Postdoctoral Fellow Policies

At the University of South Alabama (“USA”), the postdoctoral research experience emphasizes scholarship and continued research training for individuals who have recently completed a doctoral degree.  This policy defines terms and conditions related to postdoctoral appointments at USA. Additionally, postdoctoral appointments are subject to all other applicable USA policies and procedures.  The USA Office of Postdoctoral Education is responsible for facilitating appointments, as well as maintaining and updating policies to ensure congruence with mandates from external agencies.

▼   Postdoctoral Fellow
Postdoctoral training is intended to provide individuals who have recently received doctoral degrees (or the equivalent) with a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training with University faculty (“Mentors”), to enhance their professional skills and research independence needed to pursue their chosen career path.  Specific benefits and term limits for Postdoctoral Fellows are outlined below. A Postdoctoral Fellow position is a specific category, and while it is neither a University faculty position nor regular staff employee position, it shares many of the same benefits and policies, as described further herein.  For classification and benefits purpose, Postdoctoral Fellows, will be considered either “employees” or “ trainees” . Trainees are those individuals who have received funding through external awards such as the NIH Postdoctoral Fellowships (e.g F-32). Trainees, per federal requirements, may not be classified as employees and the benefits will vary from those postdoctoral fellows classified as employees.
▼   Qualifications

Applicants selected for a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at USA are required to:

  • Hold a recently awarded PhD or equivalent doctoral degree (e.g., MD, DVM, ScD) from an institution of higher learning accredited to the satisfaction of USA;
  • Possess sufficient English language proficiency to function in the University environment;
  • Satisfy requirements for the postdoctoral position, and provide documentation and application material as requested.
▼   Appointment Process

Prior to sending a letter of offer, applicants should be interviewed by the mentor (in person, by telephone, or via webcam).  Letters offering an appointment to a post­doctoral candidate must delineate the basic terms of the appointment.  At a minimum, the letter should include statements regarding:

  • The anticipated period of appointment;
  • The research program/training objectives;
  • Annual compensation;
  • Included benefits;
  • Requirement for compliance with University policies including those relating to conduct of research (for more information click here );
  • That continuance of Postdoctoral Fellow appointments is contingent upon satisfactory progress and performance, as well as continued availability of funding.

The official offer from a Mentor must be cosigned by the Chair and College Dean (or equivalent officials), and copied to the Office of Postdoctoral Education.   A copy of this policy document must also be included with the letter of offer sent to the Fellow candidate.  A template letter of offer is available here. 

Mentors and Postdoctoral Fellows should be aware that completion of the appointment process is contingent upon degree verification (and for international candidates, receipt of a visa for training at USA). 

▼   Visas/J-1 Exchange

International Postdoctoral Fellows at USA are sponsored on J-1 visas. The visa information for international postdoctoral scholars is available here .

▼   Beginning Service
  • On or before the first day of work for a new Postdoctoral Fellow, the I-9 form must be completed in the University Human Resources Office.
  • A Personnel Action (PA) Form must be completed by or for the hiring department.  It must be routed through the Office of Post Doctoral Education to be sent to Human Resources.
  • The Fellow must obtain a University ID from Human Resources (NOTE: the PA form must have been received in Payroll in order for an ID to be issued).
  • International Fellows must apply for a Social Security Number (NOTE: the Social Security Office recommends waiting 10 days after entry into the US before applying).
  • A Postdoctoral Fellow Appointment Form must be completed and submitted to the Office of Postdoctoral Education (Click Here for the form).
  • Laboratory safety and other appropriate research compliance training must be completed in the first 30 days at USA and prior to initiating experiments, e.g. animal or human subjects use.  For complete details, click here.  
▼   Duration of Appointment
While the anticipated duration of a postdoctoral appointment is to be stipulated in the letter of offer, it should be understood that continuance of Postdoctoral Fellow appointments is contingent upon satisfactory progress and performance, as well as continued availability of funding. Note that individuals will generally remain as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the USA for no longer than a period of four years.  However, retention of Fellows for a fifth year may be considered, subject to approval by the relevant Chair and Dean or Director. 
▼   Compensation

Minimum compensation levels for Postdoctoral Fellows are commensurate with the postdoctoral entry level (PGY 0) stipends set by the National Institutes of Health at the time of appointment (see current NRSA stipend notice here).  Higher compensation levels are available in some situations.

