Guidelines for Postdoctoral Appointments

Definition of a postdoctoral appointment 

The purpose of a postdoctoral appointment is to provide the holder of a PhD or equivalent doctorate with additional research and scholarly training for an academic or research career. Thus, the role of postdoctoral appointees is clearly differentiated from full-time technical employees.

Postdoctoral appointments are characterized by all of the following conditions:

  • the appointee was recently (within last eight years) awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate (e.g. Sc.D., M.D.),

  • the appointment is temporary,

  • the appointment primarily involves full-time research or scholarship,

  • the appointment is viewed as preparatory for a full-time academic and/or research career,

  • the appointee works under the supervision of a faculty member, and the appointee has the freedom and is expected to publish the results of his/her research or scholarship during the period of the appointment.

  • Postdoctoral appointments are governed by Rice University Policy #438-98.

Letter of appointment 

After the hiring procedures described in Rice policy #438-98 have been satisfied, a firm offer of appointment may be made.

That offer should be made in writing prior to the commencement of duties, and should be signed by the individual within each School who is currently authorized to make such an offer.

The letter should include:

  • the duties and responsibilities of the trainee,

  • the period of the appointment (with starting and ending dates),

  • the stipend level and the period of time for which funding is guaranteed,

  • a statement that support beyond this period is contingent upon the availability of research project funds, and

  • any special requirement that must be met before the appointment can be made (e.g. requirement of health insurance and visa status).

If there is an expectation by the mentor that the trainee will be responsible for attaining his/her own funding at some later date, that expectation should be clearly spelled out in the offer letter.

An attachment prepared by the Human Resources Office describing health plan eligibility and other benefits should accompany the offer letter.

In addition, the offer letter should include text states that the postdoc agrees to abide by all applicable University policies.

Proof of Doctoral Degree

A postdoctoral appointment requires that the researcher have an advanced degree, PhD, MD or the equivalent. In order to be eligible for a postdoctoral appointment at Rice, international researchers must hold an advanced degree that is equivalent to those provided by US institutions. It is the responsibility of the postdoc to provide transcripts that certify that s(he) has received her/his degree, and it is the responsibility of the mentor to make sure that the documentation is satisfactory. That document must be included in the trainee's file that is forwarded for action to the Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Dean's Office, care of Kate Cross (MS-13).  No appointment will be made in the absence of such documentation.

If the trainee has completed all requirements toward the advanced degree, but has not received his/her degree, he/she must provide the documents certifying that the thesis has been approved in its final form, including all necessary signatures, and indicate the date that the degree will be conferred. Only appointees receiving their degrees from domestic institutions are eligible for this exception.

In no case will a postdoctoral appointment be made unless the trainee's thesis has been formally approved by the degree granting institution. This same rule applies to trainees receiving a Ph.D. from Rice University.

There may be an occasion in which a future postdoctoral appointee is appointed to another position at Rice prior to receiving the Ph.D. or equivalent degree. Such an appointment should follow normal procedures for filling the position.

Renewal, extension, termination of appointment 

Decisions and agreements between the mentor and the postdoc leading to the renewal or extension of a postdoc appointment beyond the term defined in the initial offer letter should be made in a timely manner well in advance of the date of re-appointment. In the absence of that agreement, postdocs should assume that their appointment will terminate on the termination date described in their appointment letter.

The decision by a postdoc to terminate his/her appointment before his/her appointment expires should be communicated to the mentor as soon as possible. In deciding on a date of resignation, the postdoc and the mentor should decide on a date that is least disruptive to the mentor's program in the area of the postdoc's research.

Violation of the conditions of appointment may lead to termination of appointment prior to the date of termination agreed to at the time of appointment.

Limits on term of appointment 

As described in Rice University policy #438-98, postdoctoral appointments at Rice University are limited to 5 years.

Stipend level 

Postdoctoral trainees should be provided a stipend level that reflects both their prior postdoctoral experience and what is customary for the field. The University will enforce a minimum stipend level. Currently (since July 1, 2013) the minimum salary for all Rice postdocs is $39,264.  As of November 1, 2016, this minimum was increased to $48,000.  Academic Schools and granting agencies may set a higher minimum. An exception to this guideline shall be in the case in which the sponsoring agency limits the salary to a level that is below the Rice minimum or where an active grant has an approved budget that includes a postdoc salary of less than the minimum. Exceptions must be approved by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.  Where funds are available, postdoctoral appointees should be eligible for annual stipend increase, awarded at the discretion of the mentor and subject to any restrictions imposed by a sponsor's agreement with the University. Increases should be based on merit and cost of living.

Orientation materials 

Orientation materials will be provided by the Human Resources Office during a new employee orientation session. These will include materials that introduce the postdoc to the campus.  Please contact Human Resources to schedule a new employee orientation session.  

Before an appointment is activated, the prospective postdoc must sign an agreement to abide by all University policies including policies on conflict of interest, consulting, and patents, software and copyright.

Benefits 

General

Eligibility for benefits under Rice University plans is governed by Policy 403-96, Benefits Eligibility. If the postdoc trainee is an employee of the university (fringe rate collected on the salary and the individual is being paid through the university), he or she would be considered benefits eligible if they meet the criteria in the policy.

If the postdoc trainee is being paid from a grant that prohibits the individual from being considered an employee (as determined by Sponsored Research or other entity), from a grant that does not permit collection of a fringe rate from the funding source, or if the postdoc trainee is being paid a stipend outside the University, he or she would not be considered an employee of the university and would not be benefits eligible.

