Vanderbilt Medical Center Policies

Policies for Postdoctoral Research Education at the
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Approved by the Executive Faculty of Vanderbilt University Medical Center,
March 15, 2000

Updated by recommendation of the Postdoctoral Policy Review Committee, Fall 2014

DEFINITION OF A POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH FELLOW APPOINTMENT.

* the appointee was recently awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate (e.g., Sc.D., M.D.) in an appropriate field; and
* the appointment is temporary; and
* the appointment involves full-time research or scholarship; and
* the appointment is viewed as preparatory for a scientific career; and
* the appointee works under the supervision of a faculty member or a senior scholar; and the appointee is expected to publish the results of his or her research or scholarship, which were obtained during the period of the appointment.

VUMC POLICIES CONCERNING POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWS.

* Consistent with the definition above, the postdoctoral appointment should remain a temporary (term) appointment with a primary purpose of providing additional research or scholarly development and training for a career in science.
* The Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training and the Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education should be assigned responsibility for monitoring postdoctoral policies to assure consistent application of those policies across the institution.
* The core policies of VUMC applicable to postdoctoral appointments are as follows:

I. Appointment Status.
All postdoctoral fellows should be appointed on a temporary (annual) basis with the overall intention that a research fellowship should not exceed five years, except under special circumstances to be approved by the Senior Associate Dean (these might include illness, child birth or a need to conclude a project which is at an advanced stage). The first appointment should be for a one year period, with annual reappointment thereafter. If a postdoctoral fellow has spent part of the training period at another institution, then the total training time at all institutions generally should not exceed six years.

All postdoctoral appointees should receive a letter of appointment signed by the Dean of the Medical School. A statement of goals, policies, and responsibilities applicable to postdoctoral education should accompany the letter.

II. Remuneration.

The remuneration scales for those involved in research training as a component of a clinical residency or fellowship program may differ from those of a postdoctoral research training program devoted entirely to research, recognizing differences in background and training. The remuneration for participants in clinical residency or fellowship programs is documented in detail in the house staff policy statement and is not further addressed in this document.

It is the policy of the VUMC that the minimum salary for a postdoctoral research fellow should be equal to that paid by an NIH NRSA fellowship for an equivalent number of years of experience (with appropriate development and productivity). This policy does not apply to a fellow supported on an NIH research grant which was funded before the new payment scale was announced. The stipend of a postdoctoral research fellow of between 0-3 years of experience can be supplemented at the wish of the preceptor by no more than $4,000. Additional supplementation requires permission of the Dean of the Medical School. For a qualified postdoctoral fellow with more than 3 years of experience, the institution does not limit the level of remuneration, except that it should not be less than the NIH scale. A mentor proposing to hire a postdoctoral fellow who has been employed for a number of years in an area not relevant to the current research activities may negotiate a level of support commensurate with the postdoctoral fellow's skills and background.

The appointment letter does not guarantee salary support. In the event that financial support for a postdoctoral fellow is reduced or terminated by an action outside the control of the preceptor, the postdoctoral fellow may face the loss of his/her salary if there are no other financial resources within that laboratory. It is rare that a preceptor would have less than 3 months warning of this upcoming situation, and the postdoctoral fellow should be apprised of the problem at the earliest possible time so that alternative plans can be developed in a timely fashion. The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs is charged with facilitating this process as speedily as possible.

III. Evaluation of Performance.

Reappointment and salary level for the upcoming year are determined annually by the preceptor. Reappointment should reflect the performance during the previous year. Fellows who are not going to be reappointed should be given reasonable time (at least three months advance warning) to arrange for alternative plans. At the present time, VUMC has no definition of what constitutes unacceptable performance (as opposed to scientific misconduct) for a postdoctoral research fellow and this has to reflect the judgment of the faculty preceptor. In this regard it is especially important for the preceptor to outline, in writing, all expected performance benchmarks to the postdoctoral fellow at the beginning of the appointment. This should include the laboratory requirements (1) for authorship, (2) for determining priority of research projects, (3) for ownership of projects and, importantly, (4) for lab policy on taking projects with the fellow when he/she leaves the laboratory as well as patent rights and the laboratory and Vanderbilt's rules regarding ownership of data. In addition this might include expectations for the rate of development of independence and individual responsibility for the ongoing research work.

IV. Faculty Responsibilities for Mentoring and Evaluation of Postdoctoral Appointees.

In view of the role of the fellow as a trainee, the faculty responsibilities are an extension of those provided for graduate student trainees, though with an obvious emphasis on the development of independence. Mentoring can involve detailed advice and assistance in the development of a specific research project, but in addition mentoring should include education in research protocol issues such as ethics, conflicts of interest, and outside consulting. At the present time this institution does not have a formal program for training in mentoring. It is recommended that each individual department or program develop its ideas on its role in the maintenance of high standards of mentoring within its faculty.

V. Misconduct and Grievance Issues.

Investigation of allegations of misconduct will follow the principles outlined for faculty in the faculty manual. In the event that a postdoctoral fellow believes that he/she has suffered a grievance which might negatively impact their career either at Vanderbilt or elsewhere, they should follow the procedures below to have the grievance investigated and if proven, to provide a possible means of rectification. First, if possible, the postdoctoral fellow should discuss the issue with his/her preceptor and solicit advice. If the issue of contention involves the preceptor, the postdoctoral fellow should contact the department or division chair and discuss the issue informally. If the chair feels that sufficient cause is present he/she may request a written account of the grievance and can, if desired, act directly or appoint a committee of professors to recommend how to deal with the issue. In the event that the postdoctoral fellow disagrees with the advice from the department, he/she may formally appeal to the Dean of the Medical School who will be the final arbiter.

VI. Career Advising.

While it is certainly not intended that we should serve as an employment agency, Vanderbilt University Medical Center should provide career advising and guidance. This should most appropriately be performed by the mentor as a part of the responsibilities of mentoring and guidance, but the institution as a whole should seek to provide an overview of opportunities for all postdoctoral fellows, for instance by having the occasional symposium to demonstrate the range and variety of careers. This will be the responsibility of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

VII. Ongoing Review of Policies Dealing with Postdoctoral Fellows.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center should periodically evaluate the balance of interests among postdoctoral appointees, their faculty mentors, their home departments, and the institution as a whole, in order to assure that the legitimate educational needs and career interests of postdoctoral fellows are being fully met.

In addition to the foregoing Medical Center-wide policies, the Committee recommends that each academic discipline consider the role of postdoctoral education in professional development in that discipline, and give careful attention to the extent to which postdoctoral education should be viewed as elective or obligatory by students from whom entry into that discipline is their primary professional goal.