Postdoctoral Appointments in Arts & Sciences

  1. Introduction:
    Postdoctoral appointments provide an important, preparatory phase for those entering the academic or professional arena. Postdoctoral appointees have the opportunity to hone their scholarly skills at a critical developmental stage in their careers under the tutelage of our best faculty mentors. Appointees may also receive ongoing training and practice in pedagogy and academic affairs. Just as importantly, postdoctoral appointments provide the time to explore career opportunities under the guidance of faculty. Moreover, these roles also provide Arts & Sciences the opportunity to advance Washington University’s mission to increase diversity across the campus.
  2. University definition of a postdoctoral appointee:
    In accordance with the Washington University Postdoctoral Education Policy, a postdoctoral appointee must:
    1. possess a terminal degree
    2. enter a preparatory position for training and transition
    3. fill the role for a limited duration usually not to exceed five years
    4. not be part of a clinical training program (i.e. residency)
    5. hold either a “trainee” (non-employee) or “employee” role.

​University practice has established that all postdoctoral appointments by their nature must be full-time. Part-time roles are not eligible for postdoctoral status or postdoctoral benefits.

  1. Distinction between employee and non-employee:
    The distinction between a non-employee postdoctoral appointee (labeled “postdoctoral trainee” or  “postdoctoral research scholar” by HR) and an employee postdoctoral appointee (labeled “postdoctoral employee” or “postdoctoral research associate” by HR) is that the non-employee is conducting research solely for his/her own benefit (e.g. conducting research on an agency fellowship grant awarded to the postdoctoral fellow as PI from which he/she receives a stipend for living expenses), while the employee is likewise developing academic research skills in pursuit of his/her own research agenda but is also performing specific duties in exchange for compensation (e.g. working for PI paid by the funds controlled by the PI or the university, or teaching a class, for which he/she receives taxable wages from the university). Postdoctoral appointees in both of the employee and non-employee category should be developing their academic and research skills toward a goal of career development in the performance of their duties.
  2. Types of postdoctoral appointees in A&S:
    There are three general types of postdoctoral appointees in A&S. The first type includes those who primarily perform research and scholarship (most often in a laboratory), either funded by a Professor’s grants and research funding or with support from the appointee’s own training grant; these are generally found in the Natural Sciences and Psychology, and their appointments usually run in 12-month cycles. The second type includes those who combine scholarship and research endeavors (both collaborative and personal) with classroom teaching and pedagogical development. The third type is primarily concerned with the teaching experience, with an emphasis on pedagogical and curricular development (i.e., a “teaching fellow”). The latter two types are generally found in the Humanities, Mathematics, and the Humanistic Social Sciences, and most often their appointments run in nine-month cycles during each academic year. 
  3. Titles in use:
    The scope and parameters of the appointment and the qualifications of the appointee determine the postdoctoral nature of the appointment. Postdoctoral appointees may be referred to by more detailed or specific titles by their hosting departments, principal investigators (PI), sponsoring agencies, and Human Resources (HR), e.g., postdoctoral fellow or early career fellow, but for the purposes of this document, the terms “postdoctoral appointee” and “postdoctoral appointment” will stand in general use, although a more descriptive title, as listed above, may be in use for a particular appointee. For the purposes of distinction, the third type of appointee identified in Section E, above, should include the word “Teaching Fellow” in his or her appointment title.
  4. Nature of research duties:
    The research component is essential to the first two types of postdoctoral appointment described in Section E, above – the appointment is intended to provide research training and development as part of a program for developing a future academic or professional career rather than to perform specific research tasks in the course of employment. The latter would not constitute a postdoctoral appointment but rather employment as a staff researcher. An appointee may collaborate with faculty in the role of a co-researcher and co-author, or an appointee may pursue his/her own research under the guidance of faculty, or combination of the two. Appointees or appointments lacking a clear research and career development agenda are not postdoctoral. A clear research and career development agenda needs to be established at the start of each postdoctoral appointment.
  5. Nature of teaching duties:
    From the pedagogical perspective, appointees functioning primarily as course lecturers or adjunct teachers are not postdoctoral. Postdoctoral appointments which include regular course teaching should not exceed a course-load of two classes per year (with the exception of teaching fellows, below). Any teaching load which exceeds this limit in any academic year should receive both the endorsement of the mentor and the approval of the Dean of Faculty of Arts & Sciences. This limit includes University College teaching.

