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* This policy has been updated as of January 15, 2008. Please click here to see the new policy.

To the University Community:

This revised  Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania extends coverage to include all postdoctoral fellows regardless of School or discipline. The prior version, adopted in 2002, was limited to postdoctoral fellows in the physical, biological, and health sciences and in engineering. The present version also addresses, for the first time, guidelines for the ownership of primary research records and similar unpublished materials.

The Faculty Senate Committee on Administration reviewed this proposed revision developed in consultation with representatives from the Humanities and the Social Sciences and formally approved by the Provost's Council on Research. The Senate Executive Committee approved the following version on May 5, 2004. This policy becomes effective immediately.

We would like to express our personal thanks to all who participated in the revision of this important policy.

—Peter Conn, Interim Provost
—Perry Molinoff, Vice Provost for Research

Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows at the
University of Pennsylvania

This policy applies to all three categories of postdoctoral fellows that are identified in the payroll system of the University, based upon funding source: postdoctoral researcher (supported from a research grant), NRSA-postdoctoral fellow (supported by an individual or institutional National Research Service Award), and postdoctoral fellow (supported by a private foundation, non-profit charitable organization, or other source).


Postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) come to the University for further training in their chosen discipline. An individual who has been designated as a PDF by her/his School receives training conducted in an apprenticeship mode, where she/he is working under the supervision of an established faculty member who serves as a mentor. As dictated by the nature of the program, the fellow may be undertaking scholarship, research, service, and teaching activities, all of which provide training essential for career development.  Because education is a pre-eminent mission of the University and because PDFs are professionals in training, it is important that the programs for postdoctoral fellows are designed to advance their careers, in addition to contributing to the mission of the unit in which they are working. The Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows is designed  to address the distinctive position of postdoctoral fellows within the University community.

Appointment and Resignation

Letter of Appointment

When a faculty member makes a firm offer of appointment to a postdoctoral candidate, a letter should be written to the candidate prior to commencement of duties. This letter should set forth at least the basic terms of appointment including the period of appointment (dates of appointment), the compensation level, all included benefits and a statement that the candidate's appointment is subject to all University policies. The letter must be accompanied by a copy of the Patent Policy and the corresponding Participation Agreement. If the appointment is renewed or extended, that action should be documented by a letter, which includes the aforementioned information.

The candidate should be required to return a countersigned copy of each letter of appointment or renewal indicating acceptance of the terms set forth, as well as a signed Patent Policy Participation Agreement. The letters (countersigned copies) and signed agreement should be placed in a permanent file kept in the office of the appropriate Department. (If the faculty member is not affiliated with a specific department, the file may be kept in the office of the Institute or Center with which the faculty member is associated.) The letters of appointment and renewal should indicate whether the mentor has funding in hand to fulfill the terms of the appointment; if not, the letter should indicate the duration of assured funding. When the appointment is to be coterminous with external funding, research grant, contract, training grant, etc., that fact should be included in the letter of appointment, including the end date of the funding even when renewal is expected.

Proof of Doctoral Degree

Eligibility for appointment as a postdoctoral fellow requires a candidate to hold, or to have completed the requirements for an advanced degree, Ph.D., M.D., or equivalent. Candidates from non-U.S. universities must hold advanced degrees which are equivalent to those provided in U.S. institutions in order to qualify for appointment as postdoctoral fellows. It is the responsibility of the fellow to provide transcripts and or a diploma which certify that she/he has received her/his degree, and it is the responsibility of the mentor to be sure that this documentation is satisfactory and that it is included in the trainee's file attached to the letter of appointment. The only exception to this requirement is trainees receiving their degree from U.S. institutions; if they have completed the requirements for the advanced degree but have not yet received their degree, then  they should supply documents certifying that the thesis has been approved and indicating the date when the degree is expected to be conferred; this special exception applies only to trainees receiving their degrees from U.S. institutions.

