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Durham University

Human Resources & Organisational Development

Guidance for Probationary Lecturers

1. Foreword from the Vice-Chancellor

"Commitment to academic excellence"

Welcome to Durham University, one of UK's leading Universities with a strong commitment to the highest international levels of excellence in research and education.

You are joining a community of talented staff in our Academic Departments, Colleges, and Professional Support Services. While your primary academic role is within your Department, you are expected to engage with students and academic colleagues outside your immediate discipline, particularly through membership of a College Senior Common Room.

You have very considerable freedom which enables you to undertake research at the international forefront. However, this also places obligations on you to take responsibility for developing your role, and to show leadership in working with your students, your academic colleagues and professional support staff.

Durham University has the highest expectations of all our academic staff at every stage of their career, as individuals and as part of an educational community of practice. Your colleagues expect every individual to make a sustained contribution at the highest level to research and education, and to the University community. By the end of your probationary period you will be expected to have demonstrated independence and originality in your research programme, with the potential to continue to produce research with outputs and outcomes recognised as internationally-leading, and to have demonstrated a reflective approach to enhancing learning & teaching.

We take the probationary period very seriously. To help you through your probationary period you will, in the first few months, discuss with your Head of Department a probation agreement and benchmarks to guide you. To help you, your Department will also provide you with a mentor, a senior member of staff outside your line-management, to be an independent source of help and guidance. While on probation your progress and work will be reviewed at six, 15 and 30 months and then through an annual review scheme to help you manage your career and meet the University's expectations of a lecturer.

Professor Stuart Corbridge

Vice-Chancellor and Warden

2. Probationary period

As a new member of our academic staff you are required to serve a period of probation before your appointment can be confirmed. Probation is both:

  • A trial period during which probationary lecturers must demonstrate the necessary skills, aptitudes and initiative in research and teaching in their academic discipline. This is so the University can be confident that, if confirmed in post, the individual will continue to fulfil the full range of responsibilities expected of them, and continue publishing research considered 'internationally excellent' for the foreseeable future; and
  • A finite period of support and career development advice, coupled with a lighter contribution of service to the Departmental/University than the Departmental norm, to enable them to meet the required performance standards in teaching and research.

The standard probationary period is 3 years, with the possibility of a deferred decision in exceptional circumstances. A final report is required by 30 months from the start of your appointment.

Staff appointed on fixed-term lectureships are subject to the same probationary procedures and criteria, on the principle that they are also pursuing a similar academic career to those staff appointed on a non-fixed term basis and therefore the same guidance and mentorship will benefit development of their careers. Those appointed on three-to-five year ad hominum Research Fellowships (such as those supported by the Royal Society or RCUK) and Teaching Fellows are also subject to similar probationary requirements.

Extended periods of leave, for example maternity leave or significant periods of sickness absence, will not be counted as part of the probationary period, which may be extended by the duration of any such absence.

At the outset of your probationary appointment you are required, within six months, to discuss and agree with your Head of Department a Probation Agreement setting out expectations and objectives for confirmation of your appointment and benchmarks to guide you. The Agreement with your Head of Department will also need to be approved by your Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor.

In addition, at the end of the first 6 months of appointment your work and progress will be reviewed. During your probationary period, your Head of Department will be asked to provide the Academic Progression Committee with:

  • (A) an Interim Report on work and progress at approximately 15 months into your appointment and;
  • (B) a Final Report at approximately 30 months into your appointment.

You will receive copies of your Interim and Final Reports.

3. Workload

You will be expected to have a full and balanced academic load commensurate with your position as a probationary lecturer as determined by your Head of Department, and you are likely to be required to teach subjects within your discipline but which are not central to your personal research. To help you to focus on your teaching and research activities you will not be asked to undertake major tasks in service to the Department or University during your probationary period.

4. Mentoring and Support

On appointment you will have access to a mentor who will not be your Head of Department or line-manager. Your mentor will normally be a senior colleague within your Department who will advise and help to guide you during your early years at Durham. Should your mentor be appointed as Head of Department, a new mentor will be arranged for you.

5. Annual Staff Review

You will have an Annual Staff Review (ASR) meeting with a reviewer assigned by your Head of Department, who has the formal responsibility for staff development and the conduct of all ASRs within your Department. Your Head of Department will see your review report, even if he/she does not conduct the review, and may wish to discuss it with you.

