During the meeting of the Association of Graduate Schools summarized on pages 5-7 of this issue, Dr. Sample, President of the University of Southern California, discussed his recent survey of the 25 member institutions of the Association of American Universities. His summary of the responses from 18 institutions appears below.

AAU Ad Hoc Committee on Postdoctoral Education Survey

A Summary of Results by Steven Sample

Quantitative Description of Institution's Postdoctoral Activity

  1. How many postdoctoral fellows are currently working at your institution? How are they distributed by discipline?

    The average number of postdoctoral fellows at the institutions surveyed is 661 (1,814 high, 208 low). Of the identified postdoctoral fellows, the most are categorized as medical fellows, followed by biological sciences fellows, physical sciences and mathematics fellows, engineering fellows, social and behavioral sciences fellows, and arts and humanities fellows.

  2. What are the trends over time in number of postdocs by discipline? What are the trends in length of stay?

    Overall, the number of postdoctoral fellows has increased or remained stable over the last 5-10 years (10 respondents). A majority of institutions did not submit a breakdown of the number of postdoctoral fellows by discipline. Two institutions indicated that as the number of grants increased, so did the number of postdoctoral fellows.

    The average length of stay for postdoctoral fellows at the 8 schools which responded is approximately 3 years.

  3. How many of your institution's postdoctoral fellows are supported with institutional funds and how many by external funds?

    Every institution surveyed indicated that a majority of their postdoctoral fellows received all or most of their funding from external sources. The most commonly cited external source was the federal government. Ten of the 16 institutions that provided data indicated that a small number of postdoctoral fellows received institutional funding exclusively or in addition to external funding.

  4. What portion of your institution's postdoctoral fellows are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and what portion are foreign nationals?

    Of the 9,561 postdoctoral fellows identified by nationality, U.S. citizens and permanent residents accounted for 52% (4,995), and foreign nationals made up 48% (4,566).

    Four institutions did not distinguish between U.S. citizens and permanent residents and consequently, 1,291 postdoctoral fellows were jointly classified as U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Of the remaining 3,704 postdocs in this dual classification that were separately identified, U.S. citizens numbered 3,489, permanent residents 215.

    General Administrative Structure

  5. Describe the administrative structure governing postdoctoral fellows at your institution: What policies governing postdoctoral fellows apply institution-wide? What policies are set by schools or departments?

    Most institutions reported some general institutional policies governing postdocs--e.g., purpose of postdoctoral appointments, compensation ranges or minimums, and other general personnel policies-- with specific policies such as compensation schedules established by schools or departments. At one institution, the graduate division and the major colleges establish most postdoc policies; at another institution, all policies are established by schools or departments. Two institutions have no specific policies governing postdocs at either the institutional or departmental levels.

    Recruitment, Selection, and Appointment Policies

  6. How are potential postdoctoral fellows identified? How can they identify available positions at your institution, e.g., are institutional listings of postdoctoral positions available?

    All institutions surveyed indicate that professional contacts is the primary method by which postdocs are identified and by which prospective postdocs learn of available positions. Twelve institutions indicate advertising in some fashion, and 3 reported on the role of unsolicited applications. Only 3 institutions responded that they compile listings of postdoctoral fellowships--all at the departmental level.

  7. Does your institution have specific policies governing who is eligible to be a postdoctoral fellow (e.g., recent Ph.D.s [or equivalent doctorates] only, or any Ph.D.s)? Does your institution have a position on offering postdocs to its own Ph.D.s?

    Sixteen institutions indicated that they have policies governing who is eligible to be a postdoctoral fellow. The typical policy stipulates that a doctorate, M.D., or advanced degree is required (15 institutions indicated this). Six institutions stated that the required degree must have been earned within a recent time period, most typically within 5 years.

    No institution indicated an institution-wide policy prohibiting offering postdocs to its own Ph.D.s. Most institutions reported having no position; a few reported that this practice was discouraged, and in some cases departments prohibit the practice.

  8. Does your institution regulate the number of postdoctoral fellows assigned to one faculty member or defined space? Is there any central (institutional, departmental) control over postdoctoral admissions or are the numbers determined by faculty members' discretion and finances?

