Is there a common standard for the title hierarchy of research positions in the English language? Excluding people who do research such as students or professors, but purely researchers. Something in engineering such as, Junior Programmer and Senior Programmer.

I have heard of these, and in what I assume is a hierarchy:

  1. Research assistant
  2. Assistant researcher
  3. Researcher
  4. Senior researcher

Is there such thing as "Principal Researcher" which describes the job position as opposed to the PI on a project. Would this title be given to more than one person in the same lab?

Purpose of the question: In other languages, specifically in Asia, there are many words for hierarchy in both business and academia. Google translate does not work, as it just recommends "senior" for many of the words, but in the native language they are much different, and are all above the standard "Researcher" position. The research institute would like things like business cards and website to make sense to other countries and native English speakers. As of now, the native language shows two different words, but in English they are the same "Senior Researcher", which makes it difficult to understand/explain what position the person is in.


4 Answers 4


Is there a common standard for the title hierarchy of research positions in the English language?


There is no defined, consistent hierarchy of research job titles anywhere in the world, at least to my best knowledge. Essentially, every university, often even individual departments, handle job titles, responsibilities and hierarchies slightly differently, even if of course a lot of common patterns exist. Don't assume anything about hierarchy purely based on titles.

  • 2
    @NajibIdrissi But "the country" is not everywhere, not even everywhere were English is spoken.
    – xLeitix
    Jul 9, 2015 at 13:24
  • 1
    @NajibIdrissi would you care to expand this into an answer that describes the situation in France, so I can upvote it? Although it might not exactly be what the OP requested, I think it is useful information.
    – henning
    Jul 9, 2015 at 16:07

In America, at least, outside of university professor ranks there is no standard hierarchy. You will often, however, see "Associate < [no adjective] < Senior < Principal < Fellow".

In industrial research, most companies have only a few distinctions, as people past a certain rank in research are expected to instead switch to a management track and adopting management titles. There is great variety from company to company, however. For example, where I work we have an unusually deep tree of technical ranks, which somewhat parallel professorial ranks: "Associate Scientist < Staff Scientist < Scientist < Senior Scientist < Lead Scientist < Principal Scientist < Chief Scientist."

  • As for the usage of these ranks, plain "Scientist" is the entry level at our lab (industrial research), the majority are Senior Scientists (about 70%), about 10% are Principal Scientists and only 1% are Research Fellows.
    – Niko
    Nov 7, 2014 at 10:28
  • It's funny that "Staff Scientist < Scientist".
    – xLeitix
    Jul 9, 2015 at 13:25

In UK Academia it usually goes something like:

  • Research Assistant
  • Assistant Researcher / Researcher
  • Senior Researcher
  • Junior Associate Researcher / Associate Researcher
  • Senior Associate Researcher
  • Post-doc Research Fellow
  • Research Fellow
  • Senior Research Fellow
  • Principal Research Fellow

In Argentina:

  • Doctoral Research Fellow
  • Post-doc Research Fellow
  • Assistant Researcher
  • Adjunct Researcher
  • Independant Researcher
  • Principal Researcher
  • Superior Researcher

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