Academic career paths

Careers in academia at the University of Wolverhampton

A career at the University of Wolverhampton is an exciting and attractive proposition for any new, emerging or proven lecturer or researcher. From the moment you start your doctorate you will be supported by our staff in the careers service, Doctorate College and also by our HR department who offer a range of courses and training designed to develop your career in academia.

The university is currently taking great strides in innovative and highly-acclaimed research at local, national and international levels. For more detailed information on the achievements of all our academic schools; including Professor John Darling and Doctor Tracy Warr’s leading research on identifying the genetic causes of brain tumour visit:

Academic job titles and roles can vary greatly from one higher education institution to another. There are two traditional routes, the research route and the teaching and learning path. The following information provides a very brief summary of academic careers here at the University of Wolverhampton:

Academic research pathway

Research Assistant

This could be the very first step on the rung for aspirational researchers. Research assistants are employed in many different fields of research within one of our four faculties. The research work can be undertaken by current PhD students (some may have gained a bursary through studentships) and also by those who have recently completed their doctorate. It is not unheard of for a MA/MSc graduate to be considered and given a research assistant post. Research assistants are usually assigned to one faculty and work on projects either alone or collaboratively with colleagues at the university. They are encouraged to join research networks, mentoring as a mentee and they may well be working on their first research proposal.

Their work is significantly supervised and influenced by the nature and life span of research funding obtained by more experienced researchers. Research assistants play an important part in undertaking the groundwork for senior researchers who have successfully obtained funding from various sources. Duties could include testing, data collection, interviewing and administration.

The other significant factor that defines the work of a research assistant is that it is invariably temporary.

Research Associate

A research associate would normally have completed their PhD qualification before undertaking this post; in essence this would probably be a doctorate’s first postdoctoral position. An associate will have much more research experience, knowledge, technical expertise and would therefore require lot less supervision than a research assistant. Due to this experience an associate would be expected to make a significant contribution to the research project that is probably funding their post.

Additionally, they may well be charged with the responsibility of helping graduate students with more technical aspects of research. There is usually a full job description but like the research assistant the position can be terminated on completion of assigned projects and research contracts.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

A research fellow is usually a limited-term appointment that is normally funded by an endowment or research grant or private company. This is probably the start of an early academic career with teaching responsibilities added to the role of research. At this university there are some permanent posts as well at this level. This position could easily belong to a current member of teaching staff with a PhD who is keen to further progress his/her research ambitions. Research fellows in many cases will initiate or develop research projects under the guidance of a senior research fellow. Researchers who lead on projects are also known as ‘principle investigators’ (PIs).

Other responsibilities would include contributing to the bidding process to obtain funding for the faculty’s research projects and perhaps helping doctoral students with their dissertation research.

At the University of Wolverhampton a research fellow is deemed to be a member of staff and will have access to training as part of their “Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers”.

With the accumulation of more research experience and expertise this post holder will have the opportunity to progress to Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow.

Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

A senior postdoctoral research fellow is someone with a longer track record of research, teaching, and successfully initiating, leading and completing research projects.

Another major difference in comparison to the above post is that it involves writing successful bids at local and national levels.

This research role is equivalent to a senior lecturer on the teaching side and although it involves some teaching duties the emphasis of the job description will still be continuing research development.

 Some publications of note could also be associated with this role and that is further preparation for the next step on the ladder as a Reader. A senior postdoctoral research fellow seeking readership status can apply internally to HR who will match the application against the set criteria.


At this point of a career in research a Reader would have developed research practices, skills and techniques of the highest calibre in their chosen field of expertise. For this position, there will be a strong focus on running and managing research projects at both national and worldwide level. The job will also involve presenting research at national and international conferences. A Reader is also distinguished by highly acknowledged publications both at home and abroad.

 Readers are also required to seek both national and international external funding for research activities to enhance the prestige of their institution and to initiate research projects that involve connections with scholars at other institutions in the UK and overseas. They may also be involved in initiatives working with other public sector bodies and the private sector. Readers will be expected to take part in the strategic planning and decision making for their department.