    Appointees in the role of teaching fellows are expected to have a course-load of three to four classes per year, with an emphasis on pedagogical and curricular development, which may include an interdisciplinary component. The appointee should receive strong mentorship to guide or expand his/her teaching repertoire and to learn to develop innovative and challenging courses.

  6. Faculty mentor:
    Every appointee must have a faculty mentor, often the PI, who should bring the appointee into the academic community. It is essential that the mentor ensure each postdoctoral appointee is included in departmental conversations and events. Over the course of the appointment, the mentor should assist the appointee to master the skills and disciplines being developed, to define, undertake, and complete research goals, and also to investigate and develop career opportunities.
  7. Funding:
    Positions funded through university funds are normally secure from appointment period to appointment period. Sponsor-dependent appointments rely upon the external, sponsored grants and awards for their continuation. In the event of loss of funding or external support, an appointment may be terminated on the basis of exigency with 30 days’ notice.
  8. Minimum salary/stipend rate and increases:
    A postdoctoral minimum salary or stipend will be determined annually by the dean’s office as part of the annual budget and salary setting process. The amount will be set at a 12-month rate, which will be prorated for less-than-12-month, academic-year appointments. When extramural agencies establish postdoctoral salaries or stipends at a rate less than the School-established minimum, the PI or department should provide additional funding to bring the pay level of the postdoctoral appointee up to at least the established minimum. The mentor is required to arrange the additional funding prior to the beginning date of an appointment.

    Annual salary or stipend increases for appointees should be consistent with the overall salary and stipend recommendations by the department or school or as prescribed by the funding agency. The frequency and amount of salary increases should follow established school guidelines, regardless of the source of the funding.

  9. Benefits:
    The university has established a set of benefits for which appointees are eligible, including time-off benefits for postdoctoral employees. For employees with less-than-12-month appointment periods, the established sick and vacation times are prorated. Eligibility for postdoctoral benefits is on the basis of a full-time appointment at Washington University, and there are no provisions for part-time postdoctoral benefits.

    Continuation of a postdoctoral appointment within each appointment period and any reappointment for a subsequent period will be contingent upon ongoing satisfactory performance and a successful annual review.

  10. Appointment Process:
    1. The position must be identified and presented to the Dean’s office to establish that it meets the postdoctoral criteria prior to any posting, search, or offer:
      1. strong research and scholarship component
      2. duties and activities are designed to enhance career development
      3. a mentor is available to oversee the appointee’s progress in teaching and research
      4. position is not a straight substitution to fulfill existing research or teaching duties
    2. The appropriate funding must be clarified with the Dean’s office:
      1. grant/agency funding
      2. foundation/gift funding
      3. established internally sponsored funding
      4. other
    3. The candidate must be reviewed by the department, program, mentor, or sponsor to establish that he/she meets the postdoctoral criteria:
      1. candidate will be in possession of PhD or appropriate terminal degree by the start of the appointment
      2. candidate will not exceed five years of postdoctoral experience by the conclusion of the appointment
      3. candidate has a clear agenda of research or scholarship training that can be fulfilled in the course of the postdoctoral appointment
      4. candidate is qualified and capable of fulfilling any teaching and research requirements for the appointment
    4. The candidate must receive an initial appointment letter (which may be the same as an initial offer letter, or may be subsequent to the offer letter). This letter ordinarily comes from the faculty sponsor or mentor or the department chair or program director. This letter establishes:
      1. duties of appointment
      2. duration and renewal of appointment
      3. financial support for appointment (i.e. amount of wages or stipend)
      4. the mentor for the duration of the appointment
      5. annual evaluation and review process for appointment
      6. career development opportunities
    5. During any appointment period the appointee must receive an annual review, marking the progress of his/her efforts with relation to the duties, goals, and career development opportunities. This review ordinarily is given by the mentor or faculty sponsor.
    6. For any reappointment period the appointee must receive a reappointment letter. This letter ordinarily is given by the mentor, sponsor, department chair, or program director.
    7. Upon the successful completion and conclusion of the appointment, as determined by the mentor in the review process, the appointee must receive a letter of completion, from the mentor, sponsor, department chair, or program director.
    8. Continuation of a postdoctoral appointment within each appointment period and any reappointment for a subsequent period will be contingent upon ongoing satisfactory performance and a successful annual review.