FAQs

What should I be doing in my first 100 days?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences:

In the first few weeks, you should have a programme for meeting with all the relevant people to whom you can then go to with any questions.  We assume you are independent and will take initiative here (although some departments may provide you with a list of arranged meetings). Typical people to meet would include:

  • The Head of Department
  • Departmental Director of Research: this is very important.  They are the senior academic who chairs the research committee, and they also give support to everyone. Find out how the committee will help you, for example by providing peer review or advice on how to prioritise your grant application timings. 
  • The Director of undergraduate studies to discuss teaching expectations, and the equivalent for PG taught and PG research
  • The departmental operations manager – find out how the department works
  • The departmental technical operations manager, to find out about the infrastructure, health and safety induction etc. You may also need to find equivalents to some of these people if you work on other sites e.g. Silwood park or hospitals
  • Other people may include: those named in your contract e.g. your line manager and a mentor/ academic support.  The latter may be chosen informally and you may be invited to state a preference
  • Mentors: find mentors who are not necessarily close to you to open up opportunities for you.  Try and spread your mentoring as widely as possible  

Professor Neil Alford, Associate Provost (Academic Planning): 

Getting to know the people in your department is absolutely the first thing to be doing – make appointments to see people, tell them about yourself and start to interact.  It’s important to understand the organisation of each department: how does the department function? Go on a walkabout and meet technical and administrative staff.  You must make these relationships work, particularly with the administrative staff.

Professor Edwin Chilvers, former Head of Department, National Heart & Lung Institute: 

Set up your research space in whatever way it needs to be equipped. Whether you're working on big data, clinical trials or you're a laboratory researcher, you've got to be able to establish a platform that you can start doing research from. From getting animal licenses to the physical kit that you need to do experiments, I think the priority is to get your laboratory up and running. 

You've got to get to know your local team in the department.  It’s a pretty poor show if you come to your probation review meetings and you haven't discovered somebody is working in a very similar area to you on the floor below you.  These early collaborations are really, really important. Identify the people that work in a similar area that you can work well with, as well as being fastidious about who you appoint. By the time you come to the probation interview you should know who you're going to collaborate with. 

Sign up for College Leadership Programmes.  I think newly appointed lecturers do need a very early college orientation to find out how the College works. Who are the go-to people? Where does HR sit? What is the Registry?  What sits above the department level? Where to find out about the College estate or what the structure looks like? What are the processes within the College? 

“Asking people who have recently passed probation to share their experience has been very useful.”
- Dr Luke Allsopp, Lecturer, National Heart & Lung Institute
“Find out quickly what the ‘rules’ are. Put together a set of questions to ask (and negotiate). Find out what you don’t know, don’t just guess (or wait to be told) as this could cause problems.”
- Dr Florian Bouville, Senior Lecturer, Department of Materials
“Some people will be too busy to talk to you but don’t be deterred by that. When you are a postdoc or PhD people see it as their duty to look after you but when you are a new academic you are left alone as people don’t have that responsibility, so you need to go and ask.”
- Dr Robert Hewson, Reader, Department of Aeronautics

Actions to take and questions to ask

What form does probation take in my faculty?

Insight and advice

Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Faculty of Medicine: Three-year probation with mid probation and end probation review with similar assessment criteria. In addition, the Faculty of Medicine probation reviews take account of clinical responsibilities. 

  • See the FAQ below: For clinicians: How are my clinical responsibilities assessed at the probation reviews? 
  • See the FAQ below: What is the purpose of, and what happens during the mid-probation review? 
  • See the FAQ below: What happens during the end of probation review?

Business School:  Within the Business School the probation period is only one part of the academic recruitment process with staff being employed on a fixed term seven-year contract, similar in nature to the US tenure track process.  The rationale for this is that staff are typically recruited at an earlier career stage (post PhD) and that the longer-term process provides time to assess whether new members of staff can establish themselves within their fields. 

  • See the FAQ below: What is required to pass probation in the Business School?

 

Actions to take and questions to ask 

  • Read the Procedure for managing Lecturers' probation
  • You will be allocated a line manager, academic advisor/mentor, teaching mentor and clinical representative (if applicable). Meet with them as soon as possible in probation to clarify the process and criteria as they relate to you specifically. 
  • Use the suggested actions in this resource to curate a set of questions to ask so that you know exactly how your probation will proceed and how you will be assessed. 

What are the probation review criteria?

Insight and advice

The specific focus, interpretation and timelines will differ between departments and individuals but include: 

  • Teaching 
  • Research 
  • Clinical responsibilities (if applicable) 
  • Publications 
  • Grant submissions 
  • Supervision of PhD and Higher Degree Students 
  • External visibility (conference attendance/presentations, external collaborations etc.) 
  • Management responsibilities/skills 
  • Administration/supplementary responsibilities 
  • Training 

Action to take

Discuss the list of probation criteria with your line manager and advisors to clarify how each of them relate to your own circumstances, experience and research strategy. As far as possible, seek specific goals and illustrations or examples of what successful performance looks like for each criterion. Use the advice throughout this resource to put together a list of questions to ask about the criteria.