Duration of Appointment

Postdoctoral appointments are ordinarily made for one year, and are renewable annually based on satisfactory performance and availability of funding.  According to current University policy, no doctoral postgraduate can serve at the University of Pennsylvania for more than five years at the status of Postdoctoral Fellow. Mentors may terminate appointees during an appointment period if specific and compelling factors require termination, and under these extenuating circumstances, there must be at least three months notice in writing.

Compensation Level

Minimum compensation levels for postdoctoral fellows are set annually by the Vice Provost for Research, in consultation with the Provost's Council on Research, representing all of the Schools of the University. If these minimal levels of compensation cannot be offered, a proportional (%) appointment should be made to indicate clearly that the appointee is entitled to seek and perform additional University services (teaching, diagnostic laboratory, technical) up to the mandated annual level of compensation. When a funding sponsor mandates compensation levels higher than the University minimum, mentors are obligated to pay the higher amount.

Postdoctoral Notice of Resignation

When a postdoctoral fellow chooses to resign from her/his position prior to the end of the appointment period, it is expected that she/he will provide at least one month's notice. When appropriate to the discipline, it is the obligation of the postdoctoral fellow to ensure that all research materials and records are left in a state to allow continuation of the project.


Health Insurance

PDFs must have health insurance. PDFs are eligible to receive single person health insurance, as provided under a basic University of Pennsylvania Group Health Insurance Plan. This benefit should be paid as an addition to the compensation and no premium should be deducted from the compensation of the postdoctoral fellow. If the PDF elects family coverage, the difference between the single and family premium can be paid from one of three sources. It can be deducted from the PDF's compensation; it can be paid by the funding source if it is an allowable expense; or it can be paid by the unit to which the PDF is recruited. If the PDF elects to waive health insurance coverage through the University, she/he must certify that she/he has alternate insurance which provides at least comparable coverage.

Vacation Time

PDFs are eligible for 16 days paid vacation leave per appointment year which includes the 10 paid days that are University holidays. If a PDF elects to work during a University holiday, the PDF may take the vacation at another time. Vacation leave is not cumulative from one appointment year to the next. All vacation leave must be approved in advance by the mentor. 

Sick Leave

Postdoctoral Fellows may continue to receive stipends for up to 15 days of sick leave per year. Sick leave is not cumulative from one appointment year to the next. Under exceptional circumstances, this period may be extended at the discretion of the mentor. Mentors may require medical verification by a physician for absences longer than three consecutive sick days.PDFs who have worked at the University for a total of one year and who have worked a total of at least 1,250 hours in the immediately-preceding one-year period who experience a serious health condition of their own or who need to care for a parent, spouse, or child (including someone for whom they act in loco parentis) with a serious health conditionmay take up to a maximum of twelve (12) weeks of leave, whether continuously, intermittently, or on a reduced work schedule, provided they produce appropriate medical certification when requested.PDFs who do not meet the one year or 1,250 hour requirements may take up to 15 days of sick leave with full pay, paid from the same source as the stipend for their own illness which makes them unable to perform their duties or for medical treatment, subject to acceptable medical documentation.

New Child Leave

Postdoctoral fellows who have worked at the University for a total of one year and who have worked a total of at least 1,250 hours in the immediately-preceding one-year period who experience the birth of a child or placement of a child for adoption or foster care may take a maximum of twelve (12) consecutive weeks of New Child Leave, which must commence within one (1) year of the birth or placement. The first 30 days of leave are with full pay, paid from the same source as the stipend, supplemented with up to 15 days vacation or sick leave if available.  The remainder of any leave is unpaid. Any such leave must be taken consecutively and may not be taken intermittently. PDFs who do not meet the one year or 1,250 hour requirements may take up to 30 days of leave with full pay, paid from the same source as the stipend, supplemented with up to 15 days vacation or sick leave if available.

Terminal Leave

A period of terminal leave is not permitted.

