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Is it possible to pursue a research career inside a university without teaching duties?

I don't like to teach, I love research and I love being affiliated to a university.

The universities I am interested are based in Europe, UK and USA.

Thanks

  • 25
    Then, instead of trying to find a position in a university, apply for a position in a research institute. – Massimo Ortolano May 28 '17 at 17:29
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    You are not looking for intellectual importance, but for prestige. You can get intellectual satisfaction from solving a problem without anyone else observing you, but prestige only exists in the eyes of (imaginned) others. – Maarten Buis May 28 '17 at 20:39
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    @user6644063 So you care more about laypeople thinking you're smart than you do about people in your field of study? Sounds kind of backwards to me. A 7 year old with a few good card tricks could wow people on the street but they wouldn't be let into the magic circle because of it. – Pharap May 29 '17 at 3:52
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    Working at a (well regarded) research institute as a researcher without teaching duties, I find your preference for working at a university strange. At most research institutes in my country, institutional funding is much better than at universities, which makes working there more enjoyable (if you don't desire tenure). Laypersons don't care much about the distinction between universities and research institutes. They might be more impressed if you are a professor ... – Roland May 29 '17 at 12:54
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    It's perfectly possible but only easily achieved if you are utterly brilliant. – Lembik May 30 '17 at 7:43
25

Yes. In the UK such positions are called Research Assistants or Research Associates. There are also Postdoctoral Researchers.

These are full-time salaried researchers who are employed on specific grant funded projects. The only down-side is that they are often fixed-term contracts linked to the fixed term research grant; however, UK employment law does offer some protection, because if you land several sequential fixed term positions at the same institution you are regarded as a permanent employee with greater rights when the funding ceases.

Such positions are advertised in the Academic press (such as the Times Higher Education Supplement) or on jobs.ac.uk.

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    Thanks...but being a postdoc forever is not that great, isn't it? :-) – 2801001 May 28 '17 at 19:28
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    @user6644063 It depends what you want from life. I know one RA in the UK who is well over 50, and still enjoying it. He doesn't spend much time doing "grunt work" these days - the new kids on the block get to do that for him! – alephzero May 28 '17 at 19:53
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    If you want to earn your money with just research, then the research has to be worth it. If you want more security, then you need to diversify: e.g. earn part of your income through teaching... – Maarten Buis May 28 '17 at 20:43
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    "UK employment law does offer some protection, because if you land several sequential fixed term positions at the same institution you are regarded as a permanent employee with greater rights when the funding ceases" This sounds great in theory but in practice I'd expect it to hinder your employment chances, because administration will try to prevent this scenario. – Roland May 29 '17 at 12:48
  • @Roland they seem to view that as just a cost of doing business and factor it into the grant overhead. – Flexo May 30 '17 at 12:02
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Some universities in the US have Research Professor positions available. These usually are non-tenured positions, and they often don't have any salary lines associated with them; the research professor's salary comes entirely from the research grants that the research professor brings in as a Principal (or Co-Principal) Investigator, or participates in as a Senior Investigator (someone else, possibly even from another university, is the Principal Investigator) on the research grant or contract. There are similar positions at the associate and assistant professor levels. Such positions are often created at the behest of the applicant: a hot-shot researcher with no interest whatsoever (and possibly no experience too) in teaching wants to bring his lab/research program from, say, industry or a free-standing research institute, to a university and offers to do so if the university creates a position from him.

11

In France the CNRS offers each year a few research-positions in a considerable range of disciplines. (The initial hiring is usually done at a level comparable to assistant professor.)

The recipient of such a positions is then typically assigned to some university where they will work in the laboratory corresponding to their field.

These are permanent positions, and there is an option for later promotions.

For certain disciplines there are other organization that offer similar types of jobs (such as Inria, for computer science).

With such a position it is also possible to supervise students, and it is often also possible to teach a bit on the side (if at some point, one wants to).

Thus, I would say, yes, this is possible. But, as said in another answer, there is a lot of competition.

7

There are quite a number of fixed-term positions (research associate or postdoctoral research assistent), funded on research grants, typically for 2-3 years and advertised worldwide. There are also research fellowship with various funding agencies, typically for 3-5 years (or even longer) for early-career researchers.

However, when it comes to permanent positions, the options are limited. There are some places where you can avoid teaching undergraduates. However, any (good) researcher should (and will want to) have postgraduate students (e.g. PhD).

Some Universities have research-only positions and there are also research institutes, for example the German Max-Planck institutes, where researcher still have access to postgraduate students.

However, having said all that I must warn you.

