Department of Computer Science and Technology

Information for staff

Procedure for Appointment or Promotion to Senior Research Associate

Appointment as SRA for incoming researchers or promotion to SRA for researchers already employed in the Department will be assessed by the Head or a Deputy Head of Department and a Senior Member of the Faculty Board. They will make their recommendation for approval by the Faculty Board. The Human Resources Division will not process contracts for SRA status without this approval. The full paperwork outlined below needs be sent by the PI to reach the Secretary to the Faculty Board ([Javascript required]) electronically at least two weeks before the date of the meeting. Cases missing this deadline will need to wait until the following meeting. Advance notice that a case will be coming would be helpful before that, for the purpose of planning the agenda, if possible. Consult the list of the meeting dates for the current year for the faculty board.

Senior Research Associate (grade 9) is for researchers with at least three years experience as a postdoctoral Research Associate, or equivalent. A Senior Research Associate may have full operational responsibility for a major project or research facility and may hold research grants in their own right. They will have demonstrated a high level of competence and an independent standing as researchers. The role profile of an SRA on the University's HR site may help to give guidance on the types of responsibilities expected of someone working at the level of an SRA. The case studies below of Research Associates in the Computer Lab who have been promoted to Senior Research Associate may also be helpful.

Faculty Board has approved the ruling that SRAs can be a co-investigator on a grant and in exceptional circumstances they can be a principal investigator, provided there is mentoring from a senior academic as a co-investigator. This is subject to the approval by the Head of Department.

Paperwork required for the appointment or promotion to SRA is as follows:

  • A case for promotion/appointment to SRA by the relevant Principal Investigator. The PI must be a member of academic staff. The case should include the proposed effective date of the promotion (normally the 1st of the month following the approval of Faculty Board) and confirmation that funding is available.
  • Two references (one may be a senior academic within the Department, and at least one external). The reference letters should explicitly address the SRA's status as an independent researcher and explain their contribution to the field. The referees should not be close collaborators of the proposed SRA. References should be requested by the PI and returned directly to them.
  • Up-to-date CV of the person to be promoted, including publications.

Case Studies of Research Associates in the Computer Lab who have been promoted to Senior Research Associate

Case Study 1

What prompted you to apply for promotion?
A faculty member in my group approached me and suggested that I apply. I checked my eligibility and then approached my PI to see if he supported my application, and if there was funding available.
What sort of support did you get from the Lab?
The website provided the details for what was required, and the eligibility requirements. I also spoke to the Departmental Secretary and colleagues for further advice.
Were the funds readily available
Yes
How did you decide which referees to use?
I asked a colleague for advice, and it was suggested I contact a particular faculty member within the Computer Lab. This person was agreeable, and asked for some details about my publications and impact. I also initially contacted another external person, who after some delay responded advising that they didn't have time. Luckily another person agreed to be a referee with relatively short notice. Both these latter two people are professors that I have known for several years, and I regularly meet them at conferences and workshops. Although we have never worked together, we share research interests, and they are familiar with my work.
Were there any other staff who were helpful in giving advice on making a case?
Yes, I have several colleagues who have been through the process themselves. One provided a copy of their application, which was very helpful.
What additional things do you feel you are doing as an SRA (or prior to becoming an SRA) that you were not doing as an RA?
I am looking forward to being able to play a more active role in applying for funding. I feel that I was already working rather independently, but would like to prove that I am able to bring in money and contribute financially to the Department
Other than financial, how do you feel becoming an SRA in the CL has helped your career?
The ability to find out more about what is happening in the Computer Lab has been very useful, particularly being able to attend the Wednesday Staff meeting and to be on the Wednesday Staff mailing list.
What advice would you have for anyone considering applying for promotion to SRA?
The one thing I was unsure about was how the application was submitted. In the end, the references and letter from my PI went directly to the Departmental Secretary. This means I haven't actually seen them, which is unfortunate, as they may have contained helpful feedback useful for my career.
Addendum If a referee agrees to the disclosure of their reference, to be in line with the UK Data Protection Act 1998 the individual will be able to request to see a copy of their reference from the Departmental Secretary. The law relating to data protecton and references is explained here