    No institution reported central control over postdoctoral admissions; in all cases, number of postdocs is controlled by some combination of available funding, space, and faculty discretion.

  9. Does your institution place a limit on the length of time a person can hold a postdoctoral fellowship, on the number of sequential postdoctoral appointments that a person can hold, or both? How does your institution differentiate between postdoctoral fellows and non-tenure- track research staff who occupy open-ended or permanent career positions?

    Ten institutions reported having no time limit placed on the length of postdoctoral appointments; one of these institutions reported that a 5-year limit is under consideration. Of the remaining 8 institutions that reported time limits, 4 reported 5-year limits, and 4 reported 3- year limits (one of these, in a burst of candor, reporting the limit routinely ignored by departments). Some institutions indicated that postdocs may sometimes move from one category to another to extend their time, and one institution indicated the possibility of extension based on undertaking work in a new field.

    Most institutions (13 of 16 responding) indicated that they differentiate postdocs from other research staff by employment category.

  10. Does your institution have funds set aside for postdoctoral fellowships? If so, how are these allocated by discipline?

    Thirteen institutions indicated no institutional funds are set aside for postdoctoral fellowships; of these, 7 institutions indicated that specific endowment funds or funds of some schools may be used for postdocs. Of the 5 institutions that report central funds used for post- docs, 4 indicated that they are used to support minorities and women.

  11. Does your institution exert any control over the proportion of foreign and domestic postdoctoral fellows? Are there any differences in policies governing foreign and domestic postdoctoral fellows? What visa status is used for foreign postdocs--student, exchange visitor, temporary employee, all of these?

    All institutions reported that they exert no control over the proportions of foreign and domestic postdocs and that the same policies govern both groups. Most institutions reported using J or H visas for foreign postdocs; 4 reported using F-student visas as well.

  12. Does your institution have special postdoctoral programs to recruit women or minorities as members of groups underrepresented in postdoctoral programs?

    Eleven institutions reported some institution-wide efforts to recruit underrepresented minorities or minorities and women as postdocs. Four of these have institutional funds for this purpose (question 10 above), and four indicated such recruitment efforts are part of postdoctoral search processes.

    Policies Governing Terms of Appointment and Financial Support

  13. How are postdoctoral fellows classified for employee support and benefits issues: do they have academic, nonacademic employee, student, or other status and benefits? Are they granted leaves of absence under specified conditions? Do postdoctoral fellows supported with institutional funds have a different status from postdoctoral fellows supported with external funds?

    Most postdoctoral fellows are classified as academic employees with the designation of research associate. Approximately one third of the institutions surveyed indicated that they have two or more levels of classifying postdoctoral fellows and in those cases the typical categories are students or academic employees.

    Nearly 100% of postdoctoral fellows at all the institutions surveyed, except those postdoctoral fellows who are classified as students, receive benefits. About 75% of institutions grant leaves of absence to their postdoctoral fellows.

    External and institutional funding sources have no impact on the status of postdoctoral fellows at all institutions.

    [Note: This question appears to have been misinterpreted: generally, postdocs funded from grants are treated as employees and receive benefits, while postdocs funded with external fellowships like NIH postdocs are not classified as employees and do not receive benefits. Both groups are considered postdocs, however, and this appears to be the "status" question being responded to.]

  14. Is postdoctoral remuneration a stipend or compensation? Does the institution have any floors or ceilings on postdoctoral remuneration?

    Seven of the 17 institutions which provided data indicated that postdoctoral remuneration can be either a stipend or compensation, depending on the status of the postdoctoral fellow. Five institutions report that postdoc remuneration is a stipend, and 5 report that it is compensation.

    A majority of institutions, 12 out of 17, indicated that some form of a floor and ceiling policy applicable to postdoctoral remuneration exists. These policies may be institutional, government agency related (NIH), or departmental.

  15. Are support levels for domestic and foreign postdoctoral fellows required to be the same, are they de facto the same, or do they differ?

