For example in Cambridge website of math department, it lists University Academic Staff and Research Staff. What is the difference?

  • This will vary. Are you interested only in Cambridge?
    – Buffy
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:33
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    @Buffy no just want to have a general understanding.. but is Cambridge different from others?
    – athos
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:35
  • Probably. I could give an answer that might be completely different from the meanings at Cambridge. I doubt there is any "standard" terminology for this. For example, "academic staff" can mean just secretarial staff - those who work for the department head or dean. Or more. The range of possibilities is probably too broad to be very useful. But for Cambridge, go ask them.
    – Buffy
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:39
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    In the UK, "academic staff" tends to mean lecturers or professors, whereas "research staff" tends to refer to post-doctoral research associates, research fellows, and occasionally PhD students. As @Buffy says, this may vary by institution, so ask.
    – Emma
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:43

2 Answers 2


In the UK academic staff and research staff are typically used to circumvent funding regulations that limit many fellowships to individuals who do not have, nor have ever had, a permanent academic staff position. The fundamental distinction is that academic staff are on permanent contracts and research staff are on fixed-term contracts. Academic staff generally are on teaching and research contracts, but some can be on teaching only or research only contracts. I have never meet a member of research staff that wasn't on a research only contract.

Things get hazy because often research staff have two contracts. A fixed term research only contract and a permanent research and teaching contract dated the day the research only contract ends. If they then get a different fellowship, they tear up the research and teaching contract and get a new one with the new date. This allows them to continue to be research only and qualify for fellowships.

While there are obviously differences across institutions, looking at the provided pages for Cambridge, every member of academic staff I looked at had a academic rank (e.g., lecturer or professor) and non of the research staff did.

The tenure track is not really a thing in the UK anymore. Permanent contracts usually come with a 3 year probationary period. The requirements to pass the probationary period could be as little as do not screw up, but could also have publication and funding requirements. I am not particularly familiar with the publication requirements, but they are likely focused on the REF framework. Departments generally have a group For non-academic staff on fixed term contracts that have most of the same privileges as academic staff. Often this is the Research Staff group, but sometimes RAs and post docs get dumped into the research staff label. As I said above, these select non-academic staff people on fixed term contracts often have a permanent contract waiting for them if there is a lapse in their funding so for all intensive purposes they have tenure.

  • so which one leads to a tenure, academic staff, research staff, or both can ?
    – athos
    Aug 8, 2019 at 14:06
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    Tenure isn't really a thing in the UK; a different system is used. Academic positions are either fixed-term or permanent. Academics will probably undertake a few fixed-term research roles, before moving on (where possible) to a permanent lecturing position, from where they can be promoted to professor within the same university, or move on to a different one. This is something of a generalisation, however.
    – Emma
    Aug 8, 2019 at 14:15
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    I'd agree with this, with the exception of "but all you have to do during that period is not screw up". Most places now have very defined criteria, at least in science. At our place you need at least one 4* paper as last author (or several 3* papers), one grant of at least £400k, complete a teaching qualification and score at least 5/10 on teaching evals. If you see the recent "Life of PI:Transitions to Independence in Academia " paper (biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/571935v1), you'll see this is similar to most Russel group unis. Aug 9, 2019 at 9:46
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    @IanSudbery my information appears dated. Thank you. I will edit something in later today.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:33
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    @IanSudbery I just looked at the linked article. I can't distinguish between the promotion requirements and the probation requirements. The PGCHE requirement was around when I was in the UK, but I still liken that to not screwing up as apart from time, it was pretty easy to pass. That said, I edited the answer a little.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 9, 2019 at 15:05

Research staff in this context are mostly people who don't have permanent positions, rather they have fellowships that last x number of years or are hired post docs on projects. Hence the general age difference between the two groups.

  • Probably country or even university specific. Can you make your reference population clearer?
    – Buffy
    Aug 8, 2019 at 13:49
  • My reference was directly, specifically, Cambridge as the institution I received my PhD from. More specifically, I used to date someone in Pure Maths and spent every Friday at their happy hour...hence the use of "this context". Aug 9, 2019 at 8:59
  • And for the record, they had nice beer at their happy hour. Such funding heaped on the maths and physics sorts, even reflected in their beer. Our social science happy hour had to make do with some cheap Stella that I had to ask everyone to pay for. Sigh! Aug 9, 2019 at 9:04
  • @Grotesquesi It seems that you are using two different accounts (one of them unregistered). If this is indeed the case you can merge the two accounts.
    – Arnaud D.
    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:05
  • Thanks Arnaud, I just noticed that! The wonders of too much technology. I'll do just that. Aug 9, 2019 at 18:52

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