Research Administration Policies

RA68 Postdoctoral Appointments

Policy Status: 


Subject Matter Expert: 

Jennifer Nicholas, 814-863-9658,

Policy Steward: 

Senior Vice President for Research

POLICY'S INITIAL DATE: November 16, 1968




To outline the terms and conditions of postdoctoral scholar and postdoctoral fellow appointments.


Postdoctoral appointments shall:

  1. be full-time, but temporary, one-year appointments which include four (4) weeks of paid leave; 
  2. be granted to appointees who were awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate (e.g., Sc.D, M.D., D.D.S., J.D.) in an appropriate field (typically in the last five (5) years) and provide the appointee with training under the supervision of a faculty member of a department;
  3. involve substantially full-time research or scholarship; 

  4. function as a preparatory time for their careers;
  5. provide the appointee with the opportunity to publish the results of their research or scholarship during the period of the appointment; and
  6. provide the appointee with technical training and opportunities for professional and career development.


Designated titles for postdoctoral appointments at The Pennsylvania State University are Postdoctoral Fellow and Postdoctoral Scholar. The title of Postdoctoral Fellow will be used only in connection with appointments financed under a Postdoctoral Fellow Program of a granting agency outside the University. The title of Postdoctoral Scholar will be the usual designation for all other postdoctoral appointments.


Postdoctoral appointments are intended for individuals who have recently completed a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate typically within five (5) years of completion of their degree. Individuals with titles other than postdoctoral fellow or postdoctoral scholar are not covered under this policy. 

Appointments are offered as one-year terms with the possibility for renewal. All renewals are contingent upon available funding, satisfactory performance on the part of the postdoctoral scholar/fellow, and adherence to all University policies and professional standards of conduct. No individual shall be appointed to a postdoctoral scholar/fellow appointment for more than a total of five (5) years. 

If the appointment is not being renewed at the end of the appointment period for any reason, including lack of adequate funding, or the postdoctoral scholar/fellow has reached a maximum of five (5) years in the position, at least thirty (30) days’ notice, in advance of the appointment end date must be given. Postdoctoral scholars/fellows are expected to continue performing assigned responsibilities during the notice period. 


All postdoctoral appointments will be approved by the appropriate dean, and the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research will maintain a current inventory of all appointments. Prior to extending an offer, the supervising faculty member or department shall demonstrate availability of sufficient funding to cover the twelve (12) month appointment. 


The University recognizes that there are a significant number of postdoctoral scholars/fellows who are foreign nationals. Supervising faculty members who extend offers to international postdoctoral scholars/fellows must adhere to all applicable federal regulations and University policies regarding their postdoctoral appointments. The individual must be eligible for the appropriate immigration status for the length of the appointment. Faculty and foreign national scholars/fellows should consult with International Scholar Advising, Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising ( to ensure compliance with visa requirements regarding offers, renewals, leaves of absence, and exits/terminations. Failure on the part of the postdoctoral scholar/fellow to maintain appropriate work authorizations and/or visa extensions as appropriate will result in termination. 


Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should be compensated an amount of no less than the current minimum salary provided in the Table of Stipends for Postdoctoral Appointments.


Postdoctoral scholars/fellows follow the Official University holidays as identified in HR34 - Employment Conditions for Full-Time Staff Employees | Penn State Policies (


As part of each one-year appointment, postdoctoral scholars/fellows are provided with four (4) weeks or twenty (20) business days of paid time off to cover absences to include, but not be limited to, doctor’s appointments, personal illness, caring for an ill family member, funeral leave, vacation, and other similar situations. The timing and duration of leave must be agreed upon and approved in advance by the postdoctoral scholar/fellow and supervising faculty member unless circumstances make advanced approval not possible. Unused leave cannot be rolled over from one appointment year to the next or used to extend the appointment at the time of separation from the University. However, unused leave may be used during the last week of the appointment if needed to cover an approved absence. Unused paid leave shall not be paid out to the postdoctoral scholar/fellow at the time of separation.


Postdoctoral scholars/fellows may enroll in an available University-sponsored health plan, please visit Benefits | PSU Human Resources for additional information.  


Leaves of absence without pay for a reasonable period of time beyond the four (4) weeks of paid leave will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Departments may be able to provide for some work to be completed remotely (e.g., data analysis), permitting the postdoctoral scholar/fellow to remain in paid status.

Postdoctoral scholars/fellows may be eligible for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. To the extent that a postdoctoral scholar/fellow is eligible for such leave, it shall run concurrently with paid and unpaid leave under this policy. Whenever a postdoctoral scholar/fellow would like to request a paid or unpaid leave of absence, they shall contact the Penn State Human Resources, Absence Management Office at The Absence Management Office shall work with the supervising faculty member and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs ( when vetting and approving such requests.

Before a leave of absence is discussed with an international postdoctoral scholar/fellow, the Penn State Human Resources, Absence Management Office shall contact International Scholar Advising, Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising ( to ensure consistency with federal regulations.

Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should refer to New Parent Accommodation Guidelines (not an actual policy). Postdoctoral scholars/fellows may be eligible for parental leave. Please contact the Absence Management Office ( to discuss the parameters for parental leave for postdoctoral scholars/fellows.


Every postdoctoral scholar/fellow is expected to exhibit and promote the highest ethical, moral, and professional standards as researchers, future faculty, professionals, and leaders in their respective fields. All postdoctoral scholars/fellows should receive Responsible Conduct of Research training through their faculty mentor, department and/or college. Research misconduct as per is regarded as a serious offense, raising grave doubt that the postdoctoral scholar/fellow is worthy of continued membership in the postdoctoral community at the University.

In addition to demonstrating satisfactory research progress, fulfillment of assigned duties, and adherence to all University policies, postdoctoral scholars/fellows must maintain proper ethical, moral, and professional standards. The primary duties of postdoctoral scholars/fellows are research and scholarship. However, postdoctoral scholars/fellows seeking additional experiences in other areas such as teaching or consulting should consult with their supervising faculty members prior to accepting any such additional duties. Supervising faculty have the discretion to approve or deny such requests based on the funding criteria, performance, and individual circumstance.

It is strongly recommended and expected that all postdoctoral scholars/fellows be provided a written outline of the expectations of the supervising faculty member at the beginning of their appointment. To the extent possible this document should include a description of specific responsibilities. The document should be the first step in developing an Individualized Development Plan (IDP) for the postdoctoral scholar/fellow in order to guide their professional development during their time at the University (See Appendix A). The IDP is extremely helpful in guiding postdoctoral and early career researchers and is required by a growing number of federal funding agencies.

Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should also receive an annual evaluation at the end of each appointment year (See Appendix B). This evaluation will include a written assessment of their performance, which is to be discussed by the postdoctoral scholar/fellow and the supervising faculty member.

Although it is expected that all postdoctoral scholars/fellows demonstrate satisfactory performance in their research, fulfill all responsibilities outlined by the faculty member, demonstrate professional and ethical standards of behavior, and adhere to all University policies, there are occasions when improvement in one or more of these areas is needed. Failure to meet the expectations identified by the supervising faculty member may result in actions including the implementation of a Plan for Improvement (PFI) and/or sanctions, which may include termination of the appointment. If a supervising faculty member determines that the performance and/or behavior of a postdoctoral scholar/fellow is not meeting expectations, the faculty member should notify and consult with the college Associate Dean for Research and unit Human Resources Strategic Partner or Consultant. The supervisor should then meet with the postdoctoral scholar/fellow to notify them that their performance and/or behavior is a concern and develop a PFI (See Appendix C). Once a PFI has been implemented, it is the responsibility of the postdoctoral scholar/fellow to adhere to all parameters outlined in the plan and of the supervising faculty member to monitor and document progress accordingly. If the postdoctoral scholar/fellow has not demonstrated satisfactory improvement and not met expectations within the time allotted, the faculty member will provide a final written assessment of their performance, along with a termination letter, indicating the specific date that the appointment will end.

All Plans for Improvement must be reviewed and approved by the unit Human Resources office prior to being implemented with the scholar or fellow. Penn State Human Resources will consult with other University offices as needed (e.g. Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Affirmative Action Office, Employee Relations, Office of General Counsel) prior to giving approval to the faculty member to implement the PFI.


Postdoctoral appointments can be terminated prior to the completion of the contract term for the following reasons:

a. Voluntary resignation:

In the case of a voluntary resignation by the postdoctoral scholar/fellow, the University requests that the postdoctoral scholar/fellow provide a minimum of thirty (30) days’ notice to the faculty supervisor and follow the appropriate exit procedures within the research group and department.

b. Unsatisfactory performance or behavior; research misconduct; or violation of University policy:

If a faculty supervisor is considering termination of a postdoctoral scholar/fellow, they must consult with their unit HR Strategic Partner and/or the Associate Dean of Research, who may consult with other appropriate offices. If the postdoctoral scholar/fellow is being terminated prior to the end of the appointment period due to unsatisfactory performance and/or an unsuccessful PFI, the postdoctoral scholar/fellow must be given advanced notice. The number of days of notice will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

If the postdoctoral scholar/fellow is being terminated prior to the end of the appointment period due to unsatisfactory behavior, research misconduct, or violation of University policy, the number of days of notice will be determined on a case-by-case basis. In certain cases where the behavior is deemed egregious by the University, termination of the appointment may be effective immediately.

Decisions to terminate postdoctoral scholar/fellow appointments involuntarily for cause must be approved in advance by the college or work unit budget executive or designee. Under any termination of appointment, postdoctoral scholars/fellows must adhere to University policy HRG 20: Separation and Transfer Protocol | Penn State Policies (, regarding the submission of keys, research equipment and materials, research data, and all other University property.

International postdoctoral scholars/fellows must contact the Directorate of International Student and Scholar Advising in the University Office of Global Programs to determine their visa status as a result of the termination.