    In most cases, 10 of 18, support levels for domestic and foreign postdoctoral fellows are required to be the same (two institutions mentioned H1 visa requirements may affect support level differences). Four institutions indicated that support levels are de facto the same. Seven institutions indicated that they have no policy regarding support levels for postdoctoral fellows.

  16. Does your institution have policies or guidelines concerning the degree of independence accorded postdoctoral fellows in their research-- for example, are postdoctoral fellows allowed to serve as principal investigators on research grants?

    Of the 10 institutions which responded, only 1 reported such a formal policy on postdoctoral independence in research. However, 8 institutions indicated that postdoctoral fellows cannot serve as principal investigators. Three institutions indicated that postdoctoral fellows may serve as a principal investigator, and 3 more indicated that they may do so under certain circumstances.

  17. Do postdoctoral fellows have to comply with institutional conflict- of-interest rules? Do they report on their "business" interests? Does your institution have rules or guidelines governing outside consulting and teaching by postdocs?

    Sixteen of the institutions reported that postdoctoral fellows must comply with institutional conflict of interest rules. Nine institutions indicated that postdoctoral fellows must report business interests. Also, 9 institutions reported having a set of rules or guidelines governing consulting, and 7 reported having guidelines governing teaching.

  18. What liability or complaint procedures are followed when charges such as academic misconduct or sexual harassment are filed against postdocs or when postdocs wish to file charges or complaints? If your institution has separate procedures for resolving charges or complaints against faculty, nonacademic employees, and students, under which of these procedures are postdocs treated? Are the grievance procedures available to postdocs comparable to those available to faculty, nonacademic employees, or students?

    Only four of the institutions outlined what procedures are followed when liability or complaint charges are filed against postdoctoral fellows. Three of these institutions indicated the presence of an ombudsman on campus with whom postdoctoral fellows can consult.

    Postdoctoral fellows are most commonly treated as faculty/academic employees (9 of 14 schools which responded) when liability or complaint charges are levied against them. The remaining 5 institutions indicated that postdoctoral fellows are most commonly treated as non-academic employees, academic/research support staff, or that the institution has no formal set of grievance procedures for postdoctoral fellows.

    Of the 14 institutions which responded, 7 have a set of grievance procedures available to postdoctoral fellows that are most comparable to those procedures available to faculty. The other 7 institutions indicated that grievance procedures available to postdoctoral fellows most closely resemble those available to research or academic support staff or that there is no formal set of procedures.

  19. Does your institution treat postdoctoral fellowships strictly as positions providing additional research experience, or are other activities incorporated into the fellowship--e.g, opportunities to develop additional teaching experience; courses or seminars on the ethics of research, sexual harassment, or affirmative action; instruction in grant writing or scientific presentations?

    Nearly all institutions explicitly stated or implied that they treat postdoctoral fellowships as positions providing additional research experience.

    Over half of the institutions indicated that opportunities to develop additional teaching experience are provided or encouraged (11 out of 17 responses). A majority of the institutions also indicated that opportunities to take courses or receive instruction in research ethics (12 out of 17), grant writing (11 out of 17), or topics such as sexual harassment and affirmative action (5 out of 17).

    Placement and Future Tracking Activities

  20. Do any postdoctoral fellows receive a certificate of completion or some other formal acknowledgment of completion of the fellowship?

    Only 2 of the 17 institutions which responded indicated that postdoctoral fellows receive a certificate of completion. Of the two institutions which did award certificates, one institution did so only in its school of medicine, and the other only awarded a certificate if it was requested by the supervising department. One institution reported that it awards certificates to minority postdoctoral fellows supported by the institution. Also, one institution indicated that it recognizes accomplishments of outstanding former postdoctoral fellows.

    Two institutions reported that letters of recommendations or performance assessments are provided for postdoctoral fellows to submit to potential employers.

  21. Do postdoctoral fellows receive any formal job placement assistance beyond that which might be provided by the fellow's faculty supervisor?

    No institution reported any formal job placement assistance mechanism specifically provided to postdoctoral fellows. Most institutions indicated that mentors or campus career centers provide assistance to postdoctoral fellows.


Tuesday, October 31, 1995
Volume 42 Number 10

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