Published February 28, 2015
USC recognizes the importance of assisting postdoctoral scholars as they develop into independent investigators. It is our goal to assist junior scholars, who have completed their doctoral degrees (Ph.D., Sc.D., M.D., D.D.S. and equivalent doctorates), by preparing them for full-time academic or research careers, under the guidance of senior scholars. USC welcomes postdoctoral scholars who wish to perform their research in collaboration with USC faculty and encourages its faculty to advise, mentor and assist these developing scholars.
A postdoctoral scholar is a trainee in residence at the university pursuing advanced study beyond a doctorate in preparation for a full-time academic and/or research career. To be considered for appointment as a postdoctoral scholar at USC, the individual must qualify as a:
- Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate,
- Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee,
- Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow, or
- Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow.
The Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate and Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow are appointed as employees on temporary, fixed-term contracts with the school. All postdoctoral scholars appointed on or after August 1, 2012 are to be registered in PDF-999 (for zero units) as a non-matriculating, non-degree seeking, limited status student of the university.
A postdoctoral scholar must have been awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate in an appropriate field within five years of his/her initial appointment. The appointment involves substantial full-time research or scholarship. (In the case of a Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow, teaching is permitted up to 50% of total effort, not to exceed instruction in three courses per year). The postdoctoral scholar appointment is viewed as preparatory for a full-time academic and/or research career. Postdoctoral appointments are not part of clinical (patient care) training programs. Appointees work under the oversight of a more senior scholar, who is the faculty mentor. The appointee has the freedom, and is expected, to publish the results of his or her research or scholarship during the period of the appointment.
The university category Research Associate is reserved for long-term, career employees who hold the Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate. Unlike a postdoctoral scholar appointment, a Research Associate appointment is not preparatory toward a full-time academic and/or research career.
Faculty mentors should treat postdoctoral scholars as professional colleagues who are launching their research careers and may soon seek appointment as assistant professors or full-time researcher scholars. Mentors should orient postdoctoral scholars to the university’s research policies and, in particular, should discuss in detail the implications of the policies on the conflicts of interest and the policy on intellectual property.
Faculty mentors also have a responsibility to provide career advice and encouragement. However, it is not the responsibility of the university to ensure that postdoctoral scholars obtain permanent positions upon completion of their term of appointment.
Title and Benefits
As of August 1, 2012, all new incoming postdoctoral scholars will receive the same suite of benefits regardless of whether they are employed on a Principal Investigator’s grant (or paid from a department account) or are recipients of an external fellowship. The Postdoctoral Scholar Benefits Plan includes health, dental, vision, life, accidental death and dismemberment, short-term disability and long-term disability insurance plans. USC has partnered with a commercial insurance broker which provides postdoctoral scholar benefits to many other universities and will administer the benefits plan for USC postdoctoral scholars. All postdoctoral scholars on the Postdoctoral Scholar Benefits Plan are entitled to receive up to 20 units of tuition remission for training-related coursework at USC, not to exceed four units in any one semester. Postdoctoral scholars should secure approval of the faculty mentor and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, which will handle the registration process.
Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate is a category of visiting scholars seeking to further their educational and professional development and who meet the definition in section 2 of this policy. Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates may be in residence at the university for a period not to exceed five years. All Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates appointed at the university must be issued a university offer letter that sets forth the terms of the appointment. Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates may be supported on research projects or grants.
Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow are categories of visitors seeking to further their educational and professional development and who meet the definitions above. Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows may be in residence at the university for a period not to exceed five years. All Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows appointed at the university must be issued a university offer letter that sets forth the terms of the appointment. Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees are supported on university-managed training grants or with USC stipends, while Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows are supported on externally-funded stipends. The Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow categories are only used when non-employee, trainee status is an expectation of the organization that sponsors the postdoctoral appointment.
Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow is a category of visiting scholars seeking to further their education and professional development and who meet the definition in section 2 of this policy. Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows are appointed for a period of at least one and no more than two years. All Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows appointed at the university must be issued a university offer letter that sets forth the terms of the appointment. Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows may be supported on internal funds or on grants. However, grant funding can only be used to compensate research effort occurring during the fellowship, unless the funder explicitly permits compensation for teaching activity.
