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A research fellow is an academic research position at a university or similar research institution, usually for academic staff or faculty members. A research fellow may act either as an independent investigator or under the supervision of a principal investigator.
In contrast to a research assistant, the position of research fellow normally requires a doctoral degree, or equivalent work experience for instance in industry and research centers. Some research fellows undertake postdoctoral research or have some moderate teaching responsibilities. Research fellow positions vary in different countries and academic institutions. In some cases, they are permanent with the possibility of promotion, while in other instances they are temporary.
In many universities this position is a career grade of a Research Career Pathway, following on from a postdoctoral position such as Research Associate, and may be open-ended, 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 some universities, research career grades roughly correspond to the grades of the Teaching and Scholarship Career Pathways in the following way: research fellow—lecturer, professorial fellow—professor, whereas senior research fellow somewhere between a reader and a senior lecturer. However, at some top universities, a senior research fellow may be a position of comparable academic standing to a full professorship at these universities, without any teaching requirements.
In some universities in the UK (e.g. the University of Oxford, the University of Leeds), the position research fellow has replaced the position of research associate, thereby broadening the appointment grade for research fellows.
A recent phenomenon in the university landscape of the UK are widely advertised research fellowships with reduced teaching and admin load - and which offer a form of "tenure-track" (e.g., University of Birmingham; University of Edinburgh; University of Exeter). For example, at the University of Birmingham, so called Birmingham Fellows are recruited since 2011 (with over 60 in place in 2014). These Research Fellows have been appointed tenure-tracked academic posts, with five years protected time (reduced admin and teaching roles) to develop their research and to secure funding and a two- to three year probationary period.
In the past, the term research fellow often referred to a junior researcher, who worked on a specific project on a temporary 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 remuneration in form of college housing and subsistence. Colleges may award junior research fellowships as the equivalent of post-doctoral research posts, lasting for three or four years. In contrast, senior research fellows tended to be established academics, often a professor on sabbatical from another institution, conducting temporally research elsewhere.
United States and Canada
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, from prestigious 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. This means that the award holder may formally hold a specific title at his or her home institution (e.g., Privatdozent), but may in the context of the sponsor be referred to as research fellow.
Term research fellow is used to refer to the holder of a research fellowship from a public body that promotes research. Research fellowships of the European Union - Marie Curie Actions fellowships (with more than 50 000 fellows), can be obtained by doctoral or postdoctoral researchers at the beginning of their academic career, by experienced, established scholars and scientists, or even leading authorities in their discipline. This means that the award holder may formally hold a specific title at his or her home institution, but may in the context of the sponsor be referred to as research fellow.
In the Russian Federation, the position and title research fellow is unknown; however, there is a broadly similar position of "Researcher" (Russian: Научный сотрудник, literally "scientific worker"). This position normally requires a doctoral degree or the degree of Candidate of Sciences. The position Ведущий научный сотрудник ( "Leading Researcher") normally requires, in addition to the aforementioned degree, a track record of publications or certified inventions, as well as practical contributions to major research and development projects.
In India many academic and research institutions provide roles for Junior Research Fellowships (JRF), Senior Research Fellowships (SRF), Research Fellows, and Post Doctoral Fellowships. SRF's are awarded to JRF holding post-graduate candidates, who typically pursue a doctoral programme. Senior fellowships are offered by the Ministry of Culture for postdoctoral research in the field of performing, literary and fine arts, and culture.
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