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Princeton University
Office of the Dean of the Faculty

Rules and Procedures of the Professional Researchers and Professional Specialists of Princeton University and Other Provisions of Concern to These Personnel

Last printed Fall 1996; Revised April 2011

V. POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCHERS

A. Ranks and Terms of Appointments

The postdoctoral researcher ranks are used for appointments for a limited number of years to enable recent Ph.D. recipients to develop professional maturity, judgment, and experience through close association with the faculty, more senior researchers and professional specialists on research projects. Normally, researchers who serve in these ranks should have received the Ph.D. degree not more than three years (five in the life sciences) prior to appointment. Except in the event of dismissal for cause, postdoctoral researchers (whose appointments will include a specific termination date) will, unless reappointed, terminate at the specified date without further notice or severance pay.

1. Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Postdoctoral research fellows are supported by Princeton University-sponsored training grants or fellowships from private or public agencies and may also receive salary supplements from the University. The University may or may not be given the responsibility of administering the disbursement of their stipends; this will not affect their appointment rank. They carry out their research and training programs in University facilities using resources allocated by the sponsoring department, institute, center or program. Postdoctoral research fellows must have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. before their appointments can be approved.

Term of Appointment - Appointments at the rank of postdoctoral research fellow are normally for one full year and may be renewed annually for the term of the fellowship. Normally, an individual may hold appointments as a postdoctoral research associate and a postdoctoral research fellow for no more than a combined total of three years (five years in the life sciences). However, when a postdoctoral research fellow succeeds in obtaining two successive three-year postdoctoral fellowships, he/she will be permitted to remain at this rank for six years. When an appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow follows upon an appointment as a postdoctoral research associate or upon an appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow supported by a training grant, the combined appointments may exceed the three year limit (five year limit in the life sciences), but normally will not exceed five years (seven years in the life sciences). Exceptions for one additional year may be considered by the dean of the faculty on a case-by-case basis, however, no one will be permitted to remain at any postdoctoral rank for more than eight years. At the conclusion of the final appointment as a postdoctoral research fellow, the individual must be promoted to the appropriate associate research (by discipline) or professional specialist rank or will not be reappointed.

Institutional Allowance - It is important that prospective postdoctoral research fellows are made aware of the policy (below) concerning institutional allowances at the time of application. They should also be informed that the University will contact the foundation, government agency, or other sponsor to seek the allowance before the fellow can be appointed, if such an allowance is not automatically granted by the awarding agency.

  1. The University will charge an institutional allowance for all postdoctoral research fellow appointments.
  2. The institutional allowance is charged at the time of appointment.
  3. Appointments that are renewed are subject to the rate in effect at the time of each renewal.
  4. The amount of the institutional allowance is set for each academic year by the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

2. Postdoctoral Research Associate

The rank of postdoctoral research associate is typically used for postdoctoral appointments that are supported by external project grants or University (department, institute, center or program) funds. Researchers at this rank are expected to contribute their skills to the research programs of the appointing unit and/or supporting project.

Postdoctoral research associates are expected to have a completed Ph.D. degree by the time the appointment is approved. If that is not the case, the appointment must instead be a one-year appointment as senior research assistant at a reduced salary. If the Ph.D. is obtained and the dean of the faculty is so notified before the starting date, the initial appointment will normally be changed to the rank of postdoctoral research associate. If the Ph.D. is obtained after the start of the appointment, the senior research assistant may be transferred to the rank of research associate and with the appropriate salary for the remainder of the existing term.  The senior research assistant appointment is not renewable for a second term.

Term of Appointment – Researchers at the rank of postdoctoral research associate are ordinarily appointed for one year at a time. Appointments are reviewed annually to consider reappointment and salary level. Promotion or reappointment can be made on an anniversary date cycle (e.g. 10/01/2006 - 10/01/2007). After the first full-year appointment, subsequent renewals are normally made for one-year periods. In cases where funding is limited or other unusual circumstances exist, the dean of the faculty may permit renewal for less than one year; if such a truncated renewal is to be further extended, it must bring the renewed term to a full year. Postdoctoral research associates normally serve for a maximum of three consecutive academic years except in the life sciences where they normally serve for a maximum of five years. “Life sciences” will be defined as the Departments of Molecular Biology, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Psychology, the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Center for the Study of Brain, Mind and Behavior. Research groups within other Departments, Institutes and Centers that are funded by the National Institutes for Health or similar agencies (e.g., National Institute for Mental Health) and/or foundations (e.g., American Cancer Society) may be considered for “life sciences” status on a case-by-case basis. Faculty may apply to the Dean of the Faculty for this status for their research groups. Postdoctoral research associates not advanced to the rank of associate research (by discipline) or professional specialist (depending upon their ongoing job responsibilities) after three-years service (or five years of service in the life sciences) in rank will ordinarily not be reappointed.

