Research staff probation period

SignpostAs for other employees, research staff working in higher education usually start a new post with a probationary period. 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. The length of a probationary period can vary a lot according to the length of your contract of employment. For example, if you are on an open, ongoing contract it may be two or more years. If you are on a fixed-term contract, the probationary period is likely to be shorter.

Probation serves two purposes:

  1. to introduce you to the new post. Your workload may be lighter to give you time to explore your role, build your experience and help you settle in. You may be expected to attend a range of training courses
  2. to allow you and your employer to confirm your suitability for the post. You will usually have regular formal ‘review’ meetings with your line manager, useful for raising any difficulties and getting support if needed.

During probation, staff will usually have a written set of objectives to help measure progress. These may form part of your ongoing professional development review. New staff are often assigned a mentor, usually a more experienced member of staff who is not working on the same project. Your mentor should meet with you occasionally during your probationary period to identify any support that you may need.

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. A well-run probation scheme will identify issues and provide the support and training that may be needed to help you through them.

In the UK 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.

Before starting a new post, make yourself familiar with the probationary conditions specific to your post and contact your personnel department or your trade union if you are unsure of anything.