 

Why are the probation requirements so vague?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences: 

The reason it's vague is because it's difficult to be prescriptive because of the backgrounds of new lecturers.  We're trying to ensure that no one is going to find their progress impacted because of the position they were in when they arrived. It might be that, for example, someone comes with an already-established research group.  In that case it's not so critical for getting their lab or group setup, and so we would be expecting them to get their teaching established first. 

Professor Peter Haynes, former Head of Department of Materials, currently Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience): 

We may have someone at end of probation who has published loads of papers, but they were all in the pipeline from previous collaborations, and nothing to do with them being appointed to us and nothing to do with Imperial.  So, we've got to be really careful with these sorts of things, and also it's the reason for the vagueness.  It is to be fair to you because you’ve all come in with different backgrounds and different capacities. 


Actions to take and questions to ask 

Try and agree activities (evidence of progression) against each criterion with your head of department or mentor.  Then there should be no ambiguity and you have specific goals to work towards and show progress.  

For clinicians: How are my clinical responsibilities assessed at the probation reviews?

Insight and advice

Professor Edwin Chilvers, former Head of Department, National Heart & Lung Institute: 

You've got to be working well on the clinical side.  The probation review panel want to hear good things: that you're working well with your hospital, with your clinical colleagues. You've got to be turning up and doing a good job. 

There isn't a set threshold for what we assess, however, you also get independently appraised and assessed within the NHS environment and must keep up with the mandatory training to keep clinical confidence and your GMC registration up.  

If you're not doing any of those, then your contract with the hospital will be called into question and you can't hold a College contract without holding an honorary NHS contract.  


Actions to take and questions to ask

  • Collate evidence throughout your probation of good feedback you have received, training attended etc so that you can present this at probation review.
  • Make sure you know (and attend/adhere to) the mandatory training and processes required to maintain your GMC registration.
  • What evidence would you like to see at probation reviews that I am working well at/with the hospital?

What is required to pass probation in the Business School?

Insight and advice

The Imperial College Business School Academic Promotions Process lays out the requirements for promotion from assistant professor to associate professor, as well as the probation review that takes place within that process.

Professor Franklin Allen, Vice-Dean (Research and Faculty), Business School: 

We give you a fixed term seven-year contract, to be confirmed in the probation review after three or four years. 

It is very unusual not to get through that probation and have the seven years confirmed, that would be an extremely rare event. It would be possible if someone has very poor teaching ratings or they haven't written any papers.  But even then, we would give you an extra year to try and to turn it around. 

The more difficult step is getting on to the permanent contract at the end of the seven years.  This will be decided at the end of year six.  I think at the College more than two thirds may not get the permanent contract.  

Essentially you have to have three or four publications in top journals, be a good teacher (above 4 out of 5 in your teaching scores).  You also have to be visible: we write to six people to get letters about what they think about your work.  So, you need to get to conferences, raise your visibility.  Go early on in your probation, see how things work and get networking. 

In the Business School promotion process you have a review (equivalent to the mid-probation review elsewhere in the College) in the middle of the first three years (as well as annual reviews).  These reviews follow the same rules as elsewhere in the College.  In the Business School they are to help you to realise what you need to do before being considered for promotion, which will happen in the sixth year.

You will know at the start of your seventh year whether you have been promoted.  If not, this allows time to enter the recruitment cycles for different international business schools during your seventh year. 


Actions to take and questions to ask 

  • Ask for a copy (if you haven’t already been provided with it) of the Imperial College Business School Academic Promotions Process, which is available from the Dean’s Office. 

Do I need to be performing well (and equally) in research, teaching, and administrative duties? How do I balance the trio and are there trade-offs?

Insight and advice

Professor Peter Haynes, former Head of Department of Materials, currently Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience):

The picture I have of an academic profile is that it is a multi-dimensional thing: there's a research dimension, a teaching dimension and an admin dimension.  

Of course, there's a bit more to it than that, but imagine that if you had a football, it has a spherical surface, and that means that your strength in each of those three dimensions is the same. But if you had a rugby ball, it would mean that you were stronger in one dimension and not quite as strong in the other two. Or, it could be like a frisbee: strong in two dimensions but weak in one. 

The point I want to make is that within an academic community you need people with different profile strengths (shapes and sizes). You cannot expect one individual to be able to provide everything that you need for every task and every role within an academic department. You need a team of people who collectively span all of those things. 

We understand that in different fields PIs can have different size groups, and their needs in terms of income are different.  But everybody needs to bring in some grant income in order to support that group. I am not going to define this for you.  I’m not going to say, “You need to have the equivalent of two postdocs and five PhDs students.”