 A Reader will also be tasked with monitoring and developing other researchers’ skills including publishing, researching and bidding for funding. Teaching duties will continue but it will be minimal.

 After a successful period in this role and further well renowned publications; a Reader will be looking for the opportunity to secure the title of a Professor.

A Reader who is seeking to have the title of Professor conferred can apply internally to HR who will match the application against the set criteria. However, permission will need to be sought from the Dean of the faculty in question.


The position of a professor is the highest accolade for any researcher. The title recognises the individual’s vast experience, in-depth knowledge and expertise in research. It will be a culmination of years and years of research, publications, presentations and successful bidding for research projects and grants from several sources and boards. There are two main factors that separate this position from a Reader. Firstly, a professor’s work is similar to that of a Reader but it is much greater in volume – almost double. Secondly, the work will involve contributing to the strategic planning of the university and shaping research policies in taking the university forward. A professor will also attend executive level meetings to shape the university’s progress and future in higher education.

The role is equivalent to an Associate Dean and possibly Dean on the teaching career path.

Academic teaching and learning pathway

A lectureship is usually a full time contracted role here at the university. HE lecturers usually continue or pursue their own research to contribute to the wider research activities of their faculty. The aim is to have this published in books or scholarly articles, which can help raise the profile of the university. Many lecturers will have PhDs, some will be either starting them or in the midst of completing. Although a PhD will undoubtedly enhance the chances of obtaining a lectureship it is not an absolute requirement.

Teaching methods utilised by lecturers include lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical demonstrations, field work and e-learning. Multimedia technologies are increasingly used. Many lecturers will be expected to lead on one or more modules and will be expected to contribute to student enhancement. A great example of this could be developing students’ employability and academic skills.

 It is possible for a lecturer to concentrate solely on the teaching aspects of their job but it will be difficult to gain promotion without advancing research or taking on more administrative and management responsibilities.

A senior lecturer would not only lead on several modules but would also take on more responsibilities like curriculum development. Most seniors are course leaders and this will include accountability for the administration and course management. They will have to carry out periodic reviews of the course and attend course management meetings. Alongside the course management; a senior lecturer may direct or coordinate the work of colleagues.

To increase promotion chances to Principal lecturer, senior lecturers are advised to produce nationally and internationally renowned research, publishing their work in reputable journals and books and attending conferences, and being innovative in their teaching practices. They will be allocated a percentage of hours for their research work.

Principal lecturers are also involved in the day to day running of the degree programme provided by their department. They will be expected to take part in the strategic planning and decision making for their department and will be involved in managing lecturers and leading team-taught programmes. Also at this level, they will head up academic departments and take up specific duties on behalf of the faculty. These roles could include leading on employability, attainment and outreach work. The administration work will include undertaking staff appraisals, line management and course related administration.

There will also be the pressure of continuing their research work alongside a small percentage of teaching hours. From here onwards a principal lecturer can aspire towards the position of Associate Dean and depending on the success of their research some may even move to the role of a Reader.

An Associate Dean is expected to provide academic leadership and steer the management direction and strategic plans on behalf of a faculty. Another part of this post is to implement policies, procedures, practices and targets as agreed at executive level. There may also be cross-faculty functions such as management responsibilities. In addition, an Associate Dean often represents the faculty within the university and outside.

Dean at this level will have specific responsibilities such as Training and development of staff and research.

The Associate Dean will also from time to time deputise on behalf of their faculty Dean and gain experience to prepare for the next part of their career progression.

The main function of a Dean is to manage and administer the running of a number of institutes and other aligned departments within their faculty. The job might involve research activities including presenting research findings at conferences worldwide. They may also be involved in initiatives working with other public sector bodies and the private sector. Deans will be expected to take part in the strategic planning and decision making for their faculty and also conceptualising the university’s overall strategic vision alongside other Deans and the Executive board. They will also take responsibility for recruitment and implementing policies that are created at Executive level