3. Senior Research Assistant

The rank of senior research assistant is used for individuals who have been offered and have accepted positions as postdoctoral research associates and who have submitted but not yet defended their dissertations. The salary for this appointment will normally be at a rate that is 10% below the salary offered and accepted for the postdoctoral research associate position.

Term of Appointment – Appointment at the rank of senior research assistant is limited to a single term of one year. Senior research assistants who successfully complete all requirements for the PhD during this term will be promoted to the rank of postdoctoral research associate for the remainder of the existing term and may be reappointed at the postdoctoral rank.

4. Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate

Individuals who hold positions equivalent to the rank of postdoctoral research associate at other institutions and who will be associated (typically because they are involved in joint Princeton University – home institution research projects) with a project at the University or who are supported by grants and/or fellowships sponsored and/or administered by other another institution, are appointed to the rank of visiting postdoctoral research associate.

Term of Appointment - Appointments to this visiting rank, either with or without salary, are made for terms of up to one year. They may be reappointed for succeeding periods so long as the total term of appointments does not exceed three calendar years except in the life sciences (see definition in Section A.2 above) where they may serve for a maximum of five years.

B. Procedures for Appointments, Promotions, Terminations, and Changes in Salary

All appointments, reappointments and terminations of postdoctoral researchers will be recommended by the chair or director of the sponsoring department, institute, center or program (as will changes in salary for postdoctoral research associates) in accordance with procedures established by the dean of the faculty.  Such recommendations are submitted to the dean of the faculty for approval.

Except in rare and unusual circumstances, all recommendations for reappointments, promotions and changes in salary should be submitted a month or two prior to the end of the current appointment term. Topics of review prior to making a recommendation include responsibilities, performance, and research contributions. The fair and frank assessment of an appropriate supervisor should be formulated and transmitted to the postdoctoral researcher. The method by which this communication takes place may vary with supervisors and departments. Each staff member is entitled to an appraisal statement that reflects what is submitted to the Office of the Dean of the Faculty.

When a postdoctoral research associate has reached the end of his/her eligibility to remain at that rank, he/she may be advanced to the rank of associate research (by discipline) (if the majority of his/her time will be devoted to scholarly pursuits expected to result in publication) or to the rank of professional specialist (if the majority of his/her time will be devoted to solving problems that require the extension of conventional theories or practices, to the development of new techniques or to managerial and/or fiscal responsibility for research projects. A postdoctoral research fellow or visiting postdoctoral research associate who has reached the end of his/her eligibility for a postdoctoral rank may be appointed into either of these ranks if he/she has been identified as the most qualified applicant for the position as the result of an authorized search.

In accordance with the University's commitment to equal opportunity and affirmative action, all initial appointment recommendations supported by University (department, institute, center or program) funds must be accompanied by documentary evidence that a thorough search has been made to locate the most qualified applicant for the position. Departments, projects, and programs are also urged to review their staffs for promotion decisions in the light of the University's commitment to equal opportunity/affirmative action principles.

Under certain circumstances, postdoctoral researchers may be allowed to combine teaching with their research duties are given the additional title of Lecturer upon recommendation of the department chair and approval of the dean of the faculty for the semester(s) during which they have teaching assignment(s).

C. Grounds for Termination and Other Disciplinary Action

Any postdoctoral researcher may be terminated prior to expiration of his/her term of appointment or subjected to other disciplinary action for cause, which consists of (a) continuing unsatisfactory performance after due notice; or (b) conduct which is shown to violate the University rules and procedures applicable to staff members, or substantially to impair the individual's performance of his/her responsibilities.