Why getting to know the people is important

Universities are very different types of institutions to schools. When you first arrive, it can take time to adjust to the size of the place and to figure out who does what. But as you begin to research which universities to apply to, it may be helpful to begin learning who’s who at a university, and to hear from people who study and work there.

Whatever university you choose, you can rest assured that whatever your needs and wants, there will be people within the university who are there to help and support. For example, there are dedicated teams to support you with academic studies; practical matters like housing or jobs; personal matters like physical and mental health; or sports and social activities.

You may already have some understanding of the different people at university. However, most school students might only know the basics, so we have included some suggestions to help you find out more and a who’s who guide below.


How to find out more

One helpful way of finding out more is to speak to teachers, siblings, friends or family contacts who have been to university. However, bear in mind that, depending on when they were there, they might not be the most up-to-date.

Another helpful way of finding out more is to look at publicly available profiles of people within universities. For example, each university’s website will include videos and case studies that profile their students and teaching staff.

We have created some videos and case studies to help you get to know some of the people at university in two regions, which you can access via the links below. We will be adding more regional profiles over the coming months.

East Midlands

North West


Who's who at university

Undergraduate student

An undergraduate student is a student who is studying for their first degree. In the UK, a first degree is normally a ‘Bachelor’s degree’. For example, Bachelor of Science (BSc) or Bachelor of Arts (BA).

Postgraduate student

A postgraduate student is a student who is studying for their second degree. In the UK, this is usually a 'Masters degree'. This is typically a one-year long course that aims to educate graduates in a specialised area that goes beyond an undergraduate degree.

PhD student

A PhD student is a postgraduate who is studying for a doctorate. PhD qualifications are awarded to students who complete an original research thesis offering a significant new contribution to knowledge in their field. While PhDs are available in all subjects, the term PhD stands for ‘Doctor of Philosophy’, which is why PhD graduates use the title ‘Dr’.

Many of the seminars that you will attend as an undergraduate will be led by PhD students who currently completing their doctorate in your university faculty.

Postdoctoral researcher

After completing a PhD, many researchers will take up a university position as a postdoctoral researcher, also known as a ‘postdoc’. In this position, they continue to undertake and publish their research, often combined with some teaching responsibilities.


Lecturers teach undergraduate and masters modules. They will normally have a PhD, and they will design and lead on modules, delivering lectures and sometimes seminars too.


A professorship is the most senior academic position in the UK. In addition to their research and teaching responsibilities, professors also take on an academic leadership role in the department or faculty.

Non-academic staff

As well as the academic roles in universities, you will also come across many non-academic staff who lead the institutions and support their day-to-day activities.

To give a few examples, there will be university admissions staff who oversee applications from new students; widening participation staff who run outreach programmes for school students; accommodation officers who take care of the living arrangements of students living on campus; counsellors who are there to support the well-being of students; and administrative staff for each faculty.