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I am at the verge of completing my PhD in South Africa, and I started applying for Post PhD positions around the world. However, I am a little bit disturbed by all the therminology of academic titles which differs a lot from a country to another? So,

Is a Research Assistant/Associate in the United Kingdom equivalent to a Post Doctorate elsewhere?

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    "Research associate" is the normal official title for a post-doc in North America.
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 16:52

4 Answers 4

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Yes, postdoctoral positions in the UK are commonly advertised as research associates, research assistants, research fellows, teaching fellows (if the position focuses on teaching rather than research), etc.

You can normally judge the level of a position by the salary. A salary of between £28,000 and £35,000 will usually be a postdoctoral position (with the exact salary paid normally dependent on the candidate's experience). A higher salary would likely indicate a more senior or permanent position.

If you're unsure about the level of a position, it wouldn't hurt to send an email asking for clarification to the person advertising the job, or the department's research administrator.

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    And ask if the position has a fixed term or is renewable.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 29, 2020 at 17:50
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Many jobs advertised in the UK as research assistants are not postdoc positions. For the UK, all jobs will have a position statement that has a list of selection criteria (marked essential or desirable). It is only a postdoc position if one of the criteria says something like 'PhD in relevant discipline, or close to completion'. As noted in one of the other answers, salary is also a good guide.

Other countries typically have similar formal selection criteria that the hiring panel uses to select the candidate and those selection criteria will state whether a PhD is required.

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Is a Research Assistant/Associate in the United Kingdom equivalent to a Post Doctorate elsewhere?

Just to clarify, "Post-Doc" typically is short for "Post-Doctoral Researcher", not for any position in academia after finishing one's PhD. It refers to the first research position one would get after the doctorate.

In that sense yes, a Research Assistant/ Associate is typically a Post-Doc position in the UK but there is significant variation in the contract type, payment, duration and situations. Think of it as a blanket term for an entry-level research position, but the contract could be anything. A bog-standard Post-Doc is tied to either a project or departmental funding, meaning that at the end of the project you are out of a job and continuation is subject to the progress of the project and whether funding is available. It is fixed time (ranging from 6 months to 3 years, more commonly 1-2 years and renewable at the discretion of the university), but you should become familiarised with how you fulfil the requirements for a permanent contract. In the UK, this is possible after 2 years of continuous employment on renewable contracts (e.g. two consecutive 12-month contracts) or 4 years of employment on renewable contracts but with breaks (e.g. four 9-month contracts with 3-month gaps between them). The difference with a Research Fellow (RF) is the wage, which is often higher than an RA, and that RF contracts refer to a permanent position more often.

Unfortunately, the above do not always hold in practice and you should always read the job description carefully to see to what the "Research" bit in the title refers to. There is also a trend to harmonise naming with the US system (Assistant/ Associate Professor etc) which further complicates things.

The career equivalence between the three tracks (research only, mixed, teaching only) is Research Fellow, Lecturer, Teaching Fellow, which typically and ideally refer to permanent positions with comparable workload and responsibilities. This is not always the case, as RFs are often not permanent and TFs are paid less. Prior to those, you have Research Associate and Teaching Associate, with nothing for a Lecturer equivalent.

Now, for "post-doc" as in "any academic employment after the PhD", you are looking for both research and non-research positions. This includes everything: RA, TA, Lecturer (a long-shot at present), RF, TF.

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A research assistant can be both pre-doctoral or post-doctoral - its bascially anyone who does research under the driect instruction of a principle investigator. post-doctoral resarch assistants are often reffered to as PDRAs, where as pre-doctoral ones as RAs. pre-doctoral RAs are very much like technician jobs - although often an RA will be fixed term, but a technician open-ended.

As others have mentioned, look if a PhD is required in the person-specification, which will be available for all UK university jobs (ask for it if its not linked in the advert). Also salary - PDRAs (at least in biology) are usually hired between point 28 (£31k) and 31 (£35k) on the national pay spine.

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  • The "A" in PDRA stands for Associate, not assistant. Commented May 1, 2023 at 7:09
  • @Polymer chemist - depends on the university. I had postdocs that were written both as Associate and Assistant on. I employ people on contracts titled Postdoctoral Research Assistant. Commented May 2, 2023 at 10:59
  • If the contract says "Research Assistant" then the employee doesn't have a Ph.D. If they do have a Ph.D., then they are a "Research Associate" regardless of title under English law. The relevant case law is Street v Mountford [1985] UKHL 4 - although about housing law, it is broadly applicable. In any contract, a title has no force, but rather the real relationship created. If one makes a three pointed digging instrument and calls it a spade, it is still a fork. If you employ someone with a Ph.D. on a temporary research contract, you have created a Research Associate, regardless of intent. Commented May 3, 2023 at 10:26
  • @ThePolymerChemist There are several reasons why Street v Mountford has no bearing. In Street vs Mountford. Firstly the key in the Street vs Mountford case the terms Tenant and Licencee have defined legal implications. Tenants have different rights and responsibilities from Licencees. The judgement found that these rights and responsiblities were determined by the nature of the occupancy, not the name on the contract. But this is not the case for assistant and associate. There are not different rights and responsibilities outside of the employement contracts for these to titles. Commented May 3, 2023 at 15:51
  • Under british employement law, your resposiblities are determined by your contract of employement, not your job title, nor your qualifications. The situation would be different if we were talking about Postdoctoral Student vs Postdoctoral worker, where worker and student do have legally determined meanings, and someone called a postdoctoral student would have the rights of a worker, irrespective of the employment contract. But there is no centrally or community determined meaning to Associate or Assistant, nor is their a difference in the rules that apply to them. Commented May 3, 2023 at 15:55

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