The Vitae Researcher Development Framework


Research Development Framework RDF domainsThe Vitae Researcher Development Framework (RDF) is structured into four domains covering the knowledge, behaviours and attributes of researchers. It sets out the wide-ranging knowledge, intellectual abilities, techniques and professional standards expected to do research, as well as the personal qualities, knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research. Within each of the domains there are three sub-domains and associated descriptors.

Domain A: Knowledge and intellectual abilities: The knowledge, intellectual abilities and techniques to do research

Domain B: Personal effectiveness: The personal qualities and approach to be an effective researcher

Domain C: Research governance and organisation:
Knowledge of  the professional standards and requirements to do research

Domain D: Engagement, influence and impact: The knowledge and skills to work with others to ensure the wider impact of research


In Europe, Horizon 2020 places firmer emphasis on strengthening researcher careers and human resources management of researchers across member states. These themes are echoed across the world.

The growing requirement to establish the career of ‘researcher' as a valued profession, is evidenced, for example by the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers (2005) and the UK Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers (2008).  

As a result, in 2009, Vitae developed the RDF for researchers, in collaboration with the higher education sector and other stakeholders.

Project scope

The scope of the RDF development was to:

  • present the generic descriptors common to researchers in higher education
  • seek to describe characteristics of anyone conducting research in UK higher education
  • contain other activities related to research that may or may not be undertaken by individual researchers within higher education
  • recognise that increasingly as researchers progress through their careers they will conduct research as part of a portfolio of responsibilities in which research may or may not be the main activity
  • be aspirational, yet realistic: identifying the attributes of good researchers at different phases of their development
  • make no judgement about the career choices researchers make
  • attempt to anticipate how the research environment may change through to 2020
  • avoid any link to performance appraisal, national or local role profiles, job evaluation exercises or academic promotion procedures.

Design and methodology

The Framework is grounded in research through interviews and focus groups with over 100 researchers and additional expertise from specialists and stakeholders. Within an iterative, interpretive design, the methods used in the project were: semi-structured interviews with researchers, focus groups, literature reviews, sector wide consultations, specialist reviews and advice and expert panel review. The interview data were analysed using a phenomenographic approach and the results were validated by an external independent advisory group of expert, established researchers. The resulting Framework captures the knowledge, behaviours and attributes that the higher education sector, overall, has identified as significant for researchers. Therefore the core of the Framework has been determined and defined by the research profession and validated by stakeholders, such as employers and funders.
Extracted and abridged from The Vitae Researcher Development Framework and Researcher Development Statement: methodology and validation report.