A postdoctoral scholar’s financial support provided by external agencies, whether or not called a fellowship, is to be confirmed by the department at the time of the appointment and is considered to be part of the postdoctoral scholar’s total financial support. An appointment is always subject to the conditions of the agency or organization making the award.
Privileges and Obligations of Postdoctoral Scholars
Postdoctoral scholars are eligible to use the university’s research facilities and offices that are assigned by the faculty mentor or the department. Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates and Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows are eligible to serve as Co-principal Investigators on grant applications, but may not be Principal Investigators unless a specific waiver and approval is granted upon recommendation by the department and approval of the appropriate dean of the school.
Postdoctoral scholars are obligated to abide by all university policies, including those that define intellectual property rights, as modified from time to time. Postdoctoral scholars must also satisfy any requirements imposed by an external sponsor that supports a fellowship, such as education and training requirements. Failure of a Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate or Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow to abide by the policies and regulations of the university or the school are grounds for discipline, and may result in termination or dismissal. Failure of a Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee or Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellowto abide by the policies and regulations of the university or the school are grounds for discipline, and may result in discontinuance of the Postdoctoral Scholar appointment.
Postdoctoral scholars are encouraged and expected to publish the results of their research during the period of their appointment at USC. Faculty mentors are expected to encourage and support publication of research, for the benefit of the postdoctoral scholar’s professional development.
The primary role of the Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee, Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate is research. If teaching will be a significant component of a postdoctoral scholar’s activity, Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow is the preferred category of appointment. In unusual cases a limited amount of teaching may be appropriate for Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees, Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows and Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates, e.g., as part of preparation for an academic career, if the individual does not have sufficient prior teaching experience. A Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee, Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate may not teach more than four courses while at USC unless special permission is obtained from the Provost and may never teach more than one course in a semester. When teaching occurs, research effort should normally be reduced, so that the fellow or associate has adequate time to devote to teaching. If a Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee, Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate teaches, it will be only as permitted under the terms of the external award. A Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow has dual roles in research and teaching and may teach up to three courses a year for two years. Faculty mentors are not permitted to assign work tasks to Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees or Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows. Instead, the relationship is purely that of a mentor, to guide fellows in the research programs that the fellows initiate.
The university, through the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, shall annually set minimum compensation for all categories of postdoctoral scholars.
Postdoctoral scholar appointments are to be for a fixed term. Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate appointments are one-year renewable appointments. Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow appointments are for a minimum period of six months. Postdoctoral Scholars will be granted a fixed-term appointment letter covering the terms of the appointment, signed by the dean of the school. The fixed-term letter of appointment for a Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee, Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow or Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate can be renewed up to a maximum of five, one-year appointments on the recommendation of the faculty mentor and at the discretion of the dean. Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows are appointed for a period of one to two years, without possibility of extension. Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows are appointed by the dean of a school on the nomination of a department on the basis of (1) distinguished academic record and high potential for securing a tenure-track job, (2) the individual’s need for teaching experience, (3) the department’s need to have specific courses taught, and (4) the availability of a mentor, who was not the Ph.D. advisor, and a strategy for mentorship leading to a tenure-track appointment.
There is no obligation to renew an appointment, which is discretionary with the university. Cumulatively, all the appointments for a postdoctoral scholar should never exceed five years, unless approved in advance by the Provost. Faculty mentors are encouraged to give Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates, Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainees and Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellows a minimum of 60 days notice if they do not intend to recommend renewal of appointments, but whether or not such notice is given, the appointment ends on the designated date or on June 30 if no date is designated. In addition, appointments may be prematurely terminated without cause at the discretion of the dean of the school, after consultation with the mentor, on 90 days notice.