It’s for you to decide the size and makeup of that group but you need to be able to manage that group well and produce publications. Zero publications is not good enough. Zero income after five years is going to be disappointing for you, but rather than setting a minimum requirement for grant income I would be looking for evidence that you can write a competitive grant application.   

I think if, by the final probation review – having set up your lab, recruited group members etc – if after all that you’ve got one paper that has come from an idea and work originating at Imperial then you’re doing well. 

In terms of teaching, obviously I do not expect somebody, after three years, to be as confident performing in the lecture theatre as a very experienced professor.  But if I think you don't care about the students and you don't take the job of teaching seriously, because you're too concerned about your research, that is going to be a problem, and we will have a conversation about that.

In terms of administration, of course you have admin duties, but I’d be upset if I felt you were causing any trouble for administrative staff or academic colleagues because you never do anything on time, you never reply to emails, or are always late with your marking. 

Of course, every head of department has their minimum ‘gatekeeper’ expectations, but it’s more about demonstrating engagement and progress than ticking boxes. Different people will do that in different ways. 

“In reality the list of probation criteria has some elements that are just about being competent and some are about being very good. Ask the questions to find out which is which.”
- Dr Robert Hewson, Reader, Department of Aeronautics

Actions to take and questions to ask

  • Think ahead.  You may well be ready for promotion by the time you reach the end of your probation period.  As a starting point, complete the promotions document for senior lecturer to see if there are obvious gaps. 
  • Ask your head of department where they see you adding value to the department – what is it lacking and what is it doing well on?  How can you help to bring up the department average?  Was there anything specific they were expecting from you when they recruited you? 
  • Ask, assuming you are doing very well on one or two of the main probation criteria, what would be the minimum requirement in the others? 

What is the purpose of, and what happens during the mid-probation review?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences: 

The key review is mid-probation.  Typically, it is about an hour long and the first few minutes is a progress discussion with the panel without the probationary lecturer present.  

If there are no real issues with your progress then, when you join us, you summarise for us what you see as the highlights of your progress.

Then you are given feedback on things that we particularly feel you might need to pay attention to. But then the rest of the mid-term probation review is about the future and where you see yourself going.

Professor Peter Haynes, former Head of Department of Materials, currently Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience)

The point of the mid probation review is to formally go through everything: all aspects of the job to identify any support that you may need at a relatively early stage, so that the final probation review is normally straightforward. If you find that you are running into problems at any stage, you shouldn't really wait to discuss it at a scheduled meeting. If there's a problem, raise it when it occurs.   


Actions to take and questions to ask 

  • Find out in advance where to access the forms you will need to complete the mid probation review, understand the extent and estimate how long you will take to complete them. 
  • Put some intermediate milestone meetings in place with your advisor to check in your progress against each of the requirements.  Schedule time in your diary to complete forms and meet with your advisor in plenty of time for submission.
  • Get an estimated date for your mid probation review as soon as possible after starting probation, so that you can work backwards and plan.   
  • Find an experienced colleague to provide an alternative opinion to your academic advisor occasionally, to get a different perspective on whether you are on track or heading towards any challenges.   

How do I prepare for my mid- probation review?

Insight and advice

Professor Edwin Chilvers, former Head of Department, National Heart & Lung Institute: 

I see all of our new lecturers for a one-to-one three months before their final probation review meeting and say, “This is what the interview will be look like, these will be the types of questions, and this is what you need to get your head around.”   

You need to take a day out to prepare. It is not something you do late at night or at the weekend. You need to take a day to think through what your answers are going to be and to prepare.  We ask you to do a five-minute, three-slide pitch of what you're doing. 

We've even had an actor that comes into our department and works with newly appointed lecturers so that their communication skills are as good as they could be.  

So you should rehearse and prepare your pitch, certainly with your colleagues.  Critique one another, make suggestions and then go away and change it. 


Actions to take and questions to ask 

  • Put time in the diary to spend a day planning your probation review documents and preparing what you will say. 
  • Capture achievements as you progress.  
  • Plan with peers to practice your pitches together and get feedback. 
  • Ask your head of department for a meeting three months before your mid and end probation reviews, so that they can give you an overview of what to expect and how to prepare. 
  • Discuss progress with mentor. 

What happens during the end of probation review?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences:

The end of probation review takes place in the ninth term of the three-year probation.  

The paperwork is obviously shared in advance with all members of the panel. Whether you have met the requirements is judged from the paperwork.   

If there are any concerns from the members of the panel beforehand, where we feel that there's a likelihood that we might have to extend the probation period, the panel would have a conversation about that at the start of the probation review. 

Otherwise, typically you will be told at the beginning, after you've given us the highlights of your probation, that you have met the requirements. 

