A research fellow is someone with a graduate degree, typically a doctoral degree, who performs academic research. Research fellows are treated differently around the world, depending on cultural and academic norms. In some cases, the position is essentially permanent, with some possibility for rising in the ranks, while in other instances, people employed in these positions can only expect temporary terms of employment.
Research fellows are sometimes known as post-docs, because they are doing post-doctoral research. Their work is dedicated solely to research, with no teaching or need to participate in the politics of the institutions they work for, although research fellows who are interested in advancement and research careers often take care to monitor trends in the academic world. While research fellows can opt to teach, this is rare.
By being able to dedicate all of their time to research, research fellows can often achieve advancements and accomplishments in their fields. They can also assist other people working in the same environment, such as advanced students and associates. In some cases, these fellows work under the supervision of someone else, and in other cases, they work independently.
When a research fellow works for a university, the advantage to the school is that he or she can add to the university's reputation in the academic world, and provide support to students and faculty. Research fellows also work in scientific laboratories, government agencies, and organizations which can vary in nature from groups studying cancer to associations interested in anthropological phenomena. In all cases, the research fellow can receive funding from a number of sources, including the institution and outside organizations interested in advancing the cause.
Medical research is often performed by research fellows, and they may also be involved in clinical trials and studies of everything from new surgical techniques to different approaches to psychotherapy. A research fellow can also work in the lab and in the field in an assortment of environments. Competition for research fellowships tends to be very fierce, as many academics enjoy the idea of being able to research at will without needing to teach, and to bring substantial sources of funding to bear on areas of interest and inquiry.
When research fellowships become available, they are usually advertised in industry publications and in public notices printed by the institution requesting applications for a research fellow position. People can also learn about research fellowships through professors and mentors in the field, and by specifically asking organizations of interest about the availability of fellowships and other research opportunities.