Postdoctoral Enhancements: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Postdocs make important contributions to GW’s research mission. We are pleased to announce an initiative to enhance the postdoc experience and pave the way for greater institutional support to both postdocs and their faculty mentors.

Postdoc enhancements have been considered with a community-wide perspective:

  • Aligns GW’s definition of a postdoc with that of the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and National Postdoctoral Association.
  • The new compensation minimum will increase pay for a number of current GW postdocs.
  • All postdocs will now have access to comprehensive health benefits.
  • Most postdocs will have access to more paid annual time, earlier in their appointment.
  • An increased emphasis on postdoc professional development and faculty mentorship.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research is committed to working with the GW research community to refine the postdoc enhancement initiative and looks forward to an ongoing dialogue about supporting postdocs at GW.

Don’t see your question answered below or have feedback? Submit it to [email protected].

 

Postdoc Category

National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) define a postdoc as an individual who has received a doctoral degree (or equivalent) and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.

Beginning January 1, 2022, postdoc positions will include postdoctoral scholars and postdoctoral associates.

Others with doctoral degrees may also be employed as staff research associates or with other titles.

The primary difference between the postdoctoral associate and postdoctoral scholar is the nature of financial support for the position.

A postdoctoral associate:

  • holds a PhD or equivalent degree;
  • develops skills by participating in scholarly projects that are actively mentored by a member of the university faculty;
  • receives financial support in the form of a salary that is typically funded by grants, contracts or departmental funds secured by a faculty mentor; and
  • has a limited term of up to five years at GW.

A postdoctoral scholar:

  • holds a PhD or equivalent degree;
  • develops skills by engaging in a mentored training relationship with a member of the university faculty;
  • receives financial support in the form of a fellowship or stipend, paid by GW on behalf of an external sponsor and where the external sponsor does not allow for employment by GW; and
  • has a limited term of up to five years at GW.

If you are uncertain of your future postdoc classification, i.e. postdoctoral associate versus postdoctoral scholar, you may email [email protected] to confirm.

Postdoc appointments, both postdoctoral associates and scholars, have limited terms of up to five years at GW.

Postdocs whose initial appointment occurred prior to January 1, 2022 and are currently in their first through fourth years as a postdoc at GW are subject to the five-year term limit.

Postdocs whose initial appointment occurred prior to January 1, 2022 and are currently in their fifth year as a postdoc at GW or beyond will be granted one additional year.

Following the five-year training period at GW, a postdoctoral appointee must transition into a non-postdoc position at the university or another organization. If you have questions or concerns about the five-year limit as it pertains to your appointment, we encourage you to reach out to [email protected].

Yes. If a postdoc has spent time in a postdoc role at another institution or in another field, the total time of training at GW will be limited to five years.

Yes. In extraordinary circumstances, extensions can be considered to the five-year term limit by seeking approval from the postdoc’s supervisor. Requests for extensions must be submitted to [email protected].

The initial appointment for a postdoc must be at least nine months (one academic year) to allow for benefits eligibility.

No. A temporary status is incompatible with the objectives of a postdoc position for which mentorship is a key component.

Postdoctoral appointments are generally full-time exempt appointments with the expectation that they will work 40 hours per week. Part-time positions, no less than 75 percent effort, may be approved but will require managers to work with the Office of the Vice Provost for Research to ensure any exemptions are appropriate. Requests for part-time appointments must be submitted to [email protected].

Yes, the Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR), in partnership with faculty mentors, will provide an appointment letter that clearly outlines the new terms.

Postdocs will receive annual reappointment letters on the anniversary of their initial appointment.

Individual and Professional Development

Yes. Professional development to enhance core competencies in discipline-specific conceptual knowledge, research skills, communication skills, professionalism, leadership and management skills, and responsible conduct of research are key components of the GW postdoc experience.

GW is an institutional member in the National Postdoc Association, which provides many free resources on its website, and has a local chapter.

Mentorship is a central part of the postdoc experience. New resources for faculty mentors will be developed to enhance the GW experience. As they are developed, they will be posted to the OVPR postdoc website.

The School of Medicine and Health Sciences has also collected resources that are relevant to postdocs in the biomedical sciences. 

