Postdoctoral Appointments


Definitions

Postdoctoral Scholar

At Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) a postdoctoral scholar is an individual who comes to VCU for the purpose of entering an advanced research training period following receipt of the Ph.D. or appropriate first professional degree (e.g. M.D.) This training period is conducted under the mentorship and supervision of an established member of the VCU faculty who is at the Assistant Professor level or above. Research training should be the primary objective, but the specific program may include activity in one or a combination of research, teaching and service activities directed to enhancing the career development of the individual. While the specific nature of each individual program may vary, each must incorporate appropriate opportunities to foster research skills and the career development of the individual. Postdoctoral scholars are appointed at VCU for fixed terms (typically of one year's duration each), that generally do not total more than 3-5 years.

The recommendations detailed within this document may require additional or complementary specification for individuals training in the health science and related professions. For this category of individuals, professional practice program requirements must not erode the research training commitment which remains the primary objective of the appointment. In the context of this document, the term "postdoctoral" does not refer to training periods in which the primary objective is the achievement of certification for added professional qualifications. Individuals pursuing clinical fellowships and residencies in the health sciences similarly are excluded from appointment to these titles, as are those who come to VCU for limited term appointments as “visiting scholars.”

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Proof of Doctoral Degree

Individuals are to submit documentation to the department/unit hiring official that the Ph.D. or first professional degree has been awarded or that all degree requirements have been fulfilled prior to appointment. Candidates from institutions outside the U.S. must hold advanced degrees which are equivalent to those awarded by U.S. institutions to qualify for appointment. An original transcript or diploma documenting the awarding of the degree must be available for review at the time of appointment. Graduates of U.S. institutions who have completed all degree requirements but have not been formally awarded the degree may be hired as a postdoctoral scholar provided written verification that all degree requirements have been completed from the appropriate institutional office of the degree‐awarding institution is submitted. Once the transcript or diploma documenting the formal awarding of the degree is available, a copy must be made available to the department/unit hiring official, and other university offices that may require proof of receipt of the degree (e.g., the Global Education Office).

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Terms of Appointment

Postdoctoral scholars normally are appointed on a full‐time basis. Requests for time limited reductions in effort and pay due to temporary family or other conditions must be reviewed and approved by the department chair and/or dean. Any reductions in effort may also require a signed waiver of certain benefits and privileges. Changes in the terms of appointment and/or benefits must be made in writing to the postdoctoral scholar with a copy submitted to the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and to the Global Education Office for international postdoctoral scholars.

The potential duration of an appointment will be noted in the initial letter of appointment. Appointments generally are made on an annual basis with the potential for renewal, if appropriate, based on satisfactory progress, performance, programmatic need, and availability of funding. Postdoctoral appointments should not exceed a total of five years for all combined years of institutional training. In cases of combined training, only the years of active research at the postdoctoral level will be counted for salary and other purposes. Postdoctoral scholars are typically appointed at VCU for a total of no more than three to five years. Exceptions to extend the appointment beyond 5 years may be made in one year increments with permission of the Department/School. Examples of reasons for exceptions might include postdoctoral scholars who begin a second postdoctoral appointment in a new field; postdoctoral scholars who are on a training grant that extends beyond the five‐year period and the agency sponsor allows a longer postdoctoral training appointment period; or those who request an extension due to a leave of absence. Notification of extensions must be provided to the Office of Postdoctoral Services.

Note: International postdoctoral scholars may have visa restrictions that limit the length of their time in the United States. All proposed extensions of appointments for international postdoctoral scholars require prior consultation with the Office of International Education and approval by the appropriate institutional office and/or federal agency during its term, an appointment is contingent upon satisfactory performance and the availability of funding. At the end of the term and subject to any limits, the appointment may be eligible for renewal, based on satisfactory progress, performance, the existence of funding, and programmatic need.

