Researcher in lab

DCU Researcher Career Framework

Learn all about DCU's Researcher Career Framework.

The Research Career Framework is designed to attract and retain the best Postdoctoral researchers to DCU, provide them with significant professional development and offer the best opportunities in terms of their wider career path. 

DCU is a major research institution that has gained worldwide recognition for the work of its researchers.

The Researcher Development Framework (RCF)  is designed to enhance our capability to develop world-class researchers. It provides a structured framework that supports the professional and career development of our researchers by explicitly identifying the competencies and behaviors needed for success and progression. 


HR Excellence in Research logo

HR Excellence in Research - Awarded to DCU in 2015

The Research Career Framework aims to ensure that DCU remains a University of choice for top-class research and researchers in the future. 


The Research Career Framework is involves three defined levels that structure the researcher career path with continuous professional development at each level.

Participating researchers are facilitated in developing a set of valuable and transferable skills that will enhance their career opportunities both within and outside the university. The framework supports Principal Investigators (PIs) in delivering excellence in research at DCU. 
The Research Career Framework consists of three levels:

  • Level 1 – Postdoctoral Researcher - up to a maximum of 4 years in duration
  • Level 2 – Research Fellow - up to a maximum of 4 years in duration
  • Level 3 – Senior Research Fellow - up to a maximum of 4 years in duration
rcf diagram
DCU's Researcher Career Framework

A researcher can spend up to

- a maximum of 8 years in total on the Framework

no more than 4 years at each of the three levels  

Senior Research Fellows who successfully complete Level 3 are strongly placed to secure longer-term positions as senior researchers or academics in DCU or, alternatively, positions in industry or the wider public service. 

Progression onto the framework - 3 levels



The Researcher Career Framework operates under the following guiding principles:

  • Entry to the Framework and progression to higher levels is by way of open competition.
  • Researchers can apply at the appropriate level for posts when advertised commensurate with their qualifications and experience. 
  • Recruitment and selection to all the appropriate levels is completed in line with University policy. The process is open, competitive, transparent and in line with best practice.
  • Vacancies at the three levels require external funding to be in place prior to advertising. The Principal Investigator (PI) will ensure that the contract duration matches the funding available.  
  • Normally, researchers who have a contract of less than one year may not initially be part of the Framework. However, any subsequent renewal normally requires their participation in the Framework. Contracts will not be renewed beyond one year if a researcher is not participating on the Framework.
  • All researchers will complete a probationary process in their first year of employment with DCU to ascertain their suitability for continued employment.
  • All researchers will complete an annual performance review through the Performance Review and Development (PRD) scheme.
  • Professional development programmes are in place for each level of the Framework. 
  • Eligibility to apply for promotion to the next level requires that internal applicants have successfully completed their probationary period and/or a 12-month performance review thereafter.
  • At each level, the researcher is expected to undertake teaching activities that are not normally more than 50 hours per annum. The basis for this provision is that the researcher benefit from professional development opportunities within mainstream academia. The activity, allocated by a Head of School, will be under the supervision of a fulltime academic member of that School. 

Competency Guidelines


The four RCF competencies define the knowledge, skills, qualities and attributes that are key to effective performance at each of the three levels of the framework, reflecting the increased capability at each level.

For each of the four competencies there is a definition of the competency together with a number of behavioural indicators that describe the competency in more detail.

What will Competencies be used for?

The four competencies are included in the job descriptions for each of the three levels of the Research Career Framework. They are used to inform researcher interviews and aid decision-making during the recruitment process. 

They then guide development during the probation process and the performance review and development process. 


Competencies are assessed during the interview. The HR Officer agrees with the Principal Investigator what particular behaviours within each of the competencies the researcher needs to give evidence of at the interview.  Interviewers are given advice on how to use competencies in advance of the interview.

Probation Process

Competencies are used to guide development during the probation process. Please refer to the competency guidelines when conducting a probation review with a new researcher.

How can Competencies be used during the Probation Process?

It is important for the Principal Investigator to consider what objectives and tasks the researcher will need to have achieved in their first year of employment at DCU. The competency guidelines can be used to identify the skills the researcher needs to demonstrate. 

The Principal Investigator, in discussion with the researcher, identifies the relevant professional and personal development needs of the researcher.  Reference should be made to the competency guidelines together with Learning and Organisational Development's aligned courses and supports, as well as other relevant development opportunities (e.g. on the job training, specific technical training).

Performance Review and Development Scheme (PRD)

Competencies will be used to guide development during Performance Review and Development. Please refer to competency guidelines when conducting a performance management development review with a researcher.

How can Competencies be used during the Performance Review and Development Scheme?

When reflecting on their performance over the last year, and completing the self-assessment, Researchers can use competencies to identify the skills they have been using to achieve their objectives and what skills they need to achieve their objectives and progress their career over the next year.

The Review Meeting

During the review meeting the Principal Investigator can use the competency guidelines to identify the skills the Researcher needs to demonstrate at a particular level and the skills the researcher needs to develop to compete for positions at the next level of the framework. The competencies can also be used to aid in the identification of the Researcher's professional development needs when completing the planning for development form.

Please access these summary competency guidelines for each level: 

Level 1    Postdoctoral Researcher
Level 2    Research Fellow
Level 3    Senior Research Fellow

The Researcher Career Framework is fully supported by a wide range of personal development opportunities at DCU, both online and offline.