I am a master's student in physics, from outside the UK and I'm not familiar with the academic hierarchy/titles in the UK. I am working (remotely) with an academic from a prominent UK university, and we have been collaborating on a project for a few months now. I found out about him, through an advertisement for a PhD project listed on the university website. I did not get the position, but the project we are doing is different. In the past few months in interacting with him, he has also told me that he is looking to take PhD students in the next admissions cycle.

Now, I am unable to find him listed as a faculty member anywhere on the site. For example, he is listed under 'Research Staff' not 'Academic Staff' but he has also been awarded a prestigious fellowship. So under his webpage, it just says 'X Fellow' (not revealing the title for confidentiality), and it neither says postdoc, nor does it say reader or something, which I've seen commonly in the UK (in fact there are other people listed as postdocs under research staff as well). On his webpage in a field-specific research repository site, he is listed as a 'Junior', but I think this is a self-filled webpage.

  1. How do I check if he is a faculty member or not? I'm confused since it is not officially listed anywhere (except for that research repository site) but the university has advertised PhD positions with him as the (sole) project supervisor.

  2. Are 'research staff' in the UK at the same level of the academic hierarchy, with the exception that they don't teach?

The reason I ask is because I intend to ask him for a letter of recommendation when I apply for PhD programs again, and if he is 'officially a postdoc' then I'm afraid his letter may not be weighed equally with that of a faculty member. I'd also like to work on a PhD with him, but if he is not a faculty member, then I'd hesitate to apply to his project, should a project be floated under him again.

  • 2
    Have you considered asking that person?
    – N.I.
    Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 20:29
  • "X Fellow" tends to connote a relatively junior person, yes. But not only. How many years post-PhD is the person? There do exist versions of "X Fellow" which are long-term, and higher status/rank. :) Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 21:38
  • 4
    I think you are asking the wrong questions. The right questions are: Is this person permitted to supervise PhD students? And when does their employment contract expire? Not all countries even use the word "faculty." There is not necessarily a comparable category. Commented Jul 15, 2022 at 21:52
  • @paulgarrett this person has done 3 postdocs post their PhD and normally from my understanding, people are competitive for and obtain faculty positions after around 3 postdocs, at least in physics.
    – anon1
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 3:29
  • @AnonymousPhysicist, like I said the uni had an advertisement for a PhD position, with them as a the only supervisor. So I think they are allowed to supervise students. Of course, I do not know about their employment contract, but presumably a postdoc or a similar position is more short-term than whatever the UK equivalent of faculty position is?
    – anon1
    Commented Jul 16, 2022 at 3:38

2 Answers 2


The university should have some kind of web site. You should be able to contact them through this. Since you would be attending the university, you will need the info about the school.

Ask the school for the info you need. Be specific and ask which persons at the school are qualified to be your PhD supervisor. You can also ask what their areas of interest are. So you can possibly select the person you found, or maybe somebody else on the same project. This info will have been asked for many times, so it might already be on their web site.

You need to know a lot of other stuff about the school, your requirements to apply, what you need to know about funding, visas, degree requirements, etc. etc. So you need to contact the school first anyway.

  1. You just need to google "X fellow", whatever X is. You will find a page like the ones below, and this will answer your question. For example, if it is for researchers in the first few years after their PhD, or early-career researchers, that means it is equivalent to a postdoc.



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