For Comment

From the University Council Committee on Research

Report of the Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Policies for Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Associates

Introduction

The ad hoc subcommittee has had six meetings from March 3 to May 5, 1995, at which extensive discussions were conducted about the needs of Postdoctoral Fellows and Research Associates. The ad hoc subcommittee has collected concerns and issues from numerous postdoctoral fellows and faculty members, including seven postdoctoral fellows/research associates who served on the subcommittee. Clearly, many of the concerns and issues have arisen due to the prolongation of the period of postdoctoral status, often to more than five years of service (postdoctoral/research associate) without the entitlements of a 'real academic job'.

List of members of the Subcommittee is appended.

Based on our discussions, we concluded that there is an urgent need for a University-wide policy which sets down some basic guidelines regarding all postdoctoral fellows/research associates. We recognized that there are divergent views among the faculty and fellows regarding specific guidelines, and we therefore have divided our proposed recommendations into three categories: [a] mandated guidelines; [b] recommendations which are not mandated; and [c] options to consider.

Mandated Guidelines

Letter of appointment
When a faculty member makes a firm offer of appointment to a postdoctoral fellow, a letter should be written to the candidate prior to commencement of duties. This letter should set forth at least the basic terms of appointment and should include guaranteed period of employment (dates of appointment), the stipend level, and all included benefits. If the appointment is renewed or extended, it should be documented by letter, following the foregoing guidelines. The candidate should be required to return a countersigned copy of this letter indicating acceptance of the terms set forth. The letter (countersigned copy) should be placed in a permanent file kept in the office of the appropriate Department. (If the faculty member is not affiliated with a specific department, the file may be kept in the office of the Institute or Center with which the faculty member is associated.)

Proof of doctoral degree
All postdoctoral candidates are responsible for providing evidence that they have obtained a doctoral degree which qualifies them for appointment as a postdoctoral fellow. It is the responsibility of the faculty member making the appointment to obtain this documentation and file it in the fellow's permanent file in the Department, as an attachment to the letter of appointment. If the candidate has not yet obtained a degree, she/he 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 be sure that evidence of the degree is obtained and entered into the file shortly after the expected date of graduation.

Stipend level
Minimum stipend levels for postdoctoral fellows are:
$19,608--from 0 to less than 12 months of prior postdoctoral experience
$20,700--from 12 to less than 24 months of prior postdoctoral experience
These are the NIH recommended postdoctoral stipend levels in effect July, 1995. The recommended levels may be increased from time to time by NIH.

Stipends for non-resident aliens are subject to legal requirements--the Office of International Programs can provide details about the legal requirements for compensation of non-resident aliens.

If these minimal levels of compensation cannot be offered, a proportional (%) appointment should be made to clearly indicate that the appointee is entitled to seek and perform additional University services (teaching, diagnostic laboratory, technical) up to the recommended annual level of compensation.

Terms of appointment
Presently, according to current University policy, no doctoral postgraduate can serve at The University of Pennsylvania for more than five years at the status of postdoctoral fellow (no direct E.B.) and three years at the status of Research Associate (E.B. presently 32.7%). These terms are already mandated; eight years total at The University of Pennsylvania as a doctoral postgraduate. The ad hoc subcommittee recommends that postdoctoral students be considered for appointment as a research associate beginning at the fourth year of service, with the improvement in benefits commensurate with change in status.

The ad hoc subcommittee notes that both postdoctoral fellows and research associates are liable for Federal and City of Philadelphia incomes taxes. Postdoctoral fellows are excused from Commonwealth taxes and FICA/Medicare payments. A move to research associate status means that an E.B. of 32.7% will be charged against the funding source and the candidate will be obliged to pay Commonwealth taxes and FICA/Medicare payments (7.6%).

Benefits
Postdoctoral fellows must receive appropriate health insurance, as provided under a basic University health plan, such as PennCare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Greater Atlantic or such HMO coverage. This benefit should be paid by the institution and no premium should be deducted from the stipend of the postdoctoral fellow. If the fellow elects family coverage, the difference between the single and family premium may be deducted from the fellow's stipend.

At a minimum, an eight week maternity/disability leave should be implemented, with any other details to be worked out between the postdoctoral fellow and his/her advisor and the fellow's stipend should be continued for this period. Costs related to injuries suffered by postdoctoral fellows in the course of their research should be covered by the University. The most difficult problem/emergency facing postdoctoral fellows is the cost of research (job)-related injury or disease. Emergency medical treatment is not routinely provided by Occupational Health Services (OHS) at HUP or at Student Health. Medical insurance often will not cover work related injuries or diseases. The University should cover these expenses.

Orientation
A standard compendium of information should be given to each postdoctoral fellow upon arrival at the University. This compendium should include a registration form to be completed by the postdoctoral fellow, a copy of these guidelines, the Faculty Handbook, the telephone directory, parking policies, a clear statement about employee benefits, the City, Commonwealth, and Federal taxation policies, sources of information within the University, explanation of the mediation services available (see below), and such information. Preferably, periodic orientation sessions could be provided for all new postdoctoral fellows.
The departments should arrange e-mail accounts for their postdoctoral fellows and for orientation necessary to use the e-mail account.

