Probation is a fixed period at the start of your employment when you can expect to receive special support from your employer (the university) and your line manager in particular.
Probation serves two purposes. Firstly, it is a ‘protected’ period designed to introduce you to a new job. Your workload may be lighter during the probationary period, to give you time for extra reading and to help you settle into the new working environment. You may be required, or encouraged, to attend a range of training courses.
Secondly, it is a period that both you and your employer can use to confirm whether or not you are suited to the job. You will have regular formal ‘review’ meetings with your line manager or supervisor. These are opportunities to raise any difficulties that may arise, so that you can get support if needed. These meetings are also a good opportunity for you to learn about the strategic aims that underpin the project you are working on.
It is normal for probationary staff to have a written set of objectives to measure progress against. These may form part of your ongoing Professional Development Review. Probationary members of staff are usually also assigned a mentor. This is usually a more experienced member of staff who is not working on the same project as you. Your mentor will want to meet with you occasionally during your probationary period, to get to know you and identify any support that you may need.
The length of a probationary period will vary according to the length of your contract of employment. If you are on a permanent contract it may be a year or more. If you are on a fixed-term contract, the probationary period will normally be less than a year; the exact length will depend on the duration of your contract.
Officially you will not be ‘confirmed in post’ until the end of your probationary period. If any difficulties have arisen, your employer may extend the probationary period so that you can deal with these together.
Some researchers worry about the possibility of ‘failing their probation’ and being dismissed from their post. However it is important to realise that employees on probation enjoy the same legal rights as other employees. Formal dismissal procedures must be followed, and you cannot be summarily dismissed for failing probation. A well-run probation scheme will identify any difficulties long before this situation arises, and provide the support and training that may be needed to help you through it.
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