 

Postdocs are highly encouraged to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and update the plan at least once per year. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has created a helpful resource for creating an IDP. The National Postdoctoral Association has also created the Guide to Using an Individual Development Plan (My IDP & Me) to help navigate this process. This IDP includes values and self-assessments and is linked to various career outcomes a postdoc might elect.

Please note that many sponsored projects, e.g., those funded by NIH, require faculty to report on the use of IDPs for any graduate trainees or postdocs in their annual progress reports.

Compensation

For postdocs appointed prior to January 1, 2022, the new minimum annualized compensation, $53,760, will be mandatory beginning July 1, 2022.

The new minimum compensation aligns with year zero of the FY21 NIH National Research Service Awards (NRSA) scale which is a national standard. The minimum will apply across all GW departments and units, regardless of funding source. NIH updates the NRSA scale on an irregular basis. GW will continue to reference it to inform starting compensation.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research (OVPR) is working closely with schools and units to identify any current postdocs with compensation below the new minimum. Investigators should work with their school to identify mechanisms for meeting the new compensation minimum. OVPR is available to consult with investigators and school/department leadership.

Investigators and hiring managers will identify a salary/stipend rate for postdocs based on years of relevant experience, skills, area of specialization, and equity within the unit, department, and school. GW encourages supervisors to set starting compensation based on years of postdoctoral experience, tied to the FY21 NIH NRSA scale.

All compensation is subject to the initial and continued availability of funding as well as any terms and conditions, if applicable, set forth by the sponsor funding the postdoc appointment.

The minimum compensation requirements apply across all departments and units, regardless of funding source.

It is strongly recommended that postdoctoral scholars consult the IRS and/or a tax professional to understand the tax implications. The National Postdoc Association also provides an Overview of Tax Issues for Postdocs.

Postdoctoral scholars funded by NIH T32 awards may contact the [email protected] for a suggested letter template regarding IRS self-employment tax (please note that you will probably only need the template if you receive a letter from the IRS asking you to explain why you are not liable for self-employment tax for the income you made from the T32 that was reported on the 1099-MISC; the IRS does not always send this letter).

Beyond the compensation minimum, there are no plans to require annual increases in step with the NRSA scale. However, the NRSA scale should be considered when setting compensation for the initial appointment.

Benefits

Yes. GW will offer a competitive benefits package for postdocs. The package will include comprehensive medical and pharmacy coverage as well as dental, vision, life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance (AD&D). In addition, several well-being programs and voluntary benefits like Headspace, Employee Assistance Program (EAP), pet insurance and ID theft will be offered.

  • Full benefits details will be found on the GW Postdoc Benefits webpage (Coming soon!)

The way a postdoc receives their compensation, i.e., fellowship or stipend vs. salary, does have an impact on certain benefits, including pre-tax programs, retirement, and tuition remission/exchange.

Postdoctoral associates are eligible for tuition remission and tuition exchange benefits.

GW offers two primary retirement savings plans:

The 403(b) Plan for trainee contributions 

The 401(a) Plan for university base and match contributions

Open enrollment is your annual opportunity to review and choose the health and welfare benefit options that best meet your needs.

For 2022 benefits, open enrollment will begin Monday, October 11, 2021 and close on Friday, October 29, 2021 at 8 p.m. ET. Benefits elected during this time will be effective January 1, 2022.

  • Postdoc Associates can visit go.gwu.edu/openenrollment to make Postdoc Benefits elections
  • Postdoc Scholars will receive a Postdoc Benefits enrollment form via email from GW Benefits on Monday, October 11. Please complete the Postdoc Scholar benefits enrollment form and return, along with supporting documentation (if applicable) to GW Benefits. You can scan/email to [email protected] or fax to 571.553.8385. Please contact [email protected] with questions.

If you are uncertain of your future postdoc classification, i.e. associate versus scholar, you may email [email protected] to confirm.

The transition to the new trainee category will require active enrollment decisions among the benefit offerings in order to have coverage in 2022. Current benefit elections will not automatically rollover.

  • For details, please visit GW’s Postdoc Benefits webpage (Coming soon!)
 