Case Study 2

What prompted you to apply for promotion?
My PI encouraged me to apply.
What sort of support did you get from the Lab?
My PI helped me with the application and provided the case for promotion, another UTO from the group served as a referee.
Were the funds readily available?
This was possibly the greatest challenge with the application, but it was eventually sorted out.
How did you decide which referees to use?
There were several referees that have assisted me with previous applications in the past and were happy to assist this time as well. My PI had advised me as for the most appropriate references, and previous sucessful applicants gave permission for me to view their reference letters
Were there any other staff who were helpful in giving advice on making a case?
The UTO that agreed to provide a reference. Also, the Departmental Secretary who pointed me to information that was not then available on the website (and now is).
What additional things do you feel you are doing as an SRA (or prior to becoming an SRA) that you were not doing as an RA?
Only having access to finance (which was harder before) and applying to grants as PI/Co-I.
Other than financial, how do you feel becoming an SRA in the CL has helped your career?
It is a good CV line, but I am not entirely sure otherwise. I would still recommend people to apply as it shows career progression.
What advice would you have for anyone considering applying for promotion to SRA?
a) There are different criteria to promote RAs to SRAs, from technical research contribution to research management. You don't need to comply with *all* the items described in the SRA role description. Don't be afraid to apply just because your experience as an RA was different than others.
b) Listen to your PI and other UTO's advice - if they think that you are not ready yet to become an SRA, they might be right.

Case Study 3

What prompted you to apply for promotion?
I had been an RA for several years and wanted to progress in my career
What sort of support did you get from the Lab?
My PI was supportive, as were the other faculty in my group. It was also very useful to discuss the application during my appraisal, since that provided an external perspective. The application procedures were clear from the website, and I was kept informed by the Departmental Secretary of how my application was progressing.
Were the funds readily available?
Yes, I was lucky that the funds were available in the grant I was employed on.
How did you decide which referees to use?
My internal referee was a faculty member in my group. For my external referee, I asked a senior colleague from another UK university who was familiar with my work, and who I thought would be able to give a strong recommendation and put my work into context.
Were there any other staff who were helpful on giving advice on making a case?
As mentioned above, it was very helpful to speak with my appraiser. Having an external view on whether I was doing the right kinds of things to apply for promotion was really valuable. The Departmental Secretary was also very helpful.
What additional things do you feel you are doing as an SRA (or prior to becoming an SRA) that you were not doing as an RA?
My duties are actually very similar. I have done more teaching and more supervision of research projects since becoming an SRA, but that might have happened in any case.
Other than financial, how do you feel becoming an SRA in the Computer Lab has helped your career?
It has definitely improved my CV, since the promotion is a concrete indication of career progression. The ability to apply for funding (with UTO mentorship) is a major benefit. Attending Wednesday meetings and staff away days has also given me a broader perspective on the Lab as a whole, outside of my own research group.
What advice would you have for anyone considering applying for promotion to SRA?
You don't need to be already doing every item in the SRA job description. You should be doing some of them, and showing the potential to do others, but everyone's situation is unique depending on the needs of your project(s). Also, if you are unsure about applying, discussing it with someone outside your research group can be very helpful.

