A postdoctoral appointee (‘postdoc’) is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of their choosing. This is a definition that follows the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA).
The main goal of a postdoctoral appointment is to continue your training under the mentorship of an experienced researcher, develop your professional and academic skills, and gain independence to decide the direction of your career. Postdoctoral appointments are generally not suitable for more experienced scholars, who should look for opportunities more appropriate for their level of training, expertise, and independence.
At Washington University in St. Louis, postdoctoral appointments have a 5-year term limit, including previous postdoctoral or on-the-job training and experience in other institutions. Relevant postdoctoral experience may include research experience (including industrial), teaching assistantship, previous faculty career, or other time spent in an academic- and research-oriented field beyond that of the qualifying doctoral degree. Scholars with more than 5 years of postdoctoral or on-the-job training and experience cannot join WashU as postdoctoral appointees. Once the 5-year term limit is reached, current WashU postdoctoral appointees should transition to positions inside or outside academia more appropriate for their level of training, expertise, and independence.
Compensation for postdoctoral appointees is competitive. The minimum compensation per year is tied to the year 0 postdoctoral stipend amount of the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) program, with a delayed start to fit in Washington University’s fiscal year. The University does not define a compensation scale nor a maximum compensation amount for postdoctoral appointees. When external fellowships’ stipends are lower than the University’s established minimum, the principal investigator or department must provide additional funding to bring the pay level of the postdoctoral appointee up to at least the established minimum. Visit the Postdoctoral Compensation page for more information.
Postdoctoral appointees at WashU fall in one of these two categories:
Postdoctoral Research Associates
Postdoctoral Research Associates have employee status and paid by salary (on a faculty grant or individual award that can be paid as salary routed through the university).
Approximately 80% of WashU postdoctoral appointees are Postdoctoral Research Associates, which is the default type of appointment. However, if the funding source prohibits an appointment as a University employee or if the appointee is paid directly from their funder (e.g., from an agency in their home country), then the appointee should be appointed as a Postdoctoral Research Scholar.
Postdoctoral Research Scholars
Postdoctoral Research Scholars have non-employee status. This category is for postdoctoral appointees whose funding source prohibits an appointment as a University employee (e.g., NIH F32 fellowships, T32 training grants, etc.) or if they are paid directly from their funder (e.g., from an agency in their home country).
Postdocs in this category are paid by stipend or directly by an external funding agency. Approximately 20% of WashU postdoctoral appointees are Postdoctoral Research Scholars. Benefits and taxation are different from those of employees.