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General Information Regarding Appointment Processing

Individuals interested in applying for postdoctoral study at VCU should make their inquiries directly to the faculty mentor or academic department or school in which they are seeking appointment. The title of a Postdoctoral Scholar appointment is determined by the source of funding for the appointment:

Postdoctoral Scholar – Fellow
An appointment is made to the title “Postdoctoral Scholar – Fellow” when (1) the agency funding the salary requires or permits the appointee to be classified as an employee of the University, or (2) whenever General Funds, or other University funds are used to support the position. Fellows are typically employed to work and train with faculty on the faculty member’s research project.

Postdoctoral Scholar –Trainee 
An appointment is made to the title “Postdoctoral Scholar –Trainee” when the Postdoctoral Scholar has been awarded a fellowship or traineeship for postdoctoral study by an extramural agency and the fellowship or traineeship is paid through a University account, but not through the university Human Resources payroll system. Trainees receive a stipend to pursue an individually defined training program.

Postdoctoral Scholar – Affiliate
An appointment is made to the title “Postdoctoral Scholar – Affiliate” when the postdoctoral scholar has been awarded a fellowship or traineeship for postdoctoral study by an extramural/external agency/organization and the extramural/external agency/organization pays the fellowship or traineeship directly to the postdoctoral scholar, rather than through the University. Such appointments shall have a “without salary”

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Conditions of Appointment

As a condition of their appointment at VCU, all postdoctoral scholars are subject to all applicable policies and procedures of the University. Significant policies and procedures include, but are not limited to, conflict of interests, intellectual property and code of ethics. It is the responsibility of the Scholar to be aware of these policies and procedures as well as all others which may apply to them. Also, in the course of their employment Scholars may have access to confidential information regarding employees, students, patients, the public, or to proprietary or other confidential information belonging to or in the possession of VCU. This information is to remain confidential, and may be disclosed only in strict accordance with federal or state law and/or University Regulations and policy.

The offer of appointment is also conditional upon job related background checks and the Scholar’s consent to a criminal history records check. Criminal conviction investigations also will be conducted in connection with certain transfers and promotions as described within the Criminal Conviction Investigation policy. As required by state law, the offer is conditional upon U.S. citizens verifying that they have registered for the Selective Service or providing documentation from the Selective Service System that their requirement to register has been "terminated or become inapplicable." VCU is required by state law to ask each new employee (i.e., Scholar‐Fellow) if he/she has an income withholding order for child support payments. An affirmative response will not adversely affect the Scholar’s employment with Virginia Commonwealth University. A U.S. Department of Justice I‐9 Employment Eligibility Verification also must be completed on or before the date employment begins.

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Letter of Appointment

The faculty mentor and/or department chair are responsible for sending an offer letter to the scholar. The letter offering appointment as a postdoctoral scholar must be communicated to the candidate prior to the commencement of duties by the scholar after consultation with the administrative office of the unit in which the appointment will be effected. The letter must set forth the basic terms of the appointment including the intended overall period of appointment (including the provision of the annual required renewal of the appointment), the compensation level, health insurance benefits, leave time, other included benefits, the requirement that responsible conduct of research training must be completed within 12 months of the appointment, and a statement that the appointment is subject to University and Office of Research and Innovation policies. The letter must include a statement that all benefits associated with the postdoctoral appointment terminate when the appointment ends. The letter must indicate whether funding for the period of the intended appointment is secure; if not, the duration of secure funding must be noted. If the appointment is dependent on extramural funding, this must be communicated in the letter of appointment. The end date for the current award must be indicated even if a renewal of the award is anticipated. If an appointment is renewed or extended, a letter documenting the renewal of the appointment containing the information as described above must be provided to the individual. The letter must also include a general description of the project and/or activities on which the postdoctoral scholar initially is to be involved, and should note that an annual review of the progress of the postdoctoral scholar will be undertaken. Appointment and renewal letters must include a signature line for the candidate to confirm acceptance of the terms of the offer of appointment. The candidate must return a countersigned copy of the letter to the unit in which the appointment is effected. Sample appointment letters (trainee and fellow) can be accessed here.

Note: The Global Education Office must be notified if the appointment dates or regular duties change for international postdoctoral scholars.