Obligations and Responsibilities

Obligations of Mentors

Mentors' responsibilities include: (i) developing in consultation with the PDF a mutually satisfactory research project or scholarly program; (ii) encouraging PDFs to present their work, and to publish their results in a timely fashion; (iii) encouraging PDFs to acquire and enhance their knowledge and technical skills as dictated by their current and future needs; (iv) arrangement and oversight of teaching opportunities as appropriate to their discipline and program; (v) encouraging PDFs to apply for training and research support as appropriate; (vi) meeting regularly with their PDFs to discuss progress in their research; (vii) providing an annual review of performance; (viii) insuring that PDFs are aware of University policies regarding postdoctoral training, and are instructed about research policies of the University; (ix) providing career counseling.

Obligations of Postdoctoral Fellows

Postdoctoral fellows have certain obligations to their mentor, the group in which they are working, the Department with which they are associated, the sponsor whose funds support them, and the University. These obligations include but are not limited to: (i) the conscientious discharge of their research, scholarly, and teaching responsibilities, as applicable; (ii) conformity with ethical standards in research and scholarship; (iii) compliance with good scholarly practice including the maintenance of adequate research records; (iv) observation of appropriate guidelines regarding human subjects and due observation of University standards regarding use of isotopes, chemicals, infectious agents, animals, and the like, if applicable; (v) open and timely discussion with their mentor regarding possession or distribution of tangible property such as materials, reagents, and the like; (vi) discussion of laboratory records or scholarly materials, if relevant; (vii)  prior disclosure of appropriate scholarly information, findings or techniques proposed for dissemination  privately, at scholarly meetings, or in publications; (viii) collegial conduct towards coworkers and members of the academic or research group; (viiii) compliance with all applicable University policies. 

Research Records

Primary research records created by postdoctoral fellows during the tenure of their fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania are the property of the University and are retained by the University when the PDF leaves; fellows have the right to make copies of the records but must first review with their supervisors the records that they propose to copy. 

Exceptions to this practice may be permitted subject to written prior approval of the Provost's office in fields where it can be convincingly demonstrated that there is a well-established practice that individual scholars retain ownership of data generated through their research efforts.  In such cases the postdoctoral scholars will be permitted to retain notes and records associated with their research and publish their findings subsequent to leaving the University provided an appropriate acknowledgement is made to the University's contribution to the work (e.g. in the form of funding).



A compendium of information should be given to each postdoctoral fellow upon arrival at the University. This compendium should be available on an appropriate University website and could include a registration form to be completed by the postdoctoral fellow, a copy of these guidelines, conflict of interest and financial disclosure policies, intellectual property policies, Procedures Regarding Misconduct in Research, sexual harassment policies, parking policies, a clear statement about benefits, the current City, Commonwealth, and Federal taxation policies, sources of information within the University, and explanation of the mediation services available. Preferably, periodic orientation sessions should be provided for all new postdoctoral fellows. The departments should arrange e-mail accounts for their postdoctoral fellows.

Training Program Elements

Postdoctoral fellows are considered to be professionals in training.  One goal of their professional experience at Penn is to provide training relevant to the responsible conduct of research. Such training should include the following elements, as appropriate to the individual trainee: (1) data management, ownership of intellectual property and tangible research materials; (ii) mentor/trainee responsibilities; (iii) publication practices and responsible authorship; (iv) peer review; (v) rights of collaborators; (vi) human subject research; (vii) research involving animals; (viii) research misconduct; (ix) conflict of interest; and (x) compliance with existing Federal and University policies.

When postdoctoral fellows engage in teaching, appropriate training and didactic experience should also be provided. 

Application for Grants

Each school should set a policy about the rights of postdoctoral fellows to apply for grants as Principal Investigator. If the school policy permits such applications, it is suggested that there be a requirement for approval by a knowledgeable tenured faculty member as well as the usual approval by department chair and dean on the transmittal form.

Mediation Services

It is recognized that from time to time disagreements may arise between a postdoctoral fellow and a mentor. Postdoctoral fellows should be clearly informed about the options which they can exercise under such circumstances. In particular, they should be made aware of services available through the ombudsmen in individual Schools, and through the office of the Ombudsman in the University.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 2, September 7, 2004


September 7, 2004
Volume 51 Number 2


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