Research Administration Policies
RA68 Postdoctoral Appointments
Subject Matter Expert:
Policy Steward:Senior Vice President for Research>
POLICY'S INITIAL DATE: November 16, 1968
THIS VERSION EFFECTIVE: September 20, 2023
- Definition of Postdoctoral Appointments
- Designated Titles
- Length of Appointment
- Responsibility for Clearing Appointment
- International Appointments
- Paid Leave
- Leaves of Absence
- Expectations of Performance
- Grievance Procedure
- Policy Exceptions
- Cross References
To outline the terms and conditions of postdoctoral scholar and postdoctoral fellow appointments.
Postdoctoral appointments shall:
- be full-time temporary appointments under the supervision of a faculty mentor;
- be granted to appointees awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate (e.g., Sc.D, M.D., D.D.S., J.D.), typically in the last five years;
- involve substantially full-time research and/or scholarship;
- provide an opportunity to publish results of the appointee’s research/scholarship results during the appointment; and
- provide the appointee with professional development opportunities in preparation for an academic and/or research career.
At The Pennsylvania State University, postdoctoral appointments carry two distinct titles: Postdoctoral Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar, both falling under the classification of "trainees." The title of Postdoctoral Fellow is reserved for those awarded external fellowships, receiving stipends via University accounts or directly from the sponsor. Postdoctoral Scholar is the standard title for all other appointments, typically supported by faculty-secured funds. Only the titles of Postdoctoral Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar are covered by this policy.
Postdoctoral appointments target recent Ph.D. or equivalent graduates, typically within five (5) years of degree completion. Appointments are at least one (1) year terms with potential renewals based on funding, satisfactory performance, and adherence to University policies. Maximum appointment duration for a postdoctoral scholar/fellow is five (5) years.
If the appointment is not renewed due to reasons including insufficient funding or reaching the five (5) year limit, notice of at least thirty (30) days before the end date is required. During this notice period, postdoctoral scholars/fellows must continue their assigned duties.
Postdoctoral appointments require approval from the appropriate dean. Before making an offer, the supervising faculty or department must show sufficient funding for the entire appointment.
Supervising faculty extending offers to international postdoctoral scholars/fellows must comply with federal regulations and University policies. The foreign national must have valid employment authorization for the appointment's duration. Faculty and foreign national scholars/fellows should consult Penn State Global (JScholarAdv@psu.edu) to ensure immigration compliance with initial offers, renewals, leaves of absence, and exits/terminations. A postdoctoral scholar/fellow’s failure to maintain work authorization will result in termination.
Compensation for postdoctoral scholars/fellows must meet or exceed the minimum stipend specified in the Table of Stipends for Postdoctoral Appointments.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows follow Official University holidays as identified in HR34 - Employment Conditions for Full-Time Staff Employees | Penn State Policies (psu.edu).
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows are entitled to four (4) weeks or twenty (20) business days of paid leave per appointment year. Absence examples for paid leave may include, but are not limited to, medical appointments, personal illness, caring for an ill family member, funeral leave, and vacation. The leave schedule must be pre-approved by supervising faculty. Unused leave cannot be carried over or used for extending the appointment except during the last week if pre-approved. Unused leave is not paid out upon separation.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows can enroll in a University-sponsored health plan; details can be found at Benefits | PSU Human Resources. Certain benefits may have restrictions based on visa or fellowship status.
Unpaid leaves of absence exceeding four (4) weeks' paid leave will be evaluated individually. Departments may permit remote work within the United States to maintain paid status during the absence; the unit Human Resources Office should be consulted in the approval process.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows may qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which would align with paid and unpaid leave in this policy. To request any leave, including FMLA, postdoctoral scholars/fellows should contact Penn State Absence Management at email@example.com. This office will collaborate as needed with supervising faculty and the Office Postdoctoral Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org) for review and approval. Prior to discussing a leave of absence with an international postdoctoral scholar/fellow, Absence Management will coordinate with Penn State Global (JScholarAdv@psu.edu) to ensure compliance with federal regulations.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows must complete Responsible Conduct of Research training and uphold ethical and professional standards in their roles as researchers and future faculty. The University's values of integrity, respect, responsibility, discovery, excellence, and community serve as guiding principles.
The primary responsibilities of postdoctoral scholars/fellows focus on research/scholarship activities. However, scholars/fellows are encouraged to pursue teaching opportunities to enhance readiness for an academic career. Before assuming extra duties, postdoctoral scholars/fellows should confer with supervising faculty, who will approve or reject requests based on grant stipulations and/or individual circumstances.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should receive an annual evaluation at the end of each year (See Appendix B), including a written assessment of their performance and follow-up discussion with the supervising faculty member. While postdoctoral scholars/fellows are expected to achieve satisfactory research performance, fulfill assigned duties, uphold ethical standards, and adhere to university policies, a need for improvement may arise. In cases of unmet expectations, actions like implementing a Plan for Improvement (PFI) or imposing sanctions may occur. Faculty identifying subpar performance and/or behavior should involve the unit Associate Dean for Research and the Human Resources Strategic Partner. Subsequently, a meeting with the postdoctoral scholar/fellow should be conducted to discuss concerns and develop a PFI (See Appendix C).
Unit Human Resources must review and approve all PFI's before implementation with the scholar/fellow. Penn State Human Resources will collaborate with other University offices as necessary (e.g., Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Affirmative Action Office, Employee Relations, Office of General Counsel) to authorize the faculty member to proceed with the PFI. It becomes the postdoctoral scholar/fellow's responsibility to follow the outlined plan, monitored by the faculty member for progress. If satisfactory progress isn't demonstrated within the stipulated time, the faculty member will furnish a final written assessment and termination letter specifying the appointment end date.