Mediation services
It is recognized that from time to time disagreements may arise between postdoctoral fellow and mentor. Postdoctoral fellows should be clearly informed about the options which they can exercise under such circumstances. In particular, they should be made aware of services available through the office of the Ombudsman in the University and the School of Medicine (separate office)

Application for grants
Each school should set a policy about the rights of postdoctoral fellows/research associates to apply for grants as Principal Investigator. If the school policy permits such applications, it is suggested that there be a requirement for approval by a knowledgeable tenured faculty member as well as the usual approval by department chair and dean on the transmittal form.

Recommended Guidelines

Terms of appointment
If a postdoctoral fellow is to be retained beyond three years, she/he should be considered for appointment as research associate at the beginning of the fourth year of service with the improvement in benefits commensurate with the change in status.

Placement service
Postdoctoral fellows need help in locating positions upon completion of their fellowships. In addition to the help which a mentor normally provides, there should be a placement service to provide lists of job opportunities, advice, and related services.

Options to Consider

Sick days, personal leave days, vacation leave
A policy dealing with sick days, personal leave days, and vacation leave for postdoctoral fellows should probably be stipulated, perhaps along the lines used for other professional employees.

Dental benefits
Dental benefits are separate from other health insurance and are not currently available to postdoctoral fellows. This gap should be corrected if possible. This question should be referred to the Office of Human Resources, Benefits Division, for consideration and recommendation.

Worker's compensation
The ad hoc subcommittee did not consider the question of worker's compensation or short or long term disability in detail. However, the ad hoc subcommittee recommends that postdoctoral fellows should be eligible for the same compensation as any other employees of the University in the case of work-related injury or disease. This matter should be reviewed by both the Office of Human Resources, Benefits Division, and the Office of the General Counsel.

Office for postdoctoral fellows
To implement some of our suggestions it would be very useful to have an office or offices which are responsible for the oversight and support of postdoctoral fellows. The committee recognized that, in the absence of such an office, postdoctoral fellows are truly an 'orphan' group in this as well as most other Universities. Such an office could be responsible for several services, such as orientation, mediation of disputes, and placement services.

One question which arises is whether the establishment of such an office for the oversight of postdoctoral fellows is the responsibility of the individual school or of the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and/or the Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education. The ad hoc subcommittee recommends that this question should be referred not only to the deans of the respective schools but also to the provost for consideration.

Retirement contributions
After due consideration, it was decided that it would not be appropriate to include retirement contributions as part of the package of benefits offered to postdoctoral fellows. Currently, the first point at which retirement benefits could be offered is at the level of research associate. However, this particular benefit is presently not available at that level, because a significant proportion of research associates have not opted to take advantage of it in the past. If any change is indicated, it is to 'correct' this problem for research associates in the light of present realities.

Parking
There should be a University-wide policy for provision of evening and weekend parking for postdoctoral fellows. Some divisions of the University already provide this safety measure.

Tuition benefits
The Personnel Benefits Committee and the Office of Sponsored Research should consider whether tuition benefits should be made available to postdoctoral fellows and if tuition benefits are made available what are the terms of those benefits and how should the benefits be funded.

Finally, the ad hoc subcommittee appreciates that a contribution of E.B. by the University incurs a tax liability (FICA/Medicare and State taxes, about 10% total) to the recipient. The ad hoc subcommittee has discussed this problem at length and had only two general suggestions; [a] that some intermediate level of E.B. (i.e., between 0 and 32.7%) be established for postdoctoral fellows beyond two years of service to provide for increased benefits; and [b] that research associates receive the same array and level of benefits that all others at the University (who pay 32.75 E.B.) receive.

The ad hoc subcommittee appreciates that implementation of many of these improvements may increase the overall cost of a postdoctoral fellow/research associate and thus diminish the number of non-tenured positions available at the University.

Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Postdoctoral Fellows

  Dr. John J. Cebra, chair       Ms. Fina Maniaci
  Dr. Barry S. Cooperman         Mr. Anthony Merritt
  Dr. Harshan Fu                 Dr. Marlena Moors
  Dr. Joshua R. Klein            Dr. Neal Nathanson
  Dr. Roger E. Latham            Dr. Nicholas Pugliano
  Ms. Karen Lawrence             Ms. Wilma Rubillo
  Dr. Carol Lutz                 Dr. Renee Samara
  Dr. Janice F. Madden           Mr. Duncan W. Van Dusen

Comments may be sent by e-mail to vandusen@pobox.upenn.edu; by campus mail to the Office of the Secretary,133 S. 36th St./3246; or by fax to Mr. Van Dusen at 898-0103.


Almanac

Tuesday, July 18, 1995
Volume 42 Number 1


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