Guidance for principal investigators

This guidance relates to the employment of researchers, especially those in posts which are funded by external research sponsoring bodies, such as the Research Councils, Royal Society, British Academy, charities, trusts, government departments, industry, and other bodies. 

It is based upon elements of the University’s formal Code of Practice on the employment and career development of research staff, but provides more detailed guidance on key aspects of researchers’ career paths. 

This guidance has been approved by the University’s People Committee (formerly known as Personnel Committee), with the expectation that all departments will introduce arrangements based on this guidance appropriate to the local context. Local factors which might influence variations in practice include the typical length of contract and seniority of research staff and PIs; the extent to which research staff work in groups and teams; and the security of external funding. 

The guidance, below, consists of: 

  • A diagrammatic overview of the respective responsibilities of departmental administrators and heads of department on the one hand, and PIs, supervisors and research group leaders on the other 

  • Some reflective questions for principle investigators and others to use to guide their supervision of researchers careers. 

Guidance for PIs: reflective questions 

This guidance is intended for principal investigators, research group leaders, heads of department and departmental administrators.  It should be read in conjunction with the table of responsibilities, below. 

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Table showing who has responsibility for key actions

Area of responsibility

Departmental administrators and  
heads of department 

Supervisors and research group leaders 

Recruitment and selection of researchers 

  • Ensure all those appointing research staff have received training in fair selection and are aware of the Equal Opportunities Code of Practice on Recruitment and Selection and guidelines on recruitment procedures 

  • Apply suitable job title 

  • Issue formal letter of appointment 

  • Ensure appropriate contract is used 

  • Set appropriate probationary period – where possible of not less than one year 

  • Follow guidelines on recruitment procedures and Equal Opportunities Code of Practice on Recruitment and Selection; 

  • take part in training in fair selection 

Newly-appointed researchers 

  • Clearly identify the immediate supervisor of the researcher 

  • Appoint mentor to help researcher settle in 

  • Ensure researchers from overseas have access to information on any personal matters such as housing, banking, health care and social security 

  • Include research staff in departmental induction arrangements, covering: 

  1. Checklist for researchers 

  1. University Handbook for Academic-related Staff 

  1. Information on divisional and central training provision for researchers 

  1. Information on welcome sessions run by the University for research staff 

  1. Information on resources such as libraries, technical assistance, lab facilities and materials, staff development opportunities, membership of the University and College Union, and social facilities such as the University Club and the Oxford Research Staff Society 

  1. Information on the impartial career review services that the Careers Service can offer researchers (this may be particularly important for individuals on short term contracts) 

  • Prompt supervisors to conduct initial meeting and probationary review meeting; follow up and provide support where necessary 

  • Consider reflective questions 1 

  • Set up face-to-face meeting to clarify the job description, the degree of freedom for pursuing the research objectives, expectations about output and progress, publication protocols, teaching opportunities and/or obligations, and the researcher’s own aspirations and skills 

  • Set up meeting (can be with another colleague) to clarify (where relevant) lab procedures and practices, health and safety, ethical standards and other aspects of academic integrity in research 

  • Hold formal review meeting within the first year as part of the probationary review arrangements, covering performance to date, the researcher's and the supervisor's expectations about a career trajectory, and professional development plan. 


  • Participate in department’s merit pay scheme in respect of research staff 

  • Decide starting salaries in light of the requirements of the role and the experience and professional contribution of the individual 

Conditions of service 


Career planning and development 

  • Prompt supervisors to conduct formal meeting nine to twelve months before the end of the contract; follow up and provide support where necessary 

  • Include researchers in arrangements for personal development review 

  • When notified, trigger the University’s procedures for managing and ending fixed-term contracts, including nominating supervisor 

  • Highlight upcoming careers-related workshops and events provided by Careers Service and divisions 

  • Consider reflective questions 2 

  • Hold formal meeting nine to twelve months before the end of the first contract, to clarify the likelihood of further grant funding and options if this is not likely; notify the departmental administrator if further funding unlikely 

  • Hold personal development review meetings with researchers if they request it 

  • Hold formal meeting nine to twelve months before the end of the second contract, to review the researcher’s career progress to date and the likelihood of their acquiring an academic or similar post - refer to relevant support services 

  • Notify the departmental administrator if further funding unlikely 


  • Ensure that researchers are kept appropriately informed about the state of funding 

  • Consider reflective questions 3 

  • Notify the departmental administrator that no further funding is available 


Supervisors should ask themselves: 

  • What departmental induction processes are in place for me to draw on? 
  • Have I clarified the job description and my expectations of the researcher’s ‘output’? Have I provided a copy of the research proposal, including the deliverables against which our progress will be assessed? 
  • Have I explained that the contract is a fixed-term one and clarified the implications of this with the researcher? 
  • What degree of freedom does the researcher have in pursuing the research objectives? Has this been discussed? 
  • Is the researcher aware of the relevant standards and policies on research integrity, and have they agreed to observe these? 
  • How clear is the researcher about laboratory procedure and practice (where appropriate)? 
  • Have I explained the protocols for publication (authorships, favoured publication methods)? 
  • Does the researcher know what resources are available – and, if not, do they know how to find out – in terms of library, computing, laboratory facilities and materials, and technical assistance? 
  • Is the researcher from overseas? Do they need information or support regarding accommodation, bank accounts, signing on with a doctor, getting a national insurance number, etc.? Do they need support with English language development, and if so have I given them information about the University’s Language Centre? 
  • What other information does the researcher need (eg about university induction events, or the University’s Code of Practice for the Employment and Career Development of Research Staff )? Have they received this information? 
  • What teaching opportunities and/or obligations are there for the researcher and have I communicated these? 
  • What opportunities have I offered for the researcher to explain their own needs and aspirations, and to bring out any skills they may have that could contribute to the project or more widely to the group or department? 

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In considering how to support researchers’ career development, supervisors should ask themselves: 

  • How is the researcher’s work progressing? What are they doing well? What could they improve? How am I communicating my views on these? Am I making my expectations clear? 

  • How is the researcher attending to their own professional development? What opportunities and encouragement am I offering for them to do so (eg conferences, publications, grant applications, college attachments, teaching, committee membership, training events)? 

  • How does the researcher see their future beyond the end of this contract? What action are they taking? Is the researcher aware of the support available from the University Careers Service, the People and organisational development and divisional research training teams; are they aware of the ‘Jobs’ page of the University’s website? 

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Supervisors should ask themselves: 

  • What are my expectations regarding output at this stage? 

  • What are the prospects for the researcher’s continuing employment on this (or a different) project? What discussions have I had with the researcher about this? 

  • Have I made the researcher aware of university procedures relating to the expiry of fixed term contracts? 

  • Have I reminded the researcher of the Careers Advice available from the Careers Service (if appropriate) as their current contract enters the final phase, and indicated options for additional support available through the divisions? 

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