The school dean or designee must sign the appointment offer letter. The appointment letter must be countersigned by the postdoctoral scholar, received by the school, and filed with University Payroll Services prior to the initiation of the appointment. The appointment letter is to include the following:
- Laboratory, institute, department or school appointing the postdoctoral scholar;
- Faculty member who will serve as the mentor;
- Term of the appointment, with starting and ending dates;
- Expectation that a Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate, Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee or Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow will be involved in essentially full-time research or scholarship;
- Expectation that a Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow will be engaged in both scholarship and teaching and will not accept other contemporaneous employment at USC or elsewhere;
- University’s restrictions on the length of appointment;
- Source of funding to support the postdoctoral scholar’s research;
- Whether the Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate, Postdoctoral Scholar—Fellowship Trainee or Postdoctoral Scholar—Visiting Fellow appointment will end at the conclusion of a particular externally funded fellowship or grant;
- Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate’s or Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow’s monthly salary and benefits;
- Statement that a postdoctoral appointment is subject to university policies, including the policy defining intellectual property rights;
- Confidentiality statement;
- Specific request that a postdoctoral scholar provide a copy of their doctoral diploma or other certification that indicates that the terminal degree has been completed satisfactorily;
- Statement that a postdoctoral scholar must adhere to any requirements of the organization that sponsors his or her appointment;
- Statement that a postdoctoral scholar will be required to verify eligibility to work or study in the United States;
- Agreement to Arbitrate Claims; and
- At-Will Employment Agreement for Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associate or Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellow.
If the postdoctoral candidate has not yet obtained a doctoral degree, he or she should provide evidence that a thesis has been approved together with a documented indication of the expected date of formal graduation. It is the responsibility of the faculty mentor to verify this documentation. The documentation is to be filed with University Payroll Services and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs through the school’s HR/Payroll Analyst.
Departments must contact the Office of International Services early in the recruitment process when it becomes evident that a candidate for a postdoctoral scholar appointment is not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States. Depending on the nature of the appointment, the process of obtaining necessary governmental approval must begin prior to an offer of appointment. Once the details of the appointment are known, the OIS J-1 Exchange Visitor Program Coordinator, or the Director of Faculty/Staff Visa Services, will advise departments of the appropriate steps which need to be taken, assist in the completion of procedures, and provide legal services when necessary.
Offer letters should follow university templates, which will be maintained by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
Deans are responsible to the Provost for monitoring implementation of this policy in their school’s departments, centers and institutes. Appointment records for postdoctoral scholars should be entered in the university’s payroll and benefits system, and in the Postdoctoral Scholars Database. In addition, the appointing school or department is responsible for entering the postdoctoral scholar’s information into the university’s student information system. A non-degree program code is used and postdoctoral scholars are then required to register each semester.
The university will maintain a standing notice of the opportunity for appointment as a postdoctoral scholar, and will refer all applicants to the appropriate department. A unit searching for a particular category of postdoctoral scholar may choose to place additional advertisements. The university’s policies on equal opportunity and non-discrimination must be observed and good faith efforts made to provide equal opportunity to outstanding men and women of every race, creed and background. Since these postdoctoral scholars are in a temporary training status, they may not be moved to a regular instructional or research position except by consideration during normal posting and search procedure.
Appendix A: Postdoctoral Scholar Vacation Leave (Paid)
All Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates and Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows appointed after August 1, 2012 are eligible for paid vacation leave.
Vacation days are accrued monthly at the rate of one working day per month = 12 working days per year, to a maximum of 24 working days recorded in hours. Vacation accruals are posted on the first day of the month for vacation leave earned during the previous month.
Vacation accruals may not exceed the amount a postdoctoral scholar would have accrued in a two year period. Accrual of vacation will cease when the maximum is reached and will resume when accrued vacation leave falls below the maximum as described above. Vacation days will not be accrued during unpaid leaves of absence regardless of reason, including but not limited to medical leave (inclusive of postdoctoral scholars paid by disability or workers’ compensation benefits), pregnancy-related medical leave, Family Medical Leave Act, California Family Rights Act, military leave, and personal leave.
