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Research Careers

There are a number of mechanisms available through the Research Councils in order to develop a career in research.

Postgraduate Research

Postgraduate research is a crucial first step in the development of a research career. 

Research Council funding for postgraduate research training goes directly to research organisations who then undertake the selection and recruitment of students. Prospective students seeking scholarships or bursaries for fees or stipend should contact the research organisation at which they wish to study. The research organisation will be able to offer advice on what funding is available, eligibility and application guidance

Further information on postgraduate research is available on Research Councils’ websites via the links below:

Shortly after their doctorate, 47% of doctoral graduates are employed in higher education, so just over half are in other employment sectors. For further information, see the “What Do Researchers Do?” series, on the Vitae website.

What do researchers do?’ is a series of research publications exploring how highly-skilled doctoral graduates contribute to UK society, culture and economy. The series builds a picture of the employment destinations of researchers and the value they add.

RCUK Careers in Research hosts an online suite of stories providing an insight about life as a researcher and the different career paths which researchers’ take.

International recruitment to Research Council studentships

Excellent research has an international dimension. The Research Councils fund many of the best UK research teams and individuals for whom research is an international endeavour.

World-class institutions attract, train and develop the very best students from the UK and around the world. International students contribute significantly to the output and reputation of these institutions.

PhD graduates who enter employment in the UK after their studentship can make a direct contribution to the UK economy. Those who leave the UK may act as catalysts forging long-term international links with the UK.

RCUK has adopted the following principles in relation to recruitment of non-UK domiciled candidates to Research Council funded studentships:

  1. Research Councils recognise the desirability of opening recruitment to attract the best international talent into excellent UK research and training environments – particularly in areas of skills shortage.
    A number of crucial research skills that are in short supply nationally have been identified by government, industry, the Research Councils and HEI community. Widening access to international candidates increases the opportunities for studentships to be recruited in areas where there is a shortage of UK strategic skills.
  2. The benefit to the UK of providing public funding to international students must be balanced against the availability of opportunities for UK-based graduates.
    The UK is extremely successful in attracting talented non-EU students. These students fund themselves, or are funded by their home nations or educational foundations and, in general, it is not in the UK national interest that this inward investment be displaced by public funding, potentially reducing funding opportunities for UK-based candidate.

These principles should enable the Research Councils to:

  • Attract the best PhD candidates to the UK.
  • Promote access for competitive UK students.
  • Give priority to scare strategic skills.
  • Demonstrate benefits for the UK.

Research Staff

Research Councils continue to fund researchers through staff posts on research grants. These go directly to research organisations who then undertake the selection and recruitment of staff. Research grants may also fund academic, technical and other staff.

The European Commission has published a European Framework for Research Careers which describes the following profiles:

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


Research Councils fund fellowships to allow excellent researchers to devote their time to the purpose of the fellowship. Links to further information can be found below:

Research Councils may also sponsor fellowships to help those with a background in science, engineering and technology to return after a career break. See the Daphne Jackson Trust website for further information.

International Fellows

The UK operates a points based system which is used to determine the rights of non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals to enter and work in the UK. The points based system is split into four tiers and the most common routes for researchers to use is Tier 1 (Exceptional talent), Tiers 2 and 5 (Government Authorised Exchange).

For further information on the Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) visa route you can download the following PDF   or contact 

Information on all immigration visa routes for the UK can be found at 

Academic Staff

Through research grants, Research Councils may provide funding for academic staff’s time as Principal Investigators or Co-Investigators.

  • The Principal Investigator (PI) should be the individual who takes responsibility for the intellectual leadership of the research project and for the overall management of the research. The PI may be supported by a number of Co-Investigators.
  • A Co-investigator (Co-I) assists the Principal Investigator in the management and leadership of the research project.

There is further information on how to apply for research funding.

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