Professor Edwin Chilvers, former Head of Department, National Heart & Lung Institute: 

Prior to the meeting, you will be asked to put together a CV as well as a document outlining what you've achieved and what you're involved in.  We also get you to prepare a five-minute, three-slide pitch of what you're doing.

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences: 

At Imperial the expectation is that you will be ready for promotion within three years, and in fact most of our people are ready to be considered for promotion by the time they come to the end of their probation.

[note: more publications are required for promotion (4 papers).  Probationary lecturers ought to aspire to this within the three years and be ramping up for promotion]. 


Actions to take and questions to ask 

How do I know what is normal in terms of workload and expectations?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences: 

All departments across the College produce ‘profile guidelines’ that all non-probationary staff have to meet.   

The profile has the metrics for average teaching loads of the department e.g. on average everyone must give x tutorials, x hours of lectures. It also shows median and first quartile grant incomes by stage of their career.

All departments are required to provide the profile to their non-probationary staff in a supportive manner.

An adapted version (with fewer details) should also go to probationary lecturers.  If you have not seen it, ask your head of department for it. 


Actions to take and questions to ask

  • If you have not seen it, ask your head of department for a copy of the profile guidelines for your department.

What happens if I have had time out or not met all of my probation objectives?

Insight and advice

Professor Anne Dell, former Head of Department, Life Sciences 
 
If anything has impeded probation, e.g. illness or parental leave, and you still have to meet the probation requirements, the probation can be extended. There will be no penalties with respect to probation or promotion. 

I’m concerned and anxious about probation – what advice would you give me?

Insight and advice

Professor Peter Haynes, former Head of Department of Materials, currently Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience): 

I want to make the point that when we appoint you, we are making a multi-million pound investment in you. You will hopefully stay for many years: you are the biggest investment we make. So we are not interested in penny pinching, we need to set you up well in the beginning to be productive.  I like to get that clear at the outset: you are supported to succeed.  We wouldn’t appoint you if there was a question mark over this.

Prof. Edwin Chilvers, Head of Department, National Heart & Lung Institute: 

Probation is a difficult thing to fail, in my view, because we’re not going to appoint you if you’re not likely to become a world leading scientist. You are recruited meticulously.  A huge amount of work goes into each and every one of our appointments – and there is no advantage to helping them to fail.

In the minds of some newly appointed lecturers, probation is a hyper-inflated almost impossible obstacle when in fact it's really not. As early career academics they have been on short-term contracts and then they get a dream job only to be told, “Actually we may or may not keep you after three years” and that’s not the messaging we want to give to newly appointed lecturers. 

Also, there's a myth going around that you can't be promoted during the probation period. But why wait if you've got everything that's needed?   

The only things that really derail people are major events in their lives that stop them working, or that their ambition suddenly pivots, for example they may want to become a full-time clinician or go to work in industry or something like that. 

There will be people that change their mind, and you can change your mind. But that's a very, very small group of people. But that's an equally important job: we’ve got to support that 2-3% as well.


 Actions to take and questions to ask

  • Identify colleagues in the department who have completed probation recently.  Have a conversation with them about what happened and what advice they would give you.
  • If you have any concerns, raise them early with your head of department. 

What kinds of administrative or leadership roles should I be taking on in the department during my probation period?

Insight and advice

Professor Neil Alford, Associate Provost (Academic Planning): 

It’s good to discuss (with your head of department) what assistant roles you can do, but perhaps don’t do them straight away in the first one to two years. As an assistant you get to see how it’s done, so make sure you have a period of shadowing.  In the first year there are things you can be doing that are not such big jobs:  maybe sitting on staff student committees, feeding in your views.  Or perhaps a research or promotions committee.  These roles get you seen and that is important within the department. You can take on a big role like director of studies later.


Actions to take and questions to ask 

  • Ask your head of department for a role on a committee or an assistant/shadowing role. 
  • Generally, ask what you can do to help, without taking on a large role within your first two years.  

Should I be having an ARC when I am also on probation?

Insight and advice

Nichola Stallwood, Head of People and Organisational Development: 

The College Annual Review Conversation (ARC) meeting is separate from the probation process. Everyone on probation is expected to follow the required probation process and paperwork. After successful completion of your probation, you are expected to follow the ARC process annually. ARC tools and resources can be used to support the preparation for probation conversations.  


Actions to take and questions to ask

  • Find out about the process and requirements for having an ARC at Imperial College London.
  • Look at our advice on reviewing your career progress.
  • It is good practice to meet with your academic advisors regularly, not just in the run-up to any milestones.
  • You can ask your head of department (or academic advisor) for an informal review that is similar to the ARC during your probation period so that there are no surprises at your mid and final probation reviews. 

Previous and next

Go back to the theme homepage: Navigating induction and probation

Go to the next section: Establishing your research