This is a sort of general existential question, but I hope it's specific enough to be welcome here.

I'm a reasonably successful not-quite-exactly-young-any-more researcher in my field, but I don't yet have a permanent position. I'm aiming to move to the UK to (re)establish my career there, but I'm becoming a little despondent about my options.

I did my PhD in a UK university, and after a short postdoc in Europe I secured a fellowship in Japan. When that ended I moved to another Japanese institute. I've been in Japan for seven years in total, as an independent researcher for all of that time. My rank is approximately equal to lecturer in the UK. This all probably sounds great, but my issue having never had an academic job in the UK it seems strangely impossible to enter the system.

Part of the issue is that so far my career has been research only - I've never had teaching duties or supervised a student. As I understand it there are no permanent UK academic jobs without a substantial teaching component, so it seems that no matter what comes up I'll be massively underqualified on that front, even if I'm a good candidate as far as research goes. (Not that I have anything against teaching - I imagine it's something I could enjoy a great deal - I just don't know the first thing about it.)

My other problem is that my research field is in basic science and is quite far from any applications. It seems to be a 'hot topic' in the Japanese and US funding systems, but it seems to be quite hard to get funding for it in the UK or EU.

So my question is simply, what kind of jobs might exist in the UK for someone in my position, and what might be a sensible strategy for re-entering the UK academic system? I'd be quite happy to have a non-permanent job at first (such as a fellowship), but I'd be very unhappy to give up my research independence. My first priority would be to get my foot in the door, but presumably it's also important to get the teaching experience that would be necessary to move to a professorship position eventually.

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    Universities in the UK provide teaching training. Not having teaching experience puts you on a more junior position, but does not preclude you being hired, of course you may need to compromise on ranking of the institution. Note that there is a new evaluation round coming up in 2020/21 which may, if your research is promising, may your research portfolio attractive to a hirer. Commented Nov 3, 2019 at 17:01
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    "Not that I have anything against teaching - I imagine it's something I could enjoy a great deal - I just don't know the first thing about it." You need to get formal training in pedagogy before you start teaching. If in STEM: cirtl.net Commented Nov 4, 2019 at 10:05

3 Answers 3


It is not true that there are no research only academic posts. There are post-doctoral researchers, research assistants and research only professors in many places within the UK academic system. There are also research institutes outside universities and affiliated with universities who wholly perform research.

It's just that there are fewer advertisements for these posts as there are fewer of these types of vacancies than teaching lecturer posts. You could get the impression that they do not exist based on reading job advertisements alone.

You would need to research more carefully what institutions are performing the research in the specific area of your skills and try to find out how they advertise.

You should be aware of the UK Universities own vacancy notification site www.jobs.ac.uk as traditional advertising of vacancies (such as in scientific journals and newspapers) is no longer performed due to budgetary reasons.


This is going to be very field dependent. What follows will be applicable in the life sciences:

There are positions at research institutes that offer the chance to do independent research without teaching duties, but they are few and far between. They are most people's dream position and competition is particularly fierce.

However, I wouldn't feel to despondent about your chances of a teaching position - In my experience, if you have a good research record, universities will hire you into a research and teaching even if you don't have teaching experience (personally i think this is a bad thing, but still...). You will need to be prepared to learn how to teach though, and probably do a substantial amount of it.

I also wouldn't worry about being "basic science", plenty of us are basic science, and manage to eek out and existence.

One thing you might look at are the Future Leaders Fellowships, which are specifically targeted at retaining or attracting top researchers to the UK. As with the URFs mentioned by @Ian, there are very competitive.


If in a suitable field it may be worth looking at one of the long term fellowships, such as a Royal Society URF or an STFC Rutherford fellowship.

To quote from the URF page

The scheme offers you the opportunity to

  • build an independent research career
  • focus on your own research, with a limit on administrative and teaching duties
  • hold your fellowship on a part-time basis to suit personal circumstances

Given the length of these fellowships there is usually time to build up the experience and contacts within the UK system that you need.

There are two crucial problems with this approach. First, a lot of the application work is done by the university, so you have to find one that's willing to work with you. Second, all of these fellowships are incredibly competitive, so the chances are small.

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