  1. Passing the knowledge on to coming generations is a very important task of every researcher. This includes the more basic stuff, i.e. undergraduate teaching.
  2. Research-only positions are generally more competitive and you may not be able to afford the luxury to only apply to such posts.
4

It's perfectly possible. I'm at a UK Russell group university. I work with two professors with no teaching commitment whatsoever.

(This isn't the 'research professor' post described in another answer. These are people with the same tenure and status as professors with a more diverse portfolio - they just don't have any teaching commitments)

The university has a whole pathway from PhD through to professorial level for people with no teaching commitment (and similar pathways for people with no research commitment, and for people with a mix of teaching and research).

Until a couple of years ago I was Director of a department which employed multiple staff at all these levels as research only, with no teaching commitment.

It seems unlikely that my university is the only one that does this in the U.K.

3

I can imagine this answer being just the opposite of what you're asking for, but can I ask you why you don't want to teach?

I remember that, when I was in my twenties, I didn't like teaching as well: I was so nervous while standing before a group of people that I froze and hence, I didn't see myself as being capable of teaching. So, when I graduated from university I started looking for a job in the industry but I didn't find anything right-away.

As a result, I started teaching anyway, I was standing before some classes who didn't care at all about what I was saying ("Sir, why do we need mathematics for stirring in the soup?"), so after some months I was happy finding another job in the industry, where I'm working ever since.

Now however I'm still enjoying the results of what I learnt at that school: I can still very easily stand before groups of people and say something without freezing, I even did the presentation of a quiz during the wedding of one of my best friends, in front of 150 people. This would not have been possible without that teaching experience.

I'm not simply writing this for explaining my own personal situation: I am aware that public speech is a big burden for lots of people, and the more those people are interested in investigation and research (like you), the more they tend to have difficulties with this matter. (in case this does not apply to you, feel free to delete this answer)

One other thing: as mentioned before indeed much universities give the opportunity to do research without teaching duties, but on the other hand, if you present yourself at a university, refusing one of the basic task of a university, you might make a very bad first impression.
Therefore, I'd propose you to present yourself at a university, being very willing to do research, but you mention that teaching might be problematic, and you mention the specific reason(s). As universities are very good at problem solving, in case they need you to fulfill teaching duties, they will make sure you get the proper guidance and you might very well end up stronger than you imagined at first.

Good luck

1

Firstly, it is quite simply incorrect to say that research institutions are void of prestige, especially amongst the academic community, whose respect is presumably what you are trying to garner. I would also suggest that a long-term career in research - with all of the ups and downs, the long projects, setbacks, funding rejections, problematic reviewers and more - is only sustainable if your primary motivation is to learn more about your field and contribute to its development, rather than prestige.

Secondly, your comment about postdocs indicates that you do not understand how academic progression works. It is normal to carry out 2 or (usually) more postdocs before finding a tenured, permanent or long term post somewhere. Postdocs are an invaluable experience, where you learn about your subject, how to carry our research, the different cultures and working practices of other institutions and other counties etc. Indeed, many researchers find they were more productive during their postdocs than during their fixed posts, which come with additional admin, teaching and/or outreach duties. It would be foolish to suppose you can jump straight into a permanent post without gaining this insight into academic and building up your portfolio of articles, conference attendance and seminar practice.

Thirdly, how did you get to where you are? Do you not think you have a duty to give back to the academic community who trained you, rather than rejecting the notion of sharing your knowledge with students, as your professors did with you?

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    Do you not think you have a duty to give back to the academic community who trained you -- Nope. Not at all. – JeffE May 29 '17 at 2:38
  • Would you care to elaborate upon why you feel this way, rather than leaving a flippant comment. If you had a bad experience in some aspect of your education then I would understand; however, one is unable to debate given the nature of your comment. – lux May 29 '17 at 2:40
  • I teach because I enjoy teaching--and because I'm good at it--not out of a sense of obligation or duty or debt. I certainly don't expect any of my students to teach just because I taught them. Once the students have left my class (or have filed their thesis), they don't owe me a thing. – JeffE May 29 '17 at 2:47
  • Thank you for expanding. I respect your personal feelings on the matter, and indeed agree with your first two points. I would argue I certainly feel additional motivation recalling how my professors took time to teach me, and did so very well: I appreciate this all the more now I am researching myself and - although thoughrouly enjoying teaching - know how much time it takes away from my own work in preparation, examination, marking etc. – lux May 29 '17 at 2:55
  • 'Secondly, your comment about postdocs indicates that you do not understand how academic progression works.' It doesn't make sense this statement because I didn't say that 1/2 postdoc positions are not essential for a career progression (i.e. I am fully aware of their importance) but just stated that is not great to reach your 60s and still being a postdoc. – 2801001 May 29 '17 at 8:14

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