awareness.
  • Funding: n/a.
  • Mentoring: n/a.
  • Management: n/a.
  • Engagement/Impacts: n/a.

Stage 2 - TRAINING

Includes those undertaking postgraduate research - masters/doctorate. Could also be an individual with a period of work as a research assistant but without undertaking a Postgraduate Research (PGR) degree.
The individual will be acquiring initial skills in presenting work to external audiences and defending research to peers and the research community. Attending first conferences and presenting work in poster format. Potential early outputs from research (e.g. papers etc.). Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: Developing firm knowledge-base in the fundamentals of a field; fundamental core skill-awareness. Developing core technical competencies and having projects developed for them by other more established researchers for them to deliver. Developing self-management of time and resources.
  • Funding: May have competed successfully for student focused funding e.g. conference funding.
  • Mentoring: By end of this stage may begin to train others in technical skills acquired.
  • Management: Initial building of awareness of research landscape and connections and potential collaborators.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Initial awareness of research impact and purpose of stakeholder/public engagement and understanding of potential stakeholders for research.

Further references:


May be those in a first post-doctoral appointment. The individual will be acquiring additional technical and other skills (writing publications etc) and consolidating those acquired during TRAINING stage. They may be developing their own research projects. For those entering from a teaching route, it may be staff who are aiming for full academic status and carry out research but are not required to do so in their job description. Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: Contributing to the design and operation of research projects, but not Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-Investigator (Co-I). Projects are still reviewed, vetted and agreed by another. Demonstrable number of outputs based on expertise acquired (e.g. papers, blogs, books). Significant contribution to the development of the output, not simply executing projects developed by others.
  • Funding: May have competed successfully for local internal funding.
  • Mentoring: Some developing experience in training others.
  • Management: Day to day management of own tasks, with the support of the line management.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Recognition of how own research fits with non-academic impact. Participation in small scale local knowledge mobilisation activities (e.g. local outreach, cultural events, local media) and early development of associated skill set. Building connections with stakeholders of their research activities (e.g. by attending industry events in addition to academic events). Awareness of sector drivers for impact (e.g. funders and assessment).

Further references:


May be those in a second post-doctoral appointment. Expertise and skills well developed in delivering research projects, and emerging skills in proactive project design. An individual will also have developed knowledge of grant process and publications. Ability to train others in the group in technical skills. May also be highly qualified technical staff who support research projects e.g. staff who operate sophisticated laboratory or other technical resources, without which the research project could not happen who advise on the design of research projects. Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: Have a supervisor but they have defined, and are pursuing, their own project. Developing their own research visions. Moving into own research niche. Intellectual distinctiveness from previous outputs.
  • Funding: Beginning to explore small scale funding awards. May hold an external fellowship. Supporting the writing of a research bid with a more experienced colleague as PI.
  • Mentoring: Expected to mentor and train new students and group members in technical activities in group. Member of the supervisory team for doctoral students.
  • Management: May take on some budget management activity, roles on internal working groups or organising small conferences. Registration with professional bodies. Management of tasks within a research project.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Recognise the direct contribution of their research to impact. Participation in wider scale knowledge mobilisation activities (eg. regional/national outreach and events, sector-specific partnership building) or delivery of smaller scale activities with development of associated skillset. Growing network of key local and national stakeholders for research. Understand how own research specifically aligns with sector requirements.


First ‘full academic’ role and required to carry out research and teaching (and admin). Still likely to be embedded or closely linked with another more established researcher or group, and rely on the resources of others to deliver projects. Where appropriate, engagement with research impact, knowledge transfer activities or evidence of engaged research (e.g. work suitable to supporting the development of a REF impact case study or consultancy). Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: May be PI or Co-I. The individual will have significant input into the design and operation of research projects. They may define a project for delivery by another individual and mentor delivery of that project. They will be developing own niche research area that is complementary to, but not the same as the PI of lab. In the case of humanities, developing their own research theme(s), may be researching towards their second monograph, may be a member of a multi-disciplinary research centre or similar.
  • Funding: Beginning to explore small scale funding awards. May hold an externally awarded fellowship.
  • Mentoring: Supervise PGR studnets as first/principal supervisor.
  • Management: First roles on non-technical committees or internal bodies. Active Membership of professional bodies, attending events.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Recognise and articulate the direct contribution of their research to specified impacts. Development and delivery of wider scale knowledge mobilisation activities (eg. sourcing funding for events, coordinating multiple smaller scale activities, planning programme) and development of related skillset. Growing strategic network of key local and national stakeholders for research. Participation in activities to deliver/comply with sector requirements (eg. contributing to REF case study, seeking grant income with impact expectations). Demonstration of specific, small scale (eg. local) impact of research, through (e.g.) contribution to a draft/submitted REF impact case study, knowledge transfer activities or other engaged research. Have developed sufficient understanding, awareness and experience of impact to support others in smaller programmes of research.