  • When a Postdoctoral Fellow successfully obtains extramural support via a training grant, fellowship funding or NIH supplement, the Fellow will receive the award amount specified by the funding agency if it exceeds the minimum compensation level set by the University.  
  • If compensation provided by an extramural award is less than the University minimum, the difference will be supplied to the Fellow by the Mentor or another source in the University if funds are available (note that, typically, federal research funds cannot be used to supplement NIH training/fellowship stipends). 
  • Compensation may be incremented annually, if funds are available from the Mentor, another funding source in the University, or extramural awards. 
▼   Taxes and Withholding

Depending upon the source of funding for Postdoctoral Fellows, compensation may be subject to Federal and State income taxes and FICA taxes.  Postdoctoral Fellows whose support derives from Mentor’s grants and/or internal funds will have taxes withheld and a Form W-2 filed with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  Postdoctoral Fellows who receive compensation via an extramural training grant or fellowship, where the agency policy identifies that funding as a stipend, will not have taxes withheld. If a Postdoctoral Fellow has funding from both extramural training award and internal funds, the primary funding source will be used to determine withholding and reporting requirements.  Regardless, compensation is considered income and may be taxable.  Fellows are encouraged to consult the IRS or a tax professional to understand the implications of their compensation status.

▼   Benefits
  • USA Health & Dental Plan Insurance – Postdoctoral Fellows are required to have health insurance. The USA Health & Dental Plan provides comprehensive health and dental benefits received within a network of Blue Cross Blue Shield providers.  Within the USA Health & Dental Plan is a network of hospitals, physicians, outpatient clinics and other providers affiliated with the University of South Alabama. Their participation in the USA Health & Dental Plan allows members to receive medical care at a lower cost to both the Plan and the member. The cost of the USA Health & Dental Plan Insurance is shared by you and the University.
  • Premium Conversion – USA Health & Dental Plan premiums are automatically deducted before any federal, state of Social Security taxes are withheld. The result is a reduction of taxable income equal to the amount paid for health and dental insurance during the calendar year. Enrollment in Premium Conversion is automatic.
  • Flexible Spending Accounts (SouthFlex) – Postdoctoral Fellows can take advantage of flexible spending accounts which are administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. Participants can set aside pre-tax money through payroll deductions to pay for qualified health care expenses, including deductibles, copays, out-of-pocket dental expenses and qualified child care expenses.
  • Group Life Insurance – Group Term Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance benefits are included in the Basic Group Life Insurance Plan.  The amount of life insurance for which Postdoctoral Fellows are eligible is determined by base pay. These benefits are provided at no cost to the Postdoctoral Fellow.  In addition, the spouse and eligible dependents are each provided with $5,000 of term life insurance at no cost to the Postdoctoral Fellow.
  • Additional Life Insurance – Postdoctoral Fellows may purchase, at their own expense, additional term life in an amount equal to 1, 2, or 3 times the amount provided under the Basic Plan.
  • Group Long Term Disability Insurance – The University provides, at no cost to the Postdoctoral Fellow, a Basic Long Term Disability Plan which provides a 60% income replace benefit in the event of a qualifying disability. Once approved, benefits are payable from the 91st day of disability.
  • Travel Insurance - This University paid benefit provides the Postdoctoral Fellow and their eligible dependents with medical, travel, legal and financial assistance services when faced with an emergency while traveling more than 100 miles away from home.
  • University of South Alabama 403(b) Plan and 457(b) Deferred Compensation Plan – Postdoctoral Fellows have the option of participating in supplemental retirement plans through TIAA-CREF which allow investments in fixed and variable annuities and mutual funds. Postdoctoral Fellows may reduce their state and federal taxable income by contributing up to the limit set by Section 402(g) of the IRS Code for each plan.
  • Educational Benefit Plan – Upon completion of 6 months of full-time employment prior to the first day of classes, Postdoctoral Fellows may qualify for a tuition credit for up to five credit semester hours, plus the University registration fee for courses taken at the University of South Alabama. A tuition credit of 50% of tuition only with no hour maximum is also available to the spouse and unmarried dependent children (under age 25 on the first day of classes). Click Here for additional information.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – The EAP offers confidential counseling and referral services at no cost to the Postdoctoral Fellow.
  • Time Off – Postdoctoral Fellows are provided with a total of 30 days paid time off annually which will be available for use for vacation days, official holidays, and sick days as needs indicate. 30 days begin on January 1 and are prorated based on start dates throughout the year. There is no accrual of time off from year to year.
  • Leave of Absence – Postdoctoral Fellows will be provided leave consistent with the University’s Family Medical Leave (FML) policy, as outlined in the USA Staff Employee Handbook.
  • Other benefits - Postdoctoral Fellows will receive a University issued JagMail account and may purchase a parking hang tag. Postdoctoral Fellows will also have access to University Libraries and may purchase a membership to the Student Recreation Center.