Note: there is clearly some overlap between the Annual Staff Review (ASR) process and probation. It is therefore recommended that staff on probation have one review meeting that encompasses the probationary requirements and also covers the development aspects of the ASR. If this is not possible, care should be taken to ensure the objectives in both processes are the same.

The ASR meeting with your reviewer will provide an opportunity for you to discuss your role and to highlight any development you require to help you carry out your role. The ASR will also provide you with feedback on your performance against your Probation Agreement and an opportunity to agree priorities for the coming year. The ASR procedure, which is under review this year, supplements more regular reviews of progress, performance, and support.

If you have concerns about the level of support you require or are receiving, you should raise this with your Head of Department straight away rather than wait for your ASR meeting.

6. Professional Development

To be confirmed in your appointment as an academic member of staff you are expected to engage in professional development programmes and activities relating to both research and teaching. Completion of modules 1 and 2 of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PG CAP) automatically leads (upon application) to Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and you are expected to successfully apply for and gain this Fellowship.

There are different contractual requirements depending on academic role, which are set out clearly on the HR website.

Faculty PVCs must approve any exemption to completion of modules 1 and 2 of the PG CAP, for example because appointees have completed an equivalent course at another University. In such cases staff will normally be required to apply for and become Fellows of the HEA as part of the Probationary Requirements.

7. Research

You will be expected to undertake research and to publish high-impact outputs appropriate for your discipline as set out in your Probation Agreement. The emphasis is on ambition of research questions and quality and impact of output. Your research outputs are required to be at least at 2* level with some at 3* and 4* level within 3 years, ensuring your research is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour. You should demonstrate the potential for continuing to produce sufficient internationally-excellent or world leading research outputs for the RAE/REF (or whatever assessment exercise succeeds them) work (the equivalent of 3* and 4* level in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise), i.e.


Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour


Quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour but which nonetheless falls short of the highest standards of excellence


Quality that is recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour

The professional development stream of your probation training will contain an introduction to the UK research funding landscape, and a mentored process of development of your first research grant application at Durham. In addition the Annual Staff Review process will contain a personal research plan, which you are encouraged to work on with your mentor/research group/Departmental research committee to maximise the benefit to your research career of opportunities available in Durham.

Our expectations of you are therefore that you will:

  • a. produce appropriate research outputs that are recognised internationally in terms of originality, significance and rigour;
  • b. regularly publish research or produce other outputs in a form suitable for the REF or other equivalent peer review, with careful planning to maximise its quality and the communication of its outcome and impact;
  • c. ensure that any publications referred to in probation reports are uploaded to Durham Research Online (wherever possible) and included in your web profile;
  • d. make a significant contribution in terms of research impact and outcome;
  • e. demonstrate excellence in the supervision of research students, and contribute towards recruiting research students and ensuring successful completion of research degrees within required timescales (note: it is recognised that for early-career academics research supervision is often likely to be as a second supervisor together with a more senior member of staff. Wherever practicable Departments should enable this as part of professional development);
  • f. apply for appropriate research funding in support of your research, individually and/or collaboratively, and demonstrate that you have the potential to win external research funding competitively and through peer review on a sustained basis;
  • g. contribute to the research life and culture of your department or School or Institute, for example through collegial behaviour such as participating in research workshops or attracting distinguished academic visitors to your department;
  • h. show yourself capable of leading and managing your research, research projects or programmes, promoting the development of early career researchers if appropriate, and building up a research group or demonstrate teamworking;
  • i. demonstrate the potential to contribute more widely to the development of your subject, for example through regular presentations to national and international conferences, invitations to give key lectures, membership of peer review panels, or editorial responsibilities relating to major journals or reviewing research papers and applications;
  • j. where appropriate, engage directly with non-academic organisations or users to transfer your knowledge and expertise for cultural, societal and/or economic benefit and so contribute to public benefit and potentially under the 'impact' heading in external assessment exercises such as REF, and to use the experience you find there to enrich your research agenda;
  • k. demonstrate an awareness of Research Council and other funding bodies' policies and research funding mechanisms.

