Research Staff

To meet specific externally funded project needs, Western Michigan University establishes positions designed to attract and retain highly competent and prominent researchers. The people holding such positions are known as research staff.

Research staff positions include the following levels across multiple disciplines:

  • Post-graduate fellow, which is by its nature a training position. Individuals appointed as post-graduate fellows will have had limited or no professional employment prior to the appointment. It is expected that a post-graduate fellow will not be appointed for a period that exceeds three years either in a single appointment or by three consecutive one-year appointments.
  • Research associate
  • Senior research associate
  • Principal research associate
  • Emeritus researcher, which is reserved for individuals who have retired from the University but who wish to continue to conduct research through externally funded projects.

Job Descriptions

For post-graduate fellow and research associate job descriptions, please visit Research Staff Job Descriptions

Pay Structure

Access the Research Staff Pay Structure.  For details about development and maintenance of the pay structure, please see Compensation Guidelines below. 


Research staff do not participate in governance at the department, college, or University levels.

The research staff executive committee is responsible for oversight of the application of these administrative guidelines, including any adjustments to the guidelines themselves. This committee is comprised of WMU’s vice president for research and innovation, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and chief human resources officer. 

The implementation of any compensation practices outside these guidelines requires approval from the research staff executive committee.  

Period of appointment and renewals

All personnel actions, including recommendations for appointment, renewal, promotion, or salary increment, shall be initiated by the hiring manager. 

Initial appointments can be made at any level, depending on qualifications, and all appointments require the approval of the unit chair/director, the dean(s) of the cognizant college(s) (where applicable), and the vice president for research and innovation. Research staff appointments are made for a specific period of time, usually at least one year.

All research staff go through a six-month probation period immediately after starting a new job, whether as a new University employee or as a current employee who moves to a new position by promotion, transfer, or demotion. Probation is a working test period and also provides an opportunity for employees to learn their new jobs and related duties and responsibilities. During probation, the University may release the employee with or without cause, and with or without notice, at the University's sole discretion.

Renewals are contingent upon (1) the grant or contract being in effect, (2) the availability of external funds to support the research and compensation of the research staff, and (3) satisfactory performance as determined by a periodic (at least annual) review of performance by the director(s) and/or administrator(s) of the academic or research unit(s) where an appointment is held.

Research staff positions cannot be converted into faculty positions within the University. Research staff may, however, apply for vacant faculty and staff appointments in the University. Such a move will require a new appointment.


Research staff may be appointed in an academic or research unit. Available positions must follow Human Resources' policies for posting, and required degrees must be conferred by date of hire. Recruiting and appointment procedures must comply with all University policies.

Application materials should include a complete resume with a list of publications or other scholarly works, evidence of research ability, and names of references. Appointments must be approved by the dean(s) of the cognizant college(s) (where applicable), the vice president for research and innovation, and the Office of Institutional Equity prior to an offer being extended to a candidate.

A research staff position shall not exceed 1.0 FTE, nor shall an employee holding a research staff position simultaneously hold appointment in another employee group. A research staff employee may hold multiple research staff positions as long as the FTE does not exceed 1.0. However, benefits eligibility is determined upon the FTE of a singular appointment.

Period of notice

Research staff appointments are terminal appointments conterminous with the period of the sponsored project, and there is no University obligation for continuation. In the event that a sponsored project must terminate earlier than the original termination date announced in the agreement, research staff will be given as much notice as possible, but specific notice is dependent on notification from the funding agency to the University.

Source of funding

Compensation, benefits, and research support expenses for research staff are funded by external sources with any individual exceptions approved by the vice president for research and innovation. In very rare instances approved by the vice president for research and innovation, research staff may be funded from University sources.

Research staff are ineligible to apply for internal research program funds designated for bargaining-unit faculty.  

Compensation Guidelines

These compensation guidelines have been developed to provide guidance to leaders and managers at Western Michigan University with respect to compensation and related issues for research staff. The guidelines are meant to address the typical types of decisions that managers and leaders are faced with in managing compensation on a day-to-day basis and are to be administered consistently across the University. 

 Although not all inclusive, the guidelines address the most common compensation decisions points. 

External Competitiveness and Internal Equity Considerations

Base pay for research staff is guided by market-based pay ranges based upon discipline.  However, it is important to note the market for a job is not a single point; it is a range. The pay ranges are designed to represent the external market. The pay ranges at WMU reflect the range of pay in the market. Each pay range represents the pay opportunities for positions assigned to that range. 

In determining compensation opportunities, WMU considers the external market value for each job, to the extent market data are available. WMU strives to ensure our jobs are appropriately calibrated to the external market. Both external competitiveness and internal equity are important. The pay ranges have been developed with a balance of external (market) and internal equity considerations. 

WMU intends to pay all eligible research staff within the assigned pay range. However, during implementation or changes to the pay ranges, there may be an initial period during which the pay rates of research staff may fall below or above the ranges. WMU will move research staff below minimum to the minimum pay rates as soon as is practicable, subject to available funds. In the event the monies to move pay to the minimum of the range are not available, pay will not be increased. 