Case Study 4

What prompted you to apply for promotion?
Several factors: I had been a postdoc for roughly six years; I had reached the top of the (non-discretionary) Grade 7 pay scale; my appraiser recommended that I apply; my PI, although not especially positive, was not against the idea when I raised it.
What sort of support did you get from the Lab?
The appraisal outcome was perhaps the biggest encouragement to apply. I received several kinds of informal support. To sanity-check the proposition, especially after my PI's lukewarm response, I asked one other academic who knew my work, and he also came out strongly in favour. After that, I read the available web pages, and informally talked to a few SRAs and former SRAs. The previous case studies in the web pages were useful - although perhaps also dangerous, since gave the illusion that everything would go more smoothly than it eventually did in my case (see below!)
Were the funds readily available?
Yes, I was fortunate that there were no problems in that regard. That said, I only went up by one spine point.
How did you decide which referees to use?
The requirements did not leave a large pool - not a close collaborator, but familiar with my work, and close enough associate that I could ask for a reference without it seeming unreasonable. I discussed a few possibles with my PI. In the end I chose two external referees (one from an industrial research lab, one in an academic position), instead of the perhaps more usual one-internal one-external. I felt this was appropriate since the external referees were more familiar with my work, and with my peculiar strengths, than anyone I could have chosen internally. Based on received wisdom that it wouldn't hurt if one of my referees came from a well-known research-intensive University in the US, I allowed this to factor into my choice a little, although I rather hope this attribute (by itself) didn't make any difference.
Were there any other staff who were helpful on giving advice on making a case?
There were several people I spoke to informally, as mentioned above. In hindsight, I should probably have taken advice more widely than I did, to forestall the complications that were to emerge (see below!). Although my PI had at first seemed lukewarm, in the end he put in a considerable effort - for which I continue to be grateful. One obvious omission in hindsight was that I didn't talk to anyone currently serving on the Faculty Board.
What additional things do you feel you are doing as an SRA (or prior to becoming an SRA) that you were not doing as an RA?
Currently it is too early to say. As is apparently often the case with promotions, I was already unofficially doing several of the tasks typical of an SRA, albeit sometimes without the proper support (a major example being writing grant proposals and other cases for funding). I look forward to having official access to that support from now on (although I understand I am still unlikely to be allowed to hold my own funding, so perhaps the differences will be minor). Although early days, I have certainly found it interesting and helpful to be included more fully in department business, such as attendance of Wednesday meetings.
Other than financial, how do you feel becoming an SRA in the Computer Lab has helped your career?
Again, it is rather early to say. Receiving the mark of recognition has rather helped my confidence... and certainly, seeing the promotion as a kind of endorsement, from a department with high standards, will likely help my case if I apply for academic jobs elsewhere. In the nearer time, perhaps it will help me bring in funding to support new research within my current role - or perhaps not!
What advice would you have for anyone considering applying for promotion to SRA?
The process is rather quirky because it is the PI, not the applicant, who writes the case. I have several pieces of advice about how to handle this quirk. In my own case, at first I underestimated my potential to shape the case, with the result that both the CV I delivered, and (I suspect) my PI's initial written case, were not strong as they should have been. This led to the Faculty Board referring the case back for further information, causing a delay - although thankfully, after revised versions were submitted, it was eventually approved and backdated rather than requiring a new application. My advice on how one might avoid this sort of problem is as follows.

  • Read the SRA person specification from the University's HR Division, and write out the ways in which you either already satisfy each point, or have evidence that you have potential for doing so (or, in a few cases, that it doesn't apply). After I did this, I had a document that I gave to my PI to help him write his (revised) case. Obviously, there may be other things worth mentioning to your PI that are not prescribed by the HR document, so also have a think about those. Overall, I had forgotten how much I was doing that my PI was at most peripherally involved in and hence not so keenly aware of.
  • Submit an 'academic-style' CV - meaning fairly long and detailed. Since I had never (and still have never) applied for an academic position, I didn't have such a CV prepared. My much shorter two-page industry-style CV, which was all I submitted at first, was not appropriate. For the revised case I submitted a long CV, detailed publication list with glossary of venues, and also a research statement... all as one combined document. Treating the Faculty Board as a 'somewhat department- and CS-external' audience was a helpful mind set. Even though the research statement was not requested, I suspect including it didn't hurt; since I felt my research independence was a strength, it seemed worthwhile to emphasise that.
  • Tailor your CV to the audience. It is fine to use Cambridge-specific details and terminology (although CL-internalisms are best glossed). Include all kinds of contribution - research, teaching (including course supervision, project supervision, demonstrating etc.), departmental service, service to the wider University, industrial engagement, outreach of various kinds, funding-gathering efforts (can be worth mentioning even if not successful), and so on. I also included a list of collaborators, of which I had more than I first realised! I had also heard it rumoured that teaching contribution receives (perhaps Unexpectedly) significant weighting in SRA promotion cases... I still have no idea if this is true, but teaching contribution is certainly worth detailing.
  • Some things are too nebulous to include in a CV, but are nevertheless worth reminding your PI of, in case they are useful when writing the case. For example, the fact that my appraiser recommended I apply for promotion is not something to mention in a CV, but might not be out-of-place to recall in the PI's written case.