Research Personnel Initiative

The Research Personnel Initiative (RPI) was established in 2018 in support of SFU’s Engaging Research goal of being innovative, competitive and attracting the best researchers. The contributions of all our research personnel have facilitated our strong research performance and rising research activity – and we believe inviting our Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Assistants to become SFU employees will further strengthen this foundation.

Research Assistants as SFU Employees

Transitioning Research Assistants to SFU Employees

The university has undertaken to transition Research Assistants to employees to recognize the valuable contributions our research personnel make and deepen our ability to be innovative and competitive. Once transitioned, this group will be supported by the rights and benefits associated with employee status, and will experience greater equity, diversity and inclusion in research opportunities.

The development of hiring and onboarding processes and employment practices will create consistency and provide researchers with the support and expertise necessary to manage complex employment relationships and comply with BC and Federal laws.

Understanding the Work Research Assistants Do

The title “Research Assistant” is currently used for a variety of individuals, doing a variety of work. To better understand who is eligible for employee status and to facilitate a consistent onboarding process in the future, the project team reviewed a snapshot of individuals with that title across the departments against some role profiles and consulted with Principal Investigators.

An interesting finding was that many working under scholarship hold the title Research Assistant. As only those individuals receiving employment income are eligible for employment status, this group will not be transitioned as part of this phase. 

Recognizing Employees’ Right to Unionize

Only SFU employees are eligible for union membership. Once research personnel have signed an Offer of Employment with SFU, they will have the opportunity to become members of a union.

Some Research Assistants may not meet the criteria to be recognized as eligible for employment status, and as such, they may not be eligible for TSSU membership.

Postdoctoral Fellows as SFU Employees

A review of the entire R50 series of university policies governing the employment of all grant-funded research personnel was launched late in 2017, which concluded some of the existing policies were out of step with other Canadian universities and in need of modernization. 

One of the recommendations included the revision of the policy governing Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs), and after community consultation and input from stakeholders and leadership, SFU’s Board of Governors approved changes to Policy R50.03 in June 2019. This revision would see most grant-funded PDFs become employees of the university, supported by a policy that better defines the rights, roles and responsibilities of all parties.

As employees of the university, eligible PDFs will qualify for benefits (under the previous version of the policy, PDFs served as employees of individual faculty members or principal investigators (PIs) rather than employees of SFU).

Policy revisions are now in place and onboarding of new Postdoctoral Fellows appointments is complete. Responsibility for the policy resides with the Office of the Vice-President Research, and Faculty Relations will assume operational responsibilities for PDFs. For questions related to the appointment process, please contact Faculty Relations:


Benefits of this Initiative

  • Better recognize the contributions and important role research personnel play at the university.
  • Provide the rights and benefits of employment status to research personnel.
  • Reflect our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Be competitive with other universities.
  • Provide faculty members with support.
  • Create consistency in employment practices.
  • Reduce the risks associated with managing complex employee relationships.

Guiding Principles for Policy Changes

  • Recognize contributing members of SFU’s research community
  • Anticipate the growth and maturation of SFU’s research enterprise, and the changing needs and expectations of research personnel
  • Re-align risk exposure and administrative burden among all parties (personnel, supervisors, SFU)
  • Maintain the responsiveness required to continue fostering innovation
  • Provide institutional support to members of SFU’s research community in line with SFU’s commitment to social sustainability
  • Continue our commitment to EquityDiversity and Inclusion


Steering Committee 

  • Dugan O’Neil, Vice-President, Research and International 
  • Jeff Derksen, Dean and Associate Provost, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
  • Wade Parkhouse, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Academic
  • Alison Blair, Associate Vice-President, Finance



Email the project team at: