Implementing career ladders for research scientists, research engineers, and research associates

February 14, 2024
Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research, 2013–2024 | Ramona Allen, Vice President for Human Resources |

Dear research scientists, research engineers, and research associates,

As we wrote in December, MIT is completing work on an Institute-wide project to establish a laddered job structure among MIT’s research scientists, research engineers, and research associates. New job titles, conveying a job type and one of three numerical levels, will take effect March 1 in MIT human resources systems, and your manager or local HR lead should inform you of the change to your job title by the end of February.

What this means for you is that your current position will be more precisely classified within a matrix of job types and responsibilities, helping to clarify the expectations and paths to advancement for you at MIT.

In certain important ways, the nature of this change is administrative: Unlike the outward-facing position title that you might use on a business card or email signature, a job title at MIT is a classification in a back-end system that allows similar jobs to be managed and analyzed in aggregate. Until now, you and more than 600 other research scientists, research engineers, and research associates have belonged to a single, large classification of employees who “contribute significantly to the design and execution of experiments in research projects.” Such a classification does not recognize the enormous variation across these jobs. That, in turn, has made it difficult for managers to define and differentiate among jobs when hiring new staff or discussing performance and goal setting during annual reviews.

Indeed, the need to evaluate the career advancement opportunities for MIT’s research scientists was part of the charge of Institute-wide Task Force 2021 and Beyond. Building upon the work of a committee with a similar charge at the School of Science, the task force recommended that MIT “create more granular career progressions with clear responsibilities and privileges.” An implementation team then met with faculty and staff across the schools, the college, and the labs, centers, and institutes to identify a suitably versatile job structure that captures the most essential distinctions. The resulting approach has been codified in MIT Policies and Procedures 5.2.2 and is reflected in job guides that you can review (Touchstone required).

When your manager or local human resources lead informs you of your new job title in the coming weeks, we encourage you to read through the relevant job guide to understand the basis for that assignment. Your job may not necessarily fall neatly into one level or another, nor satisfy every characteristic suggested in the job guide. Nevertheless, your manager and department leadership have made an informed judgment as to the best fit, given the scope of your current responsibilities. Our hope is that this new framework and use of the Research Staff Review Form will help to guide a meaningful discussion with your manager during future performance reviews.

For additional background on this classification project, expected outcomes, and the community-wide input that has guided it, please refer to the letter we shared in June 2023 and an updated set of frequently asked questions (Touchstone required). For questions regarding your specific job title and level, please confer with your supervisor and your local HR administrator.

We want to thank all who contributed input to this project, first through the Research Scientist Career Ladders committee at the School of Science and then through Task Force 2021 and Beyond. In your thoughtful engagement, we heard that MIT could do more to support your career development and clarify the expectations for advancement. We hope that this new approach affords greater recognition to the integral role you play in MIT research, and that it will encourage many of you to see MIT as a place where you can grow your career. We are grateful for all that you do.


Maria T. Zuber
Vice President for Research

Ramona Allen
Vice President for Human Resources