Pay rates for research staff whose current pay rates exceed the maximum of their pay ranges will not be reduced, so long as they remain in their current position.  

Pay Structure 

A market-based pay structure with distinct pay bands has been developed. Discipline groups have been assigned to pay bands based upon market rates of pay and parity with faculty research roles.

The pay structure will be reviewed periodically to determine whether a pay structure adjustment is needed. If warranted, adjustments will be applied based on predominant market trends, as determined by annual published salary increase surveys and WMU’s financial position.

Typically, a pay structure adjustment will be made at the same time as mass salary increases are implemented. The salary increases will be applied prior to the pay structure adjustment to minimize the need for “to minimum” increases to staff pay levels. This approach will reduce compression. 

WMU HR will participate in salary surveys on a regular, ongoing basis. The University will only participate in surveys conducted by a reputable third party. 

Based upon market changes and subject to University funding, it is recommended that the market data upon which the pay structure is based be updated on period basis (typically every 3-5 years). The decision to commence with a market recalibration rests with the research staff executive committee.

Likewise, as the University’s research scope expands, it may be necessary to assign additional discipline groups to pay bands. Discipline groups will be assigned to pay bands by Human Resources and the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation based upon market rates of pay and parity with faculty research roles. 

Base Pay Increases

Increments in compensation will be across the board, based on non-bargaining percentage increases and subject to funding availability. In the event funding is not available, base pay will not be increased.

Eligibility for base pay increases is limited to those who are employed and in good standing on the day the base rate increases are paid.  

A salary increase may take the base pay of an employee above the maximum of the pay range. However, no future increases to base rate will be allowed as long as the employee’s base rate remains above grade maximum. 

  • Any research staff whose base rate exceeds the maximum of their assigned grade will be considered to be “red circled.” Red circled staff will not be eligible for any base rate increase until their base rate falls within the assigned grade as a result of regular adjustments to the salary structure. 
  • A red circled research staff member may be eligible to receive a lump sum salary increase provided their individual performance level meets expectations, and subject to funding availability. 

Base pay increases that are above and beyond the across the board increments must be approved by the vice president for research and innovation and the chief human resources officer prior to the increase. In the event funding is not available base pay will not be increased. 

New Hire Base Rate Levels

For new hires into research assistant, research associate, senior research associate, and principal research associate positions, placement within the first half (up to the midpoint) of the appropriate pay range should be determined based upon the applicant’s job history and qualifications and with consideration for the value of the University’s benefits package.  

In establishing hiring base rate levels, consideration should also be given to internal equity, specifically the base rate levels of similarly qualified and/or more experienced staff in the same or similar job(s). Hiring departments should consult with Human Resources when determining appropriate hiring base rate levels and considering internal equity. 

 In summary, the following factors shall be considered in determining new hire base rate levels:

  • Salary range of the job and the new hire’s position in range.
  • Pay rates of other incumbents in the same or similar job(s), both within the hiring department and University wide.
  • Value of the University’s benefit program.
  • Qualifications of the individual versus qualifications of incumbents in the same or similar job(s) in the hiring department and across WMU.
  • Availability of funding and any requirements of the sponsor. 

Offers above the midpoint of the pay range must be made based upon market demands and/or high performance/proficiency in the job role and require approval from the vice president for research and innovation and the chief human resources officer. 

For emeritus researchers, pay shall be consistent with institutional base salaries at the time of appointment, subject to funding availability. 

Equity Adjustments

 An equity adjustment is an adjustment to the base rate of one or more staff to ensure equity with the base rate of a new hire. Equity adjustments may also be used to address other internal equity concerns. Equity adjustments must be approved by the vice president for research and innovation and the chief human resources officer.  

All equity adjustments are subject to funding availability. In the event funding is not available, pay will not be increased. 


A promotion is the movement of an individual to a job with greater responsibility. This movement may come through a transfer to a different position or through the re-evaluation of the individual’s existing position. In the case of re-evaluation, promotional movement may occur within the same grade or with moving the position to a higher grade. 

Promotional recommendations should reward the individual’s performance, contribution, experience, and expertise. 

The promotion process and criteria will vary depending upon level and discipline and is subject to review by the vice president for research and innovation, human resources, and institutional equity. Criteria may include excellence in research as demonstrated by success in securing external funding; the ability to initiate, conduct, complete and disseminate high-quality, innovative and creative research; the ability to influence public policy in the professional area of specialization; expertise in the discipline as evidenced by peer review of research; and contributions to the research community as evidenced by refereed publications, inventions, or other documentation of research quality. Promotions must be approved by the unit director, dean(s) of the cognizant college(s) (where applicable) and the vice president for research and innovation. 

To ensure promotions support WMU’s compensation philosophy, 

  • Promotions should be internally equitable (with supervisor, direct report(s), peer relationships, and other internal comparisons).
  • Promotional base rate recommendations should be consistent across the entire University.

Promotions are usually accompanied by a base rate increase as follows:

Promotional increases up to 10% can be approved at the department-head level. In the case of Academic Affairs, promotional increases up to 10% must be approved at the dean or associate provost level. Promotional increases above 10% require approval from the divisional vice president, vice president for research and innovation, and the chief human resources officer.

Should the individual's pay rate still fall below their new range minimum, the new rate of pay should be moved to the minimum of the new pay range.

In determining the increase, the individual’s position in the current and new grades and the amount of time since last increase may be considered. Pay rates of other incumbents in the job, both within the department and University wide should also be considered. 

In rare instances, it may be appropriate to grant a promotion without an accompanying increase in base rate. This may be considered when the current pay level is at or above the midpoint of the new salary range. 

All promotional adjustments are subject to funding availability. In the event funding is not available, pay will not be increased.


A demotion may occur for the following reasons:

  • Re-assignment to a job with less (but different) responsibilities to enhance overall University, division, or department performance, as in the event of a reorganization.
  • Performance-based demotions due to inadequate performance.
  • Voluntary (staff-initiated demotions).

Treatment of base rate due to demotions is as follows: 

Re-assignment demotions that occur for non-performance reasons may not result in the individual’s base rate being reduced; however, the individual’s performance must meet expectations.

Performance-based and voluntary demotions will may result in the individual’s base rate being reduced. The amount of reduction, if any, will depend upon the staff member’s current pay rate and current and new grade along with any internal equity considerations.   

If a voluntary demotion is approved and occurs within 6 – 12 months of a promotional increase, and the individual returns to their previous position, the promotional increase provided at the time of the original promotion will be reversed. 

Approval from the vice president for research and innovation and the chief human resources officer is required for all pay decisions resulting from demotions.

Lateral Transfers

A lateral transfer is the movement of an individual to another job within the same pay grade as their present job.

Lateral transfers are typically accomplished without an increase in base rate. However, on an exception basis resulting from changes in scope or complexity, an individual may be eligible for an increase. All increases associated with lateral transfers must be reviewed and approved by the vice president for research and innovation and the chief human resources officer. 

Any pay adjustment resulting from a lateral transfer are subject to funding availability. In the event funding is not available, pay will not be increased.

Discretionary Pay Adjustments

Pay increases may be granted in other circumstances at the discretion of the vice president for research and innovation. All such increases must be reviewed by the chief human resources officer for purposes of internal equity and must be approved by the vice president for research and innovation. The president reserves the right to review and approve discretionary pay adjustments.  

Any discretionary pay adjustment is subject to funding availability. In the event funding is not available, pay will not be increased. 

Job Evaluation

New research staff positions or existing positions with a change in job duties will be evaluated by the vice president for research and innovation, in consultation with Human Resources.  Evaluation will include assignment to the appropriate pay band, job title and pay grade.  Review requests must be accompanied by an updated job content tool completed by the incumbent and approved by the direct supervisor and a departmental organization chart. For new positions, the direct supervisor completes the job content tool. The most recent version of the job content tool is available at Forms: Business Managers and Hiring Agents.

In the event an existing position is evaluated into a higher grade or remains in the same grade but has a change in responsibilities significant enough to warrant a promotional increase, Human Resources will work with the manager to recommend an appropriate base rate increase, according to the promotional guidelines and approval process referenced in “Promotions” above. In the event the position is evaluated into a lower grade, Human Resources will work with the manager to recommend any base pay adjustment according to the guidelines and approval process referenced in “Demotions” above.


WMU’s communication approach to research staff compensation will be open and transparent. It is our desire to provide leaders, managers, and staff with as much information as possible. The pay structure and job descriptions will be posted on WMU’s web site along with other relevant compensation-related information. Internal job postings will include the job title, job summary, and pay grade.


Benefits for research associates, senior research associates, and principal research associates will be the same as those for staff compensation system employees. A .50 FTE is the minimum for benefits eligibility excluding retirement plan participation and tuition remission and a .69 FTE is the threshold for full benefits eligibility.

Post-graduate fellows (R3) will follow the same leave and absences from work policy as provided to staff compensation system nonexempt employees. In addition, they will receive a Bronco identification card, parking permit, and health insurance. Post-graduate fellows are not eligible for (1) life insurance, (2) disability insurance, (3) the University's retirement plan, (4) University-paid health insurance upon retirement, (5) University retiree status, or (6) payoff of sick leave upon termination of appointment. Annual leave must be used before the appointment terminates. To be benefits-eligible, a singular post-graduate fellow (R3) position must be .50 FTE or greater.

Benefits for emeritus researchers are by virtue of their retirement from another position at the University. They will receive a Bronco identification card and parking permit.


The University recognizes that in any work situation some employee/supervisor differences are inevitable. University policy assures employees of their right to file a formal grievance without fear of reprisal or censure. Dispute Resolution: Complaints and Grievances, Policies and Procedures Manual Section 10 elaborates University policy on grievances.


In instances where policies and procedures are not addressed in this document, research staff are subject to those published in the Employee Handbook for non-bargaining-unit employees.

For a summary of changes implemented effective May 1, 2022, please view the Research Staff Compensation Project Overview town hall presentation slides. 

Effective Aug. 27, 2007; revised July 21, 2009, and April 11, 2022.