Will be individuals who define their own projects and gather the necessary resources for their successful delivery. Recognised by others in the field and beyond as leading research in their own niche. Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: PI or Co-I, significant input into the design and operation of research projects. Lead a research group or equivalent. Senior Research Associates/technicians with long track record of supporting research, NOT PI or Co-I but input into design and operation of research projects from their specialist viewpoint. Recognised as expert in their field by peers and juniors.
  • Funding: Hold large scale funding awards (within disciplinary context) or managing research projects which involve long-term >3 year projects.
  • Mentoring: Some mentoring of colleagues. Sharing of known expertise. Internal peer review of publications and grant applications offering MPhil/PhD opportunities in their research areas.
  • Management: Academic citizenship e.g. Departmental roles, working groups, influencing university or other policy and strategy development. Participant role in inter-institutional bodies and communities. Keynote speaker or panel member on large conferences. Some influence within and outwith the academy e.g. joint editorships.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Recognise and articulate the strategic contribution of their research, and that of the department, to specified impacts. Coordination, responsibility and delivery of wider scale programme of knowledge mobilisation activities locally and nationally, and developing associated skillsets. Growing strategic network of key international stakeholders for research. Coordination of own and (eg. departmental) activities to deliver/comply with sector requirements. Demonstration of specific, larger scale (eg. national) impact of research, through (eg) co-authoring a draft/submitted REF impact case study, knowledge transfer activities or other engaged research. Contributing to impact leadership within topic / department / research group.


Established individuals who lead research groups or centres or institutes and projects and recognised on an international stage. Typical competencies at this stage:

  • Research: Large research programmes, often collaborative and inter-institutional. Internationally recognised as expert in their field.
  • Funding: PI on large scale funding awards or managing research teams and project which involve long-term >3 year projects and consortia bids.
  • Mentoring: Mentoring of colleagues beyond own research group - external peer reviewing and advising on departmental research performance.
  • Management: Significant levels of leadership e.g. heads of department, senior roles in faculty or university, mentoring colleagues. Roles in infrastructure grants that have scope beyond the direct research interests of the individual. External inter-institutional and national roles, development of the discipline. Strategic driving role in professional bodies. Major influence within and outwith the academy and e.g. major editorships, government adviser, Peer review/editorial boards of publications and grants for funders, prestigious journals and/or major publishers. Research Track - directors/managers of specialist units who allocate resources for many research projects.
  • Engagement/Impacts: Recognise and articulate multiple impact pathways within a programme of research, strategically contributing to impact nationally and internationally. Lead planning, coordination and delivery of wide scale knowledge mobilisation programme nationally and internationally, and associated skills development. Strategic network of key international stakeholders to deliver impact at scale (eg. charities, NGOs, government departments, cultural organisations). Leadership of own and team activities to deliver/comply with sector requirements. Demonstration of specific, largescale (eg. international) impact of research, through (eg) leading a draft/submitted REF impact case study, overseeing knowledge transfer activities or other substantively engaged research. Leading impact for department /research group and/or being recognised as a significant contributor to impact in the discipline/topic area.

This reply is to notify those who expressed an interest in reviewing the proposed draft Career Levels taxonomy output of CASRAI-UK. Hoping all in the @uk-career-levels interest group can look at the above post and provide their comments to the WG.

It seems like there is a group that is unaccounted for here - researchers who are essentially permadocs - still in post-doc positions after 10-15 years with no plans (or possibility) of becoming independent researchers. This is becoming increasingly common, but the hierarchy above only represents the ‘classical’, always progressing, career route.


Would these individuals perhaps fit within Stage 5- Progression? There was not an assumption that people always move upwards along the stages, but perhaps the term ‘progression’ for this stage isn’t itself helpful here. Thoughts on a better alternative?

