How to hire research personnel for your ISTLD project

As of August 1, 2020, all research personnel are considered employees and appointments are created as a contract through SFU Human Resources. 

  • All appointments cannot start until an official contract letter is issued by Human Resources. 
  • There will be no lump sum payments for work already completed and no other retroactive payments.
  • All appointments will require a summary of duties or job summary, even if you already have someone in mind and are not posting. If you will be posting the position, this can be submitted to HR. If not, please submit this duties list (XLSX) with your research personnel request. 
  • All appointments will be set up as hourly timesheets

Your ISTLD project has been approved and now it is time to hire research personnel (RP). Keep in mind that it can take up three weeks to process an appointment. RP appointments are coordinated and created by the ISTLD Coordinator. No exceptions.

If you have someone already in mind, great! Please start at Step 4. If not, we've outlined steps for you to follow to find and hire the best RP for you and your project. First and most importantly, start with a well-structured and accurate job summary, and ensure the posting is well-circulated and posted for a sufficient amount of time. The good news is the ISTLD team is here to help you with the process from start to finish through job posting templates and checklists, examples of successful postings, and a tested means of getting your posting to the best, appropriate candidates. 

The value of RP positions
Next to being a teaching assistant or tutor marker, being an RP is the next viable part-time job for our student population. RP positions are usually held by graduate students in their home departments and are usually related to their or their thesis supervisor’s disciplinary research area. RPships are valuable for all students as they provide a source of income and valuable experience towards their academic and research careers.

Your role in the research personnel appointment
Although the RP is hired by ISTLD, you are their supervisor. You are responsible for negotiating with the RP their hours, duties performed, expectations, rate of pay, and performance review (your RP may ask you for a reference!). Our research tells us that RPs who are involved early on in the project, learn more and have a better overall experience. Depending on your RP’s experience and skillset, you may have more of a role developing and mentoring your RP. Be sure to keep this in mind when drafting your job posting and interviewing: how much time do you have? Are you looking for someone who can working completely independently? Are you willing to train the RP on basic tasks?

Are you new to the role of supervisor? Let us know! We can definitely help with tips and tricks to keeping both you and your RP on track throughout their appointment.

We can help your RP with things like:

  • survey and other research tool design
  • tips and techniques for conducting & transcribing interviews and focus groups
  • data collection, representation, and (qualitative & quantitative) analysis

Step 1: RP job duties & posting: Tasks, job requirements, rate of pay

You've already outlined this in your proposal and you'll need to think about the specific tasks you want your hire to do, the qualifications required to do the tasks, and the time allotted. In addition, you'll need to determine an appropriate rate of pay.

We have resources to help you with this:

Need some inspiration? Take a look at some research personnel postings we have posted on our website >>

Considerations for job summaries and defining research personnel duties:

  • ISTLD research personnel positions must be research related (upon review of your summary and/or checklist, we may determine that your hire may fall under a different categorization;
  • ISTLD Research Personnel must not teach and research personnel appointments must not be top-ups for TA appointments;
  • ISTLD Research Personnel must not be doing the work of other employee groups on campus;
  • ISTLD Research Personnel must not conduct or undertake any TA/TM, Sessional instructor work, or instructional work, such as, but not limited to:
    • course content creation;
    • assigned instruction;
    • preparation of handouts, problem sets, quizzes, exams and other materials;
    • marking or student assessment; or
    • development or adaption of audio visual material and preparation of experiments
  • Be accurate about the duties and responsibilities required
  • Use clear, concise language
  • Use non-discriminatory language

Still need help? The ISTLD Coordinator is here to help! (

Step 2: Advertise the position

There are various ways to advertise your RPposting. The most obvious and convenient is via a graduate student email list in your home department. The ISTLD can assist with advertising via Twitter, the ISTLD home page, Dean of Graduate Studies (maillist, webpage, & Facebook) and to our email list of graduate students looking for research personnel opportunities. Contact the ISTLD Coordinator ( for more information.

Step 3: Selecting the right RP: Application review, interview tips, reference checks, & FOIPOP

Deciding who to hire
You want to hire the best person for the job. That means ensuring the applicants meet the minimum qualifications that you have determined are important for the success of your project. Deciding on the best candidate can be challenging. This is where application vetting, the interview, and reference checks all come into play.

Reviewing the applications

  • Ensure short-listed applications meet your minimum qualifications and requirements. Make a rubric and treat this like an assignment, scoring the applications on specific criteria. The criteria must be clear in your posting.
  • Does the application include everything that you asked for in the posting?
  • As a commitment to supporting our students, it is strongly encouraged that SFU students are hired for RP positions

The interview
The goal of the interview is to expand the application by asking specific questions about past experience and details from previous positions. Past behaviour and experience are excellent indicators of future behaviour, and can help you determine if the applicant has the skills, knowledge, and experience you are seeking. At the beginning of the interview be sure to introduce yourself, talk briefly about the project and what their role would be, and outline how the interview is going to go.

Interview question tips

  • Ask candidates to walk through their resume and specify areas you want them to highlight: How they did a task? Define their role on a project or a team, and be sure to have them describe their level of responsibility.
  • If there is a skill or experience that is important for your project (e.g., working collaboratively in a team, qualitative data analysis, NVIVO), be sure to ask specifically about it. What were the challenges? Successes? Make notes so you can follow-up during the reference check.
  • Avoid hypotheticals and instead ask for a past experience. Hypothetical questions can lead to stock answers. Remember, past behaviour is a great indicator of future behaviour. Instead of asking, “How would you deal with a difficult student?” ask “Can you tell me about an experience you’ve had when dealing with a difficult student/person/customer?” You can ask follow up questions to draw out what they would have done differently, what about that experience changed the way they handled other situations, etc.

Reference checks
You should only ask for references from candidates you are considering hiring or if it comes down to deciding between two final candidates. This is your opportunity to fact check, so be specific in your questions. References should be supervisors or project leads who can confirm not only what the applicant has outlined in their application, but what they have said in their interview. Two to three referees are sufficient.

Freedom of information, protection of privacy, and confidentiality
A final word about checking references and the application process. You can only consider information that has been obtained during the application process. Furthermore, you cannot disclose any information, including who has applied to the position, to anyone outside of the process or the administration of the position. Word to the wise: all applications and notes made during the process need to be kept under lock and key for one year and then destroyed, as per SFU Record Retention ( The ISTLD keeps all of the administrative employee files for the successful applicant. You can pass along all the documentation you’ve collected during the application process to the ISTLD’s Coordinator, who will ensure that all policies are followed.


Step 4: Contact the ISTLD Coordinator to set up the RP appointment

If you did not post the position, we will still need a description of the duties. This information is included in the RP's appointment letter from SFU HR. You can write a summary of duties or can use this checklist. Be sure to include this when submitting the appointment details (rate of pay, start/end dates).

To set up the RP appointment, you will need to provide appointment details and some RP paperwork (for first-time employees) to the ISTLD Coordinator. Refer to your initial email from the ISTLD Coordinator for a checklist of the required information.

Please note that all completed forms should be forwarded to the ISTLD Coordinator.

**Please note that an RP appointment can take up to three weeks to be processed depending on the time of semester, if it is the RP's first appointment, and the current pay period's end-date.