Note that benefits described above are provided contingent on the Post Doctoral Fellow being an employee of USA.  Postdoctoral Fellows who receive compensation via an extramural training grant or fellowship are not USA employees and will not be provided with the employee benefits listed, but rather benefits as listed in the table below.  In the following table, those not considered employees are labeled as Post Doctoral Trainees.

 

BENEFIT POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWS POSTDOCTORAL TRAINEES GRADUATE ASSISTANTS
USA Health and Dental Yes Other Insurance*** Yes*
Premium Conversion Yes No Yes*
SouthFlex Flexible Spending Yes No Yes*
University Paid Term Life Insurance Yes No No
University Paid AD&D Insurance Yes No No
University Paid Long Term Disability Yes No No
Additional Term Life Yes No No
MEDEX Travel Assist Yes  No No
Teachers' Retirement Life Insurance No No No
Teachers' Retirement Systems - 401(a) No No No
USA Tax Deferment Annuity Plan - 403(b) Yes No No
USA Deferred Comp Plan 457(b) Yes No Yes*
Educational Benefit Yes No No
Employee Assistance Program Yes No No
Paid Time Off** Yes Yes No


*     Graduate Assistants meet eligibility for USA Health & Dental Plan coverage and 457(b) coverage if determined to    work an average of 30 hours per week based on the ACA measurement period.

**   Postdoctoral Fellows are provided with paid time off for vacation, sick leave, and holidays.

***Postdoctoral Trainees are frequently eligible for equivalent health insurance paid by the trainee grant. 

Benefits and an employee’s right to them are subject to certain laws and University regulations, individual plan documents and the duly recorded notice of employee benefits limitations election form.  The University reserves the right to either change, modify or terminate these benefits at any time.

▼   Research Records and Intellectual Property

Research records, including original notebooks, computerized files and tangible research materials created by Postdoctoral Fellows during their appointment are the property of the University of South Alabama, and as such are retained by the University on departure of the Fellow.  Subject to approval of the Mentor, copies of the records may be made and taken by the Postdoctoral Fellow.  Postdoctoral Fellows should be familiar with and adhere to the University policy on intellectual property (see policies here).  Postdoctoral Fellows are required to sign an invention patent assignment agreement and intellectual property agreement.

▼   Obligations of Postdoctoral Fellows

During this period of research training, Postdoctoral Fellows are obligated to conscientiously perform research and scholarly work, maintain ad­equate research records, and conform to standards for responsible conduct of research set out by the University.  Postdoctoral Fellows must construct and annually update an Individual Development Plan, in collaboration with their Faculty Mentor.  In addition, Postdoctoral Fellows must complete compliance training as required by USA in a timely fashion and observe applicable university, local, state, and federal guidelines, rules, policies, and laws.

▼   Obligations of Faculty Members

Faculty Mentors will assist the Postdoctoral Fellow in developing a research project which will enhance the Postdoctoral Fellow’s knowledge and technical skills, encourage the Postdoctoral Fellow to present his/her work and to publish results in a timely fashion, meet regularly with the Postdoctoral Fellow to discuss research progress and provide regular constructive feedback regarding performance. Further, Mentors will work with the Postdoctoral Fellow to develop and maintain an Individual Development Plan and should reasonably allow the Postdoctoral Fellow time to participate in available University career development opportunities. Mentors will ensure that the Postdoctoral Fellow is aware of University policies regarding responsible conduct of research and compliance issues, and other relevant topics.

▼   Annual Evaluations

Mentors will provide Postdoctoral Fellows with a written evaluation of progress and performance annually.  The evaluation must be discussed with and signed by the Postdoctoral Fellow, acknowledging his or her receipt of the evaluation.  A copy of the evaluation must be forwarded to the Office of Postdoctoral Education.

