The CSIR’s research career ladder
The CSIR’s career ladders for research and development personnel provide an opportunity for researchers to grow - as they develop their expertise, gain experience, and grow their profiles. Researchers are afforded a robust and transparent process to measure their progression and reward their career advancement from junior (candidate researchers) to very senior levels (principal and chief researcher levels). The CSIR career ladders are unique in their ability to offer scientists, engineers and technologists opportunity to be promoted at their own pace as they acquire expertise and gain experience.
THE CSIR’S RESEARCH LEVELS
Candidate researchers – These are junior researchers who work under supervision and focus on developing their skills.
Researchers – These are competent professionals who work independently within a given field.
Senior researchers – These are seasoned professionals with a track record in research and development.
Principal researchers – These are specialists whose sustained track record has led to widespread recognition within their field and who are able to lead research and development programmes.
Chief researchers – These are specialists whose sustained track record in research and development has led to an international profile and international recognition as leaders in their field/s of expertise.
Progressing up the research career ladder
Researchers move up a career ladder as they gain the experience necessary to deal with increasing complexity in terms of the technical and management aspects of the job.
The below diagram implies that reaching higher levels on the career ladder is not possible by simply increasing one’s technical or managerial capacity alone. It requires, for example, for principal researchers to manage aspects of the research projects that they are directing. It is also logical that executive directors will have to have a sound technical grounding. The relative balance determines where a person’s job focus will be.
The relative position of researchers in relation to their proficiency along two axes of leadership (the concentric arcs represent zones of equal seniority)
Making progress in a research career will initially require the ability to master technical aspects of the job. However, as a researcher’s career progresses, additional responsibilities, which require a different set of skills, will need to be shouldered.
Consider, for example, the difference between a post-doctoral researcher working on one or a few research projects in a laboratory and a laboratory director. The post-doctoral researcher will focus almost entirely on aspects of leadership in research, working on technical problems and guiding post-graduate students. The director, on the other hand, will be involved in quite different activities. In addition to providing guidance in technical research matters, he/she will, for example, travel extensively to talk to government and private sector funders, liaise with publishers to produce books or special issues of journals and speak to companies to refine the instruments that they make. None of these tasks are regarded as traditional research, but they are necessary, if not vital, for research to take place effectively. The traditional view of a researcher as a white-coated laboratory worker is therefore not accurate in the case of the director, whose job could not be done by any manager unqualified and inexperienced in research.
Advancing up the research career ladder is usually done in step-wise increments, which provide the opportunities to increase either technical or managerial aspects of the job, which are both necessary. Completing a PhD or finalising the publication of results from a completed research project, are examples of advancing in terms of technical skills and experience. Managing a challenging research project or assuming responsibility as a research group leader, are examples of advancing in terms of management and leadership. From time to time, researchers should assess where they are in terms of this model and should look for opportunities to gain appropriate experience.