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Roles and Responsibilities

Principal Investigators: A PI provides the intellectual leadership for at least one defined area of funded research and is the named person to whom a grant is awarded by the funder. PI funding in medical sciences often includes funding for a team, which might be anything from one or two DPhil students to a complement of students, research assistants, technicians, admin staff and postdocs. PIs should actively seek to develop their staff, providing support through regular feedback, one-to-ones and PDRs. While it is primarily the individual staff member’s responsibility to identify their career goals and possible ways of achieving these, it is the PI’s responsibility to provide advice and guidance where possible and to support development goals where these fit with the needs and resources of the team and the department. Research funders see the PI role in developing researchers as absolutely vital to capacity building and the future of the UK economy.

Funders are increasingly seeking evidence that this development is happening. Those PIs who can demonstrate that staff development is part of their planned activities are likely to add to their chances of being funded. PIs also have responsibility to develop their own skills and abilities in those areas that may challenge them such as how to manage staff, entering into and managing collaborations, working with the media or exploiting intellectual property rights.


Fellowships typically provide funding for the Fellow alone. Sometimes seen as a stepping stone between postdoc and PI, a fellowship offers the chance for research independence and safeguards the time needed to acquire the skills and experience needed for pursuing scientific enquiry and establishing academic credentials. Fellowship applications commonly include a section where the applicant must outline plans for their development. A Fellow takes full responsibility for their own development, supported by their department and by the advice of colleagues and, if they have one, by a mentor.


A postdoc is a member of staff who has a PhD and is employed to do research under the guidance of a PI, most usually on an externally funded contract. They are each responsible for their own development, but are entitled to the support of their PI in the form of advice and guidance, and time to undertake agreed development. Postdocs are rarely a permanent member of academic staff. Many will be on fixed-term contracts. As such, they should seek to invest in their future by identifying career goals and potential pathways and by maximising their opportunities to acquire and further strengthen the skills and abilities they need to succeed. They can expect the support of their PI where their development needs fit with the needs of the team or department, or where the development is such that it can be accomplished without undue detriment to the research. Postdocs may also support the development of other researchers such as research assistants and DPhil students and may undertake some supervisory or teaching work.

Other Research Staff

Other groups include research assistants, technicians, and admin staff. Again, the prime responsibility for their development lies with each individual, supported by their designated line manager. They should make the most of PDRs, one-to-ones and other opportunities to seek and act on feedback, and their line manager should provide advice and guidance where possible, or suggest where further support might be found. They can expect the support of their line manager where their agreed development needs align with team or department goals or can be met without detriment to these goals and within any resource constraints.