8. Education

You will be expected to set the highest standards in learning and teaching, linking research and education in distinctive and creative ways to provide a unique and stimulating environment for our students to learn and develop their full potential.

Most importantly, you will be expected to show you value students, their time and their education.

Our expectations of you are therefore that you will:

  • a. undertake teaching which is research-led and intellectually challenging to your students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, including research supervision, helping to contribute to a distinctive student experience which develops and hones employability skills such as teamwork, creativity, leadership and social responsibility;
  • b. undertake teaching when required of subjects within your discipline but which are not central to your personal research or research plans;
  • c. be readily accessible to your students and colleagues about matters concerning teaching and assessment and if appropriate agree means by which to have regular contact if away from Durham;
  • d. reflect on feedback from your students to improve your teaching, and contribute to curriculum development where practicable;
  • e. be innovative in learning and teaching, and assessment methods, incorporating available technology where appropriate;
  • f. undertake examinations work and course assessment as directed by your Head of Department, and contribute within your Department to the development and conduct of fair and transparent assessment;
  • g. provide appropriate feedback, support and guidance to students;
  • h. undertake professional development in academic practice leading to successful completion of modules 1 and 2 of the PG CAP;
  • i. be admitted to membership of the Higher Education Academy;
  • j. actively contribute to your discipline and be part of the Durham scholarly community.

9. Good citizenship and conduct

As a member of the Durham University community, you are expected to adhere to the principles of good citizenship, being generous with your help and support to others and collaborating with your academic and professional colleagues in matters relating to research, learning & teaching, taking steps to develop links with external organisations and communities, and working for the benefit of your Department and the University as a whole.

You will be expected to be a member of a College Senior Common Room and actively promote the academic ethos of the Durham College communities. You may also wish to take the opportunity to act as a College Tutor.

As a probationary member of staff you will be expected to undertake, effectively and efficiently, administrative tasks that are assigned to you by your Head of Department or School. You are also expected to support and collaborate appropriately with administrative and technical colleagues, making an active contribution to an inclusive community in which diversity is embraced and celebrated.

In every respect you will be an ambassador for Durham University and through your work and conduct you will be expected to enhance Durham's national and international reputation, adhering to the University values and being aware of, and contributing to, the University Strategy.

With this in mind, it is important that you note that certain non-collegial types of conduct are extremely damaging to the good order, performance and morale of a Department, School, or Faculty and the University as a whole, and are unacceptable. Examples of good citizenship and conduct are:

  • active engagement with colleagues and accepting delegated responsibilities;
  • ready co-operation with legitimate requests;
  • creating good working relationships with colleagues and others;
  • acceptance of legitimate criticism of conduct or job performance;
  • fulfilling commitments; being punctual, notifying sickness absence in good time to avoid disruption to the teaching timetable;
  • adherence to the University's policies on equality and diversity and promoting good campus relations and health and safety;
  • respect for colleagues at all levels and avoidance of verbal aggression;
  • contributing positively to meetings or training events;
  • maintaining confidentiality.

Behaviour not in keeping with the above principles of collegiality may provide a valid reason for not confirming a probationary appointment. To ensure that issues can be addressed quickly, every probationary lecturer has a formal review of conduct six months into their appointment. The review is conducted by your Head of Department in conjunction with the Faculty PVC.

10. Confirmation of appointment

In order to confirm your appointment, the University must be satisfied that you have

  • fulfilled all the expectations and requirements as set out in your Probation Agreement;
  • engaged in the teaching of prescribed courses and the supervisory and tutorial work assigned to you, to a suitably high standard;
  • engaged in research towards the advancement of your discipline through the publication of research in peer reviewed and refereed journals, to a high international standard;
  • conscientiously carried out such examining duties and performed efficiently and effectively such administrative duties as have been required of you;
  • shown promise by your work and enterprise of continuing to develop as a University teacher and a scholar and a full member of our University community in the long term;
  • successfully completed modules 1 and 2 of the PG CAP and applied for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy;
  • demonstrated the potential to continue, for the forseeable future, publishing research considered 'internationally excellent', and as a leader in a collegial academic community of the first rank.

During your probationary period, your Head of Department will provide regular reports on your progress and performance to the Academic Progression Committee. A final report will include a recommendation on whether to confirm or not to confirm your appointment.