▼   Postdoctoral Fellows Association

USA Postdoctoral appointees may collectively associate through a USA Postdoctoral Association.  The association could provide career development, programmatic support, research collaboration, and social opportunities for USA Postdocs.  The guiding operating principals for a USA Postdoctoral Association would be based on those of the National Postdoctoral Association.

▼   Grievances-Conflict Resolution

When possible, Postdoctoral Fellows should seek to resolve conflicts informally via discussions with Mentors, Department Chairs, other senior administrators, or the Office of Postdoctoral Education.  Personnel in the Office of Postdoctoral Education are available to act as mediators for such informal discussions.  When issues cannot be informally resolved, the following procedures are available:

Academic issues:  For unresolved academic issues (e.g., workload, authorship concerns, termination), Postdoctoral Fellows may file a formal grievance with the Office of Postdoctoral Education (“Office”).  Postdoctoral Fellows acting in good faith may do so without fear of penalty or reprisal.

  • The Postdoctoral Fellow should file a written statement of grievance with the Office within 30 days of the last meeting attempting an informal resolution as described above. The statement must set out a concise statement of the allegation, the facts/evidence supporting the complaint, a suggested outcome for resolution, and a list of individuals consulted for informal resolution.
  • The Office will solicit a response from the individual about which the complaint was filed (“Respondent”) within 5 working days.
  • The Office will then identify a grievance committee (“Committee”) of 2 Faculty and 1 Postdoctoral Fellow.  The committee will be composed of individuals not involved in the conflict.
  • Within 15 working days of Committee appointment, the Committee will meet to review the grievance, including evidence and testimony from the Postdoctoral Fellow bringing the complaint, the Respondent, and witnesses as requested and/or allowed by the Committee.
  • In closed session, the Committee shall make a determination, based on the preponderance of evidence, to accept or deny the grievance.  If the grievance is accepted, the Committee shall make a recommendation for resolution.  A summary of the grievance, process and outcomes (not to include the deliberations of the Committee) shall be forwarded to the Office of Postdoctoral Education.  The Office of Postdoctoral Education will notify all parties as to the outcome of the grievance process.
  • Appeals must be directed to the Office of Postdoctoral Education within five business days of the notification of the outcome and may only address issues of procedural error.  The decision by the Dean of Postdoctoral Education on the appeal will be final and the parties will be notified.

For other issues that cannot be resolved informally (see below), Postdoctoral Fellows should pursue relevant University grievance procedures:

Research misconduct:  Allegations of research misconduct should be pursued through the USA Office of Research Compliance and Assurance.  Policies and information regarding the Whistleblower Hotline are available here.

Title IX issues:  To address/report workplace issues of sexual harassment/violence or sexual discrimination, Postdoctoral Fellows should contact the relevant Faculty Title IX coordinator:  Postdoctoral Fellows in the Health Sciences Division and the Mitchell Cancer Institute should contact the Health Sciences Faculty coordinator, while all others should contact the Academic Affairs Faculty coordinator.  Title IX information and a list of coordinators are available here. 


Other Workplace Issues: To address/report other workplace issues of harassment or discrimination which are not of a sexual nature, Postdoctoral Fellows should contact USA Human Resources.  While the Postdoctoral Fellow may choose to consult a lawyer regarding a grievance/conflict and a lawyer may be present to hear testimony and observe, lawyers will not be allowed to otherwise participate in either the informal process or the formal process of the university.

▼   Resignation or Termination

Postdoctoral Fellows who wish to resign their appointment prior to the end of an appointment period should notify the Faculty Mentor in writing.  It is expected that the Postdoctoral Fellow will provide at least one month’s notice.  An appointment may be terminated by the Mentor prior to the end of an appointment period if warranted due to specific and compelling factors, requiring that the Mentor provide at least three months notice in writing, unless circumstances are deemed to merit immediate termination, including but not limited to cases of fraud or research misconduct.  If the Postdoctoral Fellow is no longer providing effort to extramurally funded sources the three months’ notice must not be paid from sponsored fund sources. Notices of resignation or termination must be copied to the Office of Postdoctoral Education. 

 

Click Here for a printable version of these policies.