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Yes - I think that they might fit there, but you’re right, the title of the stage doesn’t help. Really can’t think of an alternative. It might also be necessary to broaden out the mentoring description as not all researchers in a permadoc will be supervising PGR students as a principal supervisor, more likely to be a second supervisor or thesis committee advisor.

Perhaps we need a split in the structure at this point.

5A for Progression (to full academic role) which is as already described


5B for Committed research only staff (permadocs) that takes your observations into account, Mary.

If we had a flow chart then the permadocs would be a side loop, with a dotted return to the main track to allow for those who progress on the branch-line.

I think we need to maintain simplicity so the taxonomy can be implemented in a simple drop-down on information collection screens. Would be best if we could add the ‘permdocs’ concept in the definition as a contextual extension - but we will then need to consider a better word for this stage rather than “Progression”. Perhaps, “Stability” or “Maturity”??

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I like the word “stability” particularly, as it gives a sense that this is a point at which you could remain indefinitely.

Could you move backwards along this progression as well as forwards? Or would it be appropriate to have a stage where an individual has stepped back from leadership and is focussed on their intellectual endeavour at the expense of widening the larger conversation? I’m not making a value judgement here but many choose not to lead or to do so for a period and then to focus on their research, rather than leading the discipline beyond their immediate research.

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It would also be very interesting to me to see how far this can be discerned rather adopted by the individual, and where an individual choosing where they are (perhaps via survey of the aspects) and compared to “what the answer would have been using the HR system/CRIS/Grants management system etc.”

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A comment also suggested that it might be possible to look at rich text and assign in that manner - would be an interesting possibility to explore.

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Perhaps “Emeritus” as a possible stage after “Leadership”? In general I think it would be wise if all stage labels were selected such that choosing to stay at that stage is reflected.

Hi Everybody, I’m sorry I’m so late to join in. I raised this at the UK Reconnect event last week, but I’ll reiterate for those who weren’t there. I am concerned that every category suggested so far just seems to generate exceptions, and I think they always will. I wonder whether it is worth generating a mechanism to describe, and therefore compare, grades and stages? The way I see it working is to choose enough facets (there will be a lot) so that each can be resolved to a binary or numeric answer, such as “Supervises PGRs as principal supervisor”, “Contributes to REF case study”, “Active member of professional bodies”, which can be answered yes/no, then group them logically. I’m happy to do some work on this but it is unlikely to get anywhere before 30th.

At the DFG’s Head Office Information Management Division, we are aware of and use career typologies regularly in the context of programme evaluations related to the DFG’s funding schemes. Are you familiar with the European Commission’s European Framework for Research Careers ( It is increasingly being used for analytic purposes (see or If you are familiar with it, how does it correspond to the Academic Stage standard taxonomy as proposed? The European Framework defines four stages:

  • R1 First Stage Researcher (up to the point of PhD)
  • R2 Recognised Researcher (PhD holders or equivalent who are not yet fully independent)
  • R3 Established Researcher (researchers who have developed a level of independence)
  • R4 Leading Researcher (researchers leading their research area or field)

I’d like to point out three problematic aspects that I see:

  1. The R2 phase (according to the EC definition) is split into many stages in the proposed Academic Stage standard taxonomy. Not all dimensions are separated into distinct categories. Take the dimension “Funding”, for example, which seems to have blurred distinctions:
    ­ Stage 3 "Local internal funding"
    ­ Stage 4 "Small scale funding awards / external fellowship"
    ­ Stage 5 "Beginning to explore small scale funding awards. May hold an externally awarded fellowship ".
    ­ Stage 6 “Hold large scale funding award > 3 year projects”.

  2. In the European Framework, permanent positions such as the W2 or W3 professorship in Germany are better defined. There are indications that the R4 stage clearly aims at a permanent position, as evidenced by descriptors such as “Focusing on long-term team planning […]” or “Create an innovative and creative environment for research” (EC 2011, p. 11). This is no longer the case in the taxonomy, because tenured professors might also count as stage 6 (or even 5?).