Postdoctoral scholars/fellows should always attempt to resolve problems concerning their professional situation by discussing the matter with their supervisor. If there is a reason for the postdoctoral scholar/fellow to believe that this avenue is inappropriate, they may seek recourse through the department or division or program head, or from the associate or assistant dean of their college or division. The fellow or scholar may also seek advice from the college or division Human Resources Office and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Occasionally, there are disagreements between postdoctoral scholars/fellows and their supervisors that cannot be resolved in the administrative structure of the department, division, program, or college. Such problems may involve alleged violations of academic freedom, professional ethics, and procedural fairness and consistency. There may be disagreements concerning authorship credit or intellectual property ownership. If a resolution of such problems cannot be achieved at the department, division, or program level, the following procedures are to be followed. This procedure is not to be utilized for instances of unsatisfactory performance or behavior by the postdoctoral scholar/fellow. If for some reason the proper jurisdiction is not clear, then the Senior Vice President for Research shall decide on the appropriate procedure.

  1. For disagreements that are unresolved at the department or program level, a grievance process will be initiated when the postdoctoral scholar/fellow files a written grievance with the dean of their college. The parties to the grievance process shall be the person(s) filing the grievance and the person(s) responsible for the act or omission that gave rise to the grievance.
  2. In response to the grievance, the College Dean appoints and convenes a Hearing Committee consisting of five members. From that time until the hearing ends, the College Dean refrains from involvement in the dispute. The Hearing Committee consists of two postdoctoral scholars/fellows, two faculty members, and an administrator who will serve as chairperson. All members of the Hearing Committee will be from outside the academic department or unit in which either the postdoctoral scholar/fellow or faculty member who is involved in the grievance participates.
  3. Each party is allowed up to three disqualifications from this committee without cause. An indefinite number of disqualifications is allowed with cause, as determined by the College Dean. The College Dean makes additional appointments as necessary to fully staff the Hearing Committee.
  4. The Hearing Committee attempts to resolve the disagreement within thirty (30) calendar days of receiving the complaint.
  5. The hearing is not public. During the hearing, either party may have present an adviser, who must be a postdoctoral scholar/fellow, faculty, or a staff member of the University. In light of the nature and spirit of the proceeding, representation by legal counsel is prohibited.
  6. The Hearing Committee may have present at the hearing such assistance as it deems necessary.
  7. The Hearing Committee is not bound by strict rules of evidence and may admit any relevant evidence.
  8. The hearing is audio recorded, and a recording of the hearing is kept through any appeal processes. The parties involved may request to listen to the recording and take written notes until it is destroyed, however, copies are not provided.
  9. The parties are afforded an opportunity to obtain necessary witnesses and documentary and other evidence. The department or program involved makes all reasonable efforts to cooperate with the committee in securing witnesses and making available documentary and other evidence.
  10. Each party has the right to confront and cross-examine all witnesses. Expenses incurred in obtaining a witness will be the responsibility of the party requesting the witness.
  11. The Hearing Committee's findings are based solely on the hearing record. In cases where issues involve authorship, the Hearing Committee should adhere to the spirit of University policy IP02 Co-Authorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers and Publications.
  12. The Hearing Committee submits its findings and recommendations in writing to the College Dean and to the parties involved. Based solely on the record of the hearing, the College Dean may endorse all, part, or none of the Hearing Committee's recommendations. In coming to a decision, the College Dean may consult with the Senior Vice President for Research. A written notice of the decision of the College Dean is provided to the Hearing Committee and the parties involved within three weeks of receipt by the College Dean of the Hearing Committee's recommendations. If the College Dean does not endorse all of the findings and adopt all the recommendations of the Hearing Committee, an explanation will be included in the written notice. The decision by the College Dean shall be final but does not preclude existing independent avenues of appeal. The record of this decision, along with supporting documents, shall be submitted to the Office of General Counsel and the Senior Vice President for Research and kept by the Senior Vice President for Research for not less than five (5) years from the date of the resolution of the complaint.
  13. After the final decision, all efforts should be made to reconcile the situation within the research group. In the rare case where irreconcilable differences exist even after the resolution, and where the decision is made against the faculty member, it will be the responsibility of the College Dean to find another similar position in the University for the postdoctoral scholar, and, if necessary, to provide bridge funding for this position for up to six (6) months.


This policy applies to all individuals designated as postdoctoral scholars/fellows. In extenuating circumstances, exceptions to this policy may be requested to meet specific training or personnel needs. All such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Any request for an exception must be submitted by the principal investigator or supervising faculty member to the college/unit's Associate Dean for Research and unit Human Resources Office for review and, if appropriate, forwarded to the Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPA) for approval. The Director of the OPA will consult with the Senior Vice President for Research if necessary and notify the college Associate Dean for Research and unit Human Resources Office of the final decision. If the request is denied, there is no further level of appeal, and the decision will stand.


Appendix A - Individualized Development Plan (IDP)

Appendix B - Annual Evaluation Form

Appendix C - Plan for Improvement Sample


IP02 Coauthorship of Scholarly Reports, Papers, and Publications

Benefits for Postdocs


2/28/2023 - Moved policy from HR68 to RA68, revised sections to include Human Resource links.

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: 

January 11, 2021

Date Published: 

February 28, 2023

Effective Date: 

February 28, 2023