Changes and corrections are not permitted except during open enrollment or within 30 calendar days of a qualifying event (such as marriage, birth/adoption or loss of coverage).

Time Off and Leave

Yes. Effective January 1, 2022, the following annual time policy will apply based on a postdoc’s starting date and months of service. In addition, postdocs will accrue 12 days of sick time per fiscal year. Use of time off must be approved by the faculty mentor.

Annual Time Policy Effective 1/1/22

  • Postdocs with a starting date prior to 1/1/22:

GW Service Time

Maximum Annual Accrual

0-48 months

18 days (144 hours)

49+ months

21 days (168 hours)

  • Postdocs with a starting date 1/1/22 and after will accrue a maximum of 18 days (144 hours) per year regardless of GW service time.

All time off will be tracked in PlanMyLeave. Details about this time off tracking tool, including training resources, will be coming soon.

Postdocs are encouraged to use their annual time during the fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) in which it is accrued. However, it is possible for a postdoc to have accrued but unused days as of June 30. Up to 40 hours carryover will automatically roll over into the new fiscal year and must be used by August 31 of the new fiscal year, or the time will be forfeited.

Existing postdocs will not lose accrued but unused annual and sick time during this transition.

Yes. Unlike annual time, sick time does not need to be used during the fiscal year in which it is accrued.

Yes. Postdocs are eligible to receive paid parental leave beginning the first of the month following their appointment date or on their appointment date if it is the first of a month.

Paid parental leave covers up to six (6) continuous weeks for the birth mother and/or the partner, adoptive or foster parent. In most cases, paid parental leave must be taken immediately following the birth or placement of a child and may not be taken intermittently. If a postdoc does not begin leave immediately following the birth, or returns to work within the first six weeks following the birth, any remaining unused Paid Parental Leave will not be available should the postdoc wish to take further leave later.


*Please note: Postdocs, primarily postdoctoral scholars, who receive funding via externally sponsored projects are subject to and must comply with policies outlined by the terms and conditions of the sponsor if different than GW policy.

Postdoctoral associates are eligible to take job protected unpaid leave for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) qualifying events if they meet eligibility requirements under FMLA. They can elect to use available paid time off concurrently with FMLA to remain in paid status.

Note: The university has elected to extend the leave provisions under the DC FMLA to eligible postdoc associates whose work location is outside of DC. Postdoc associates may qualify for leave under the federal and DC Acts, and requests for FMLA leave will be considered under both Acts.


*Please note: Postdocs, primarily postdoctoral scholars, who receive funding via externally sponsored projects are subject to and must comply with policies outlined by the terms and conditions of the sponsor if different than GW policy.

Postdoctoral associates are eligible for USERRA leave if they meet the eligibility requirements under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). USERRA outlines the protections afforded to service members called into military service or certain types of service in the National Disaster Medical System, voluntarily or involuntarily. USERRA guarantees a postdoctoral associate returning from qualified service or training the right to be reemployed at their former job (or as nearly comparable a job as possible) with the same benefits. Your Rights Under USERRA (PDF) summarizes the employment and reemployment rights for uniformed service members. USERRA leave is unpaid; however, postdoctoral associates may elect to use their accrued annual or sick time during USERRA leave.


*Please note: Postdocs, primarily postdoctoral scholars, who receive funding via externally sponsored projects are subject to and must comply with policies outlined by the terms and conditions of the sponsor if different than GW policy.

Sponsored Projects

A postdoc fringe rate is under development. Until a new postdoc-specific fringe rate has been announced, use the current fringe rate for regular employees.

Recruiting Postdocs

Contact your HR business partner or email [email protected].

Sample appointment descriptions for postdoctoral scholars and associates will be made available for faculty to customize.

No. The GW visa workflow will remain the same. Postdocs should reach out to the International Services Office to acquire a visa. 

Titles for postdocs will be postdoctoral associate and postdoctoral scholar. All prior postdoc titles under the research staff category will no longer exist.

Reporting Concerns

A postdoc-specific grievance policy is being developed. In the meantime, postdocs may contact [email protected] or visit the Office of Ethics, Compliance, and Privacy website to learn how to report specific concerns about managers, sexual harassment and assault, bias, and research misconduct, among others.