Health Coverage   

If benefits eligible, the postdoc is eligible for enrollment in any University medical plan, so long as he or she completes that enrollment in the required 31 days of beginning employment.

If not benefits eligible, the postdoc may apply for coverage under the MethodistCare HMO at University rates. This benefit should be paid in a manner that reflects the source of the funding that supports the appointment. Rice has in place several mechanisms by which premium can be paid, and these are summarized in the document, Policy on Provision of Health Care Insurance to Postdoctoral Fellows, issued by the Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies in December 1996. In those cases in which the insurance carrier accepts dependent coverage, the full costs are to be covered by the Fellow.

Retirement benefits

Postdocs who are paid through the University and are "benefits eligible" can vest in the University retirement program after one year of service. However, the language of some postdoctoral grants prohibits an employment status within the University that would allow the postdoc to be eligible for employee benefits.

Vacation and sick leave   

In those cases in which a postdoc is treated as benefits eligible employee, employee benefits apply, and vacation and sick leave benefits are identical to those applicable to staff appointments, with the exception that a postdoc must use all benefit time prior to the end date of the postdoc's appointment. When a postdoc's appointment extends beyond one year, the postdoc may carry forward a maximum of one year's accumulated benefit time at the anniversary date.

Obligations of the postdoctoral fellow    

Appointment as a postdoc carries with it an obligation to the mentor, the laboratory in which she/he is working, the Department with which she/he is associated, the University, and the agency that supports her/him. These obligations include:

  • the conscientious discharge of research responsibilities,

  • conformance to ethical standards in research,

  • compliance with good laboratory practice,

  • maintenance of laboratory notebook(s) and/or other records of research activity,

  • adherence to University standards regarding use of isotopes, chemicals, infectious agents, animals, human subjects, and the like,

  • open and timely discussion with the mentor regarding all facets of the postdoc's research activities,

  • prompt disclosure to the mentor regarding the possession and desire to distribute materials, reagents, software, copyrightable and potentially-patentable discoveries derived from the postdoc's research,

  • collegial conduct towards members of the research laboratory and others, and

  • compliance with all applicable University policies and applicable terms of any sponsored agreement which provides support for the postdoc.

Research data, records, products and intellectual property  

The postdoc should be aware that all data, software, and research records, and the like generated in course of research at Rice remain the property of the University, and their disposition must be carried out in accordance with University policy. As a condition of appointment, all postdocs must sign a participation agreement concerning patent and software policy and ownership of intellectual property.

Mentor's responsibility  

Accepting a postdoctoral appointee into a mentor's laboratory carries with it obligations to the appointee. These include:

  • provision and maintenance of a research environment that is conducive to postdoc's research and scholarly training,
  • mentoring in all areas of professional development, such as grant writing, development of written and oral communicative skills, manuscript preparation and teaching skills, where applicable, and
  • career counseling and assistance in job placement, including timely submission of letters of reference.

Mentors should provide annual feedback, preferably in writing, to the postdoc on his/her performance.

As the Mentor plays a supervisory role to the postdoc, it is the mentor's responsibility to monitor benefit time. The mentor should work with the postdoc to ensure that all benefit time is used prior to the end date of his/her appointment. If the postdoc is supported by a research grant, the mentor should make every effort to ensure that the benefit time is used during a period in which the grant that will be charged for the benefit time has benefited from time worked by the postdoc.

Application for Grants    

A postdoc may not serve as the principal investigator for a federally-funded grant, but may, upon approval of the faculty mentor, the department chair, the dean's office and the vice provost for research serve as a Co-principal investigator. However, in approving Co-Pi status, it is the responsibility of the Chair and the Dean to ensure that the Postdoc is cognizant of all obligations and responsibilities that is encumbered by Co-Pi status. There must be clear evidence that the postdoc has the experience and expertise to function as Co-Pi with incumbent responsibilities to direct the proposed research program, direct the budgeted personnel, manage the budget, and ensure that the research is carried in compliance with all applicable University rules and regulations as well as those of the sponsoring agency. Normally, individuals who qualify for Co-Pi status would be postdocs who are well advanced in their postdoctoral training.

Grievances    

Options are available to postdoc appointees to resolve problems between the postdoc and mentor that may arise in the course of the appointment. A few examples of potential problems are disputes that might arise over salary, authorship, intellectual property, vacation time, etc.

In such cases, the appointee should follow Rice's Problem Policy (#429-96). This will often involve trying to work with the mentor or seeking the counseling and advice of the department chair or the Dean's Office. Where the conflict cannot be resolved at this level or in a case in which the postdoctoral appointee feels uncomfortable to pursue the issue at those levels, he or she may contact the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies or Human Resources for further assistance.

Feedback about your postdoc experience at Rice 

To assist the university in ensuring that postdoctoral experiences at Rice are positive and serve the best interests of postdocs and mentors alike, postdocs are encouraged to describe their experience at Rice University via a conversation with and/or letter to Dr. Seiichi Matsuda, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, 323 Allen Center. This information will be held in strict confidence.

Oversight 

The Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has the responsibility for both monitoring and applying policies that relate to postdoctoral appointments across the institution.

University commitment  

In promulgating these guidelines, Rice University, its Departments and Schools commit to providing an environment that fosters the development of a postdoc as scientist/engineer/researcher and as a responsible colleague.