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Career Planning Guide

Career Planning Guide

Postdoctoral Research Associate/Fellow Positions

The US National Postdoctoral Association defines a postdoctoral researcher as follows:

A postdoc is generally a short-term research position that provides further training in a particular field, and for individuals planning research careers in academia, government, or industry, the postdoc years can be an opportunity to develop independence, hone technical skills, and focus research interests.

When senior researchers apply for research grants, they will usually build in funded doctoral and postdoctoral roles as part of the project. This can result in job adverts for short-term PDRA/F positions.

The difference between a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Postdoctoral Research Fellow is usually about seniority, level of experience and level of independence. As such, a PDRA is more likely to be someone fresh out of the research degree (and would be employed on a Grade E at the University of Exeter), whereas a PDRF may have already complete one or more PDRA roles (and would be employed on a Grade F at the University of Exeter).

There are several websites that advertise postdoctoral research positions. These include:

It is also worth keeping an eye on key departments and institutions in your research area and signing up to their institutional job alerts (for example through Networking at conferences can help you identify relevant departments you might want to work in.

Postdoctoral roles may also be advertised on subject mailing lists, on LinkedIn or even on Twitter. Therefore, digital networking is also key to finding out what opportunities are available.

The University of Exeter has a job description template library, which gives a good understanding of the standard job description and person specifications for PDRA and PDRF role. The template person specification for a PDRA gives you an indication of the kinds of skills and experience you need to develop during or after your research degree:

Competency Essential Desirable


PhD (OPTIONAL or nearing completion) or equivalent qualification/experience in a related field of study.  
Skills and Understanding


Sufficient knowledge in the discipline and of research methods and techniques to work within established research programmes. Evidence of research activity and published research.
Prior Experience


Understanding of health and safety legislation Experience of undergraduate teaching
Behavioural Characteristics


Excellent written and verbal communication skills.

Able to communicate material of a specialist or highly technical nature.

Able to manage research and administrative activities and to balance the competing pressures of research and administrative demands and deadlines.

Able to liaise with colleagues and   students.

Able to build contacts and participate in internal and external networks for the exchange of information and collaboration.

Able to identify potential sources of funding.

Actively participate as a member of a research team

Engage in continuous professional development.

Understand equal opportunity issues as they may impact on areas of research content

Where appropriate to the role, willingness to undergo training in order to conduct risk assessments

An understanding of the importance of equality and diversity within an organisation and a commitment to helping create an inclusive culture.



Willing to work flexibly to achieve project demands  

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