  3. Societal “impact” plays a very important role in the taxonomy, and the attempts to define it are very interesting. However, in the definitions sometimes it is not quite clear what is meant. What exactly are stakeholders and sector requirements? In addition, the inclusion of the criterion of cooperation with the “impact case studies” of the REF contradicts the claim of developing an “international standard” taxonomy.


Thanks David. I’d thought about that too. defines it as "retired or honorably discharged from active professional duty, but retaining the title of one’s office or position: dean emeritus of the graduate school; editor in chief emeritus "

So as a label, Emeritus may not be appropriate for those who are in transition by semi-retiring. I’ve got my little helper who is a modern languages graduate on the case. We have already rejected Ducis and are still working on it.


Minor comments compared to above but;
Stage 4 – exploration
Funding: perhaps a reference to first grant/early careers schemes would be relevant here to differentiate form Stage 5.
Stage 5 funding: at this point individuals are not applying for small awards but have the confidence to apply for large awards, both with other CI/PI and alone.

I’d also encourage the sharing of these definitions with researchers of all stages before agreeing them. It was mentioned at CASRAI last week that they have briefly been run past academics but it should be considered before the final schema is agreed - they are the one’s we’re applying it to after all.

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Hi everyone. IRiDiuM also has some definitions that may be relevant to this discussion:,_development_and_analysis

Specifically in relation to the Research Excellence Framework and ‘rules’ around eligibility of staff to contribute to the exercise, it is from Stage 5 that we would consider the vast majority of academic staff eligible. The REF eligibility criteria in the past, and going forward likely too, include a measure of independence. So for me, the Stage 6 heading is not quite right and the status of independence is possibly under-estimated/under-articulated in Stage 5.

Dear all,

Thank you for setting up the open review of this proposed international standard for classifying “academic stage” in a research career. There are a number of areas we would like to highlight for consideration.

• There are significant differences in how research is organized and funded in different regions and this means an academic career path varies significantly across regions and countries. It is therefore difficult to start with one countries schema and try to adapt this to the rest of the world. We would encourage the working group to assess and review established definitions from other countries with robust research programs through engagement with a diverse group. This will allow information around the similarities and differences to be shared and incorporated into an initial taxonomy which may be easier to adapt as an international standard.
o For example, there are several definitions of researchers used by US universities. We would therefore recommend consultation with organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the Association of American Universities, and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine so that any schema developed could be adopted in the US

• An academic career path rarely involves a linear progression through skills development, expertise and leadership activities. In addition, the academic career path also varies across subject areas. While the proposed taxonomy can indeed be applied somewhat effectively to certain subject areas and in the UK, the stages do not translate well across all subject areas where career progress and expectations early in a researchers development, for example, can vary substantially.

• Some examples from different stages include:

o Stage 2: in some subject areas, a PhD student is encouraged to develop and lead their own project, with guidance from their supervisor. This includes mentoring, teaching and managing complex equipment in the laboratory etc. PhD students would be expected to manage their own tasks. In addition, Masters and Doctoral training are quite distinct and indeed students can go from a Masters into Doctoral training in a distinct subject area.

o Stage 3: This would be referred to as early independence in the US and in most cases across regions, expectations on a Post-doc are around greater independence across all areas of research in preparation for the step into their first full academic post.

o Stage 4: There are numerous job categories that can be applied to Post docs in the US. There are also a large number of researchers becoming so called ‘career Post-docs’ or Research Assistants in the UK, US and other regions. In the US there are a number of faculty working on research who are in non-tenure-track positions and while some universities restrict these faculty from being PIs on grants, others do not. Some of these researchers can therefore carry significant leadership roles as they progress and gain experience

o Stages 5 and 6: Similar to previous comments and using the US as an example. There are many different faculty tracks, e.g. tenure, research, clinical, instructor in the US and a tenure-track faculty member would not be classified in stage 5, but a research track faculty member might be. So it’s much less about stage of career but rather about track and then level within the track.

o Stage 7: Many researchers don’t lead teams but are still very much considered leaders, and there’s a push to have earlier career faculty not yet at the full professor level engage in leadership roles within collaborations. Team science/scientific collaboration should not be considered a career stage. It’s a type of research, much like translational research or community-engaged research. In addition, many senior researchers do significant work as advisors etc but do not want the credit. A schema should allow and encourage this type of activity.

We hope this is helpful input to the review.
Best wishes
Peter, on behalf of Elsevier