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Appointment Processing of Postdoctoral Scholars

Departments/schools must forward all postdoctoral appointment papers to the Office of Postdoctoral Services in advance of, or concurrent with, the proposed start date for the appointment. Appointment papers include:

  • Applicant’s CV or resume
  • A copy of the appointment letter signed by the applicant accepting the position
  • PAF or a copy of the purchase order and a Post Doctoral Payment Schedule as appropriate for the Scholar‐Fellow and Scholar‐Trainee.

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Appointment Processing of International Postdoctoral Scholars

When appointing an international postdoctoral scholar, the department/school must follow procedures defined by the Immigration Services office of the Global Education Office. This office is the University office authorized to issue documents which permit the individual to apply for an appropriate visa. Procedures are described in the Immigration Services Office website. If the source of funding or terms of appointment change, the sponsoring department/school/mentor must immediately inform VCU Immigration Services.

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Appointment Processing of Postdoctoral Scholar - Fellow

Upon receipt and review by the Office of Postdoctoral Services, the appropriate employment paperwork (including PAF) will be forwarded to Human Resources for the postdoctoral scholar - fellow to be paid as an employee of the university.

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Appointment Processing of Postdoctoral Scholar – Trainee

Upon receipt and review by the Office of Postdoctoral Services, a copy of the purchase order and a Post-Doctoral Payment Schedule will be sent to Accounts Payable for a postdoctoral scholar/trainee.

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Appointment Processing of Postdoctoral Scholar – Affiliate

Departments/schools should forward CV/resume and letter of appointment to the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and enter the appropriate data on the postdoctoral scholar‐affiliate into the University’s Affiliate database in Banner...

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Compensation Level

Starting salaries/stipends for all postdoctoral scholars, regardless of their source of funding, are expected to meet the minimum standards set annually by the Office of Postdoctoral Services. Click here for VCU salary information. A department/school may establish a higher minimum salary/stipend level for postdoctoral scholars paid within that school. Each department/school should establish compensation levels based on experience and the usual standards for payment of postdoctoral scholars/trainees in the relevant discipline.

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Postdoctoral Scholar Notice of Resignation

When a postdoctoral scholar chooses to resign from the position prior to the end of an appointment period, a minimum of one month’s notice is expected. The postdoctoral scholar has an obligation to ensure that all materials and records related to research are left in a state to allow continuation of the project. No original materials or records of the project may be removed by the postdoctoral scholar. It is the responsibility of the faculty mentor to discuss this institutional policy with the scholar. Notice of the resignation of a postdoctoral scholar must be forwarded to the department/school and the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and, if an international scholar, to the Global Education Office.

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Termination of the Appointment:

Mentors may terminate appointees during an appointment period if specific and compelling factors warrant termination. Postdoctoral scholars should generally be given a 30 day notice of termination. Termination of an appointment must be communicated in writing to the postdoctoral scholar with a copy forwarded to the department/school and the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and, if an international scholar, to the Global Education Office. To appeal this decision, the scholar should follow department/school grievance procedures. If there are no procedures, she/he should contact the Office of Postdoctoral Services.

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Evaluation of Postdoctoral Scholars:

The faculty mentor of a postdoctoral scholar must complete an annual written evaluation of the scholar’s performance. The evaluation process should be based on expectations that have been established for the postdoctoral scholar and on his/her progress toward overall career goals. These expectations should be developed in writing with the postdoctoral scholar at the beginning of the appointment period, with opportunity for review and revision as the appointment progresses. The evaluation process should include the opportunity for the scholar to respond in writing to the evaluation. Examples of potential evaluation forms can be found here. A copy of the evaluation form should be maintained in the departmental/school personnel file of the postdoctoral scholar. The Office of Postdoctoral Services will conduct an exit interview/survey with postdoctoral scholars. The objectives of the interview include obtaining input about their experiences at VCU, solicitation of suggestions for improving the working environment of postdoctoral scholars at the university and documenting the position in which the individual will be employed on leaving the postdoctoral appointment.

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