A postdoctoral scholar working less than 100% will have the rate of accrual prorated based on the percentage of time worked. If a new postdoctoral scholar begins work other than on the first of the month, he or she will earn prorated vacation leave (a portion of a day of leave based on the number of calendar days from the scholar’s hire date to the end of the month) during the first calendar month of employment.
To ensure appropriate staffing levels are maintained, requests for vacation must be coordinated with other requests from within the department. To that end, a postdoctoral scholar must submit a request for vacation to his or her supervisor within the following timeframe: Four vacation days or less—a minimum of one week prior to the requested time off; five vacation days or more—a minimum of one month prior to the requested time off. A supervisor has the discretion to accept a request for vacation outside of the above timeframe if circumstances warrant. It is against university policy for a postdoctoral scholar to work for and be paid by one department while on paid vacation from another department.
This timeframe is recommended for supervisors to notify postdoctoral scholars of the outcome of their request for vacation: Requests for vacation of four or less days should be reviewed and the postdoctoral scholar notified no later than 48 hours before the requested time off; requests for vacation of five or more days should be reviewed and the postdoctoral scholar notified no later than five days before the requested time off.
It is valid to deny a request for vacation for reasons including, but not limited to:
- business necessity, (e.g., staffing shortage, peak work period, deadlines)
- the postdoctoral scholar does not have sufficient vacation accruals to cover the request;
- the postdoctoral scholar has not requested vacation according to the above required timelines.
Payment for accrued vacation days in lieu of vacation leave can be made only when the postdoctoral scholar is terminated. Such payment is based on the postdoctoral scholar’s equivalent salary rate. Postdoctoral scholars who transfer or who are promoted to a staff position within the university carry their accrued vacation leave with them.
Questions regarding these procedures should be directed to Human Resources Administration at email@example.com or (213) 821-8100.
Appendix B: Postdoctoral Scholar Sick Leave
All Postdoctoral Scholar—Research Associates and Postdoctoral Scholar—Teaching Fellows appointed after August 1, 2012 are eligible for paid sick leave.
Sick leave is accrued at the rate of one day per month worked to a maximum of twelve days recorded in hours. If a new postdoctoral scholar begins work other than on the first of the month, he or she will earn prorated sick leave (a portion of a day of leave based on the number of calendar days from the employee’s hire date to the end of the month) during the first calendar month of employment.
Sick leave is to be used for absences due to illness, injury, or doctor or dentist appointments for the postdoctoral scholar. Up to half the amount he or she would accrue in one year is available to be used to care for the postdoctoral scholar’s spouse, domestic partner, child or parent. Since the university provides twelve days per year for full-time postdoctoral scholars, accrued at one day per month, a full-time Postdoctoral Scholar will have six days per year available to use to care for a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent. Postdoctoral scholars working less than 100% will have the rate of accrual prorated based on the percentage of time worked.
Sick leave will not be accrued during leaves or unpaid absences of longer than thirty days, regardless of reason (including Family Care and Medical Leave Act, medical leave of absence [including staff employees paid by disability or workers’ compensation insurance], pregnancy-related medical leave, military leave, and personal leave).
When a postdoctoral scholar is unable to report to work due to his or her illness or injury, or that of a spouse, domestic partner, child or partner, he or she must telephone the supervisor, following standard departmental procedures, as soon as the postdoctoral scholar knows he or she will be unable to report to work. A postdoctoral scholar may not use sick leave before it is accrued or “accrue” a negative sick leave balance. If the absence extends beyond three days, the supervisor may ask the postdoctoral scholar to present a statement from the attending physician. For sick leave taken for doctor or dentist appointments, the postdoctoral scholar should notify his or her supervisor at least one week prior to the scheduled appointment. Failure to notify the supervisor may be cause for disciplinary action up to and including termination.
At no time will a postdoctoral scholar be paid for unused sick leave, even upon termination from the university. Postdoctoral scholars who transfer or are promoted within the university will carry their accumulation with them.
Questions regarding these procedures should be directed to Human Resources Administration at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 821-8100.
Office of Postdoctoral Affairs
Elizabeth Garrett, Provost and Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs
University of Southern California