It is highly recommended that postdoctoral scholars/fellows receive a "compact" (mentoring agreement with written expectations) from the supervising faculty member at appointment onset and engage early and often in career activities, such as participation in Office of Postdoctoral Affairs programming and development of an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs are commonly used for postdoctoral career self-exploration and planning, and they are increasingly required by federal funding agencies. Two recommended templates can be found with MyIDP by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and for the Humanities, ImaginePhD by the Graduate Career Consortium. (See Appendix A for another example of an IDP.)
Faculty on sabbatical should appoint an on-campus faculty mentor for the postdoctoral scholar/fellow in their absence.
A minimum of thirty (30) days' notice is requested from the party initiating resignation, and fulfillment of assigned duties is expected through the last working day. In rare cases of egregious behavior as determined by the University, immediate termination may occur.
Postdoctoral appointments may end prior to contract completion for the following reasons: (1) voluntary resignation; (2) involuntary resignation due to unsatisfactory performance after an unsuccessful Plan for Improvement, unsatisfactory behavior, research misconduct, lack of funding, and/or policy violation.
If early termination is anticipated, a faculty supervisor must consult with the Human Resource Strategic Partner, Department Head, and/or the Associate Dean for Research, any of whom may consult further with appropriate offices. Terminations must be approved by a College or Institute administrator.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows may appeal a termination decision in writing to the Associate Dean for Research (ADR) within 7 days of receiving the termination notification. The ADR's review will be limited to whether the procedures in this policy were followed, and the decision will be final.
International postdoctoral scholars/fellows should consult with Penn State Global to determine visa status as a result of termination.
Prior to any exit, postdoctoral scholars/fellows must adhere to University policy HRG 20: Separation and Transfer Protocol | Penn State Policies (psu.edu), regarding the submission of keys, research equipment and materials, research data, and all other University property.
Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should first bring concerns to their supervisor. If needed, they may seek recourse through the department/program head and Associate Dean for Research and guidance from Human Resources and/or the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
Conflicts between postdoctoral scholars/fellows and supervisors may pertain to claims of academic freedom breaches, authorship attribution, intellectual property, professional ethics violations, or procedural inconsistency. When department- or program-level resolution seems infeasible, the following steps will be taken. This process is not intended for cases of unsatisfactory performance or misconduct.
- The postdoctoral scholar/fellow files a written grievance with the College Dean or equivalent. Parties to the grievance process consist of the person(s) filing the grievance and others primarily involved.
- The dean appoints and convenes a Hearing Committee consisting of two postdoctoral scholars/fellows, two faculty members, and an administrator as chairperson. All members of the Hearing Committee will be from outside the relevant academic department or unit. Each party is allowed three disqualifications from this committee without cause. An indefinite number of disqualifications is allowed by the College Dean, who will make additional appointments as needed.
- The Hearing Committee attempts to reach resolution within thirty (30) days of receiving the grievances with consideration to the following:
- The hearing is not public. During the hearing, either party may include an adviser, who must be a postdoctoral scholar/fellow, faculty, or staff member of the University. Representation by legal counsel is prohibited.
- The hearing is audio recorded and a recording is kept through any appeal process. Parties involved may request to listen to the recording and take written notes until it is destroyed; however, copies are not provided.
- With the support of the relevant department/program, parties may suggest witnesses and documentary evidence to the committee.
- Each party has the right to cross-examine a witness. Expenses incurred in obtaining a witness will be the responsibility of the requesting party.
- The Hearing Committee's findings are based solely on the hearing record. In cases that involve authorship, the Committee should refer to University policy IP02 Co-Authorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers and Publications.
- The Hearing Committee submits written findings and recommendations to the College Dean and involved parties. The Dean may fully, partially, or not endorse these, consulting as needed with the Senior Vice President for Research. The Dean’s final written decision is communicated to the Committee and parties within three weeks, explaining any unendorsed recommendations. The decision's record and documents are retained by the Senior Vice President for Research for at least five years and submitted to the Office of General Counsel.
- If irreconcilable differences persist, the College Dean may secure a comparable University position for the postdoctoral scholar/fellow. If needed, the Dean may offer bridge funding for this role for up to six (6) months.
In extenuating circumstances, policy exception requests to address training or personnel needs may be submitted according to the following process:
- Faculty propose an exception to the Associate Dean for Research and unit Human Resources Office.
- If approved, the request is submitted to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs Director.
- The OPA Director consults with the Senior Vice President for Research and communicates a final decision to the request initiator.
IP02 Coauthorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers, and Publications
9/25/2023 - Edits to all clarify policy sections, added a Mentorship section, and updated the policy in Length of Appointment to allow multi-year appointments and Terminations to allow written appeals to termination decisions.
2/28/2023 - Moved policy from HR68 to RA68, revised sections to include Human Resource links.
9/12/22 - Added link to the NIH stipend scale and compensation commitment.
1/11/2021 - Revised Grievance Procedure to clarify advisors and avenues for appeal. Corrected links.
09/7/19 - Changed Vice President for Research to Senior Vice President for Research
07/01/19 - Revised to reflect University practices related to appointment length, paid leave, and performance expectations. Pronouns updated to reflect and promote an inclusive culture.
3/29/10 - Revised to add "Office of General Counsel".
1/1/10 - The title Senior Vice President for Research was changed to Vice President for Research.
4/8/08 - Link to new parent guideline included.
1/1/08 - Updated Insurance Benefits section.
11/2/06 - Changed Vice President for Research to Senior Vice President for Research
09/29/03 - Leaves of Absence section added.
08/01/02 - Responsibility for Clearing Appointment section revised. Salary section revised.
07/17/02 - Salary section revised. Grievance Procedure section added. Tax-deferred Annuities section added.
Date Approved:October 19, 2023>
Date Published:October 19, 2023>