Postdoctoral Scholar Policies and Guidelines

Postdoctoral Scholar Office

The Graduate College is the administrative home of the Postdoctoral Scholar Office.

Postdoctoral Scholar Office Mission Statement - A postdoctoral scholar appointment is a brief, intense, and pivotal time in one’s career. The mission of the Postdoctoral Scholar Office is to provide the postdoctoral scholar community with support, professional development opportunities, and tools to ensure postdoctoral scholars to develop sustainable and successful career paths.

Misty Treanor
Postdoctoral Scholar Coordinator
or 515-294-0419

Lynette McBirnie-Sprecher
Business Manager
or 515-294-7811

Postdoctoral Scholar Policies

Policies regarding postdoctoral scholars can be found in the Graduate College Handbook.

PI and Administrative Guidelines

The Postdoctoral Scholar Office has developed a selection of best practices / resources intended as a guideline for the life cycle of the postdoctoral scholar. These can be found on the Principal Investigator Resources page.


The postdoctoral scholar (postdoc) is an employee who has recently completed the terminal doctorate degree and who is considered to be preparing for an independent career. The majority of the appointment is to be focused on research and scholarship. In some circumstances, the postdoctoral scholar appointee may also teach. In all cases, more than half the appointment must be devoted to scholarship, and in no case may teaching responsibilities exceed ¾ of the annual teaching responsibility of a faculty member in that department.

Postdoctoral scholars receive training under the supervision and direction of a faculty mentor who will provide the opportunity for collaborative and independent research, as well as promote publication of findings and preparation of research grants as determined by mutual agreement between the faculty supervisor and postdoctoral scholar.

Each postdoctoral appointment is for a term and may be renewed. Presently, most postdoctoral scholars at ISU work for a two- (2) to three- (3) year period. All postdoctoral scholars must be appointed for a minimum of half-time. The Graduate College allows a maximum of five (5) years as postdoctoral scholar.

Extension of the appointment status for more than five (5) years is extremely rare and is allowed only for the most extraordinary circumstances. Requests to extend a postdoctoral appointment beyond five (5) years must be made at least six (6) months prior to the end of the fifth year and preferably sooner.

A Predoctoral Scholar Appointment follows the exact same postdoctoral salary/stipend scale and benefits (see below). A predoctoral scholar appointment does not need to be advertised in the same manner that a postdoctoral scholar position needs to be (see below), as long as the graduate student who is transitioning to a predoctoral scholar does not have a change in principal investigator. A principal investigator that wants a predoctoral scholar to be hired as a postdoctoral scholar for longer than the 3-month exception, must publically post the position as it is described below under “Hiring Forms/Procedure” for postdoctoral scholars. The difference between the two appointment types is that the predoctoral scholar is still in the process of completing the doctoral degree (or equivalent). A predoctoral scholar must have completed the oral and written preliminary examinations and must be registered for a graduate credit (minimum) each semester. Upon completion of the doctoral degree, the position can be transferred to the postdoctoral level. The predoctoral scholar appointment time is counted towards the five-year maximum postdoctoral appointment.

For more detailed information on postdoctoral and predoctoral scholars at ISU, consult the Graduate College Handbook.


The Graduate College sets a minimum salary/stipend for postdoctoral scholars. There is no institutional maximum salary.

The minimum salary/stipend for the entire first year of appointment depends on the appointee’s number of full years of prior relevant experience as a postdoctoral scholar when the appointment begins. Relevant experience may include research experience in academia, industry, or government; internships; residency; clinical duties; or other time spent in a related field beyond that of the qualifying doctoral degree.

Adjustments in salary/stipend after the initial appointment will be based on institutional salary/stipend policy, see "Salary/Stipend Increases" below.

When the appointee’s doctorate was earned one year or more before the start of a postdoctoral appointment, the Graduate College assumes the appointee has other relevant postdoctoral scholar/professional experience (as defined by the National Institutes of Health). If this is not the case, then the prospective supervisor of the appointee will need to provide justification for a lower salary.

Salary/Stipend Minimums at Initial Appointment (Effective January 1, 2020)

Years of Experience Minimum Salary/Stipend
Less than one year $49,440
One Year $50,058
Two Years $50,676
Three Years $51,294
Four Years $51,912


We recommended that at the beginning of the postdoctoral scholar’s appointment, the PI/Supervisor establish in writing clear expectations (template), at a minimum, for the postdoctoral scholar’s: (a) reporting duties (frequency, level of detail, format, etc.); (b) level of performance; and (c) professional conduct. The postdoctoral scholar is thereafter responsible for meeting or exceeding these expectations.

For more detailed information on predoctoral and postdoctoral scholars at ISU, consult the Graduate College Handbook.


A practical first step is for a PI to work with a new postdoctoral scholar to establish an Individual Development Plan (IDP) within the first three months of the appointment. The Individual Development Plan is an interactive web-based tool that serves as a constructive means of communication between the postdoctoral scholar and PI. It also provides a planning process that identifies both professional development needs and career objectives.

Reviewing the IDP on an annual basis is a good practice. At an administrative level, annual reviews are required. See below for details and a timeline. We provide this document for an Annual Review Template that builds on the progress of the IDP. Annual salary increases need to conform to the guidance issued by the President’s and Provost’s Offices and must be sufficient to meet the minimum for the experience level.

Annual Review

The PI/supervisor shall conduct a performance evaluation with the postdoctoral scholar once a year. Evaluations will be conducted for postdoctoral scholars who are expected to be appointed for more than one year. The review will assess the postdoctoral scholar’s progress to date, strengths, and areas needing improvement. Also included will be expectations, activities, and goals for the upcoming year.

Timeline: March 1 – May 10

** Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deadline for annual reviews has been extended to September 1, 2020. **

  1. The annual review confirmation must be completed by the PI/supervisor and acknowledged by the postdoctoral scholar in Workday.
  2. Check with your home department to determine if they expect a copy of the review or confirmation.
  3. All reviews must occur before determinations can be made regarding the July 1 salary/stipend increase.

Salary/Stipend Increases

Increases in salary/stipend may occur only at the start of each fiscal year (July 1). These increases will based on annual institutional salary/stipend guidelines, and not by years of experience. The Salary/Stipend table only sets the initial salary/stipend level. A new postdoctoral scholar whose appointment begins May 1 and extends through June 30 is not eligible for an increase until July 1 of the next year. A supervisor may deny a salary/stipend increase due to a scholar’s performance if a formal review has resulted in a plan for performance improvement.

Hiring Forms/Procedures

Procedure for Appointing Postdoctoral Scholars – Workday and Competitive Recruitment

All postdoc positions must be advertised at for a minimum of seven (7) days. Advertising for at least seven (7) days is likely to attract diverse pools of qualified applicants who may not have otherwise known of these opportunities.

Click here for more information about recruitment and appointment procedures.

Process - New Appointees

For Faculty: Upon determining that you would like to hire a postdoctoral scholar, email your Staff Recruiting Specialist (SRS) to initiate the process. Be prepared to submit a job summary, description of minimum qualification(s) and preferred qualifications, location, cost center, and other relevant position/posting information. The SRS will initiate the process in Workday, and the action will route to you as the Manager and then to the Business Unit Manager for approval. Upon approval, the job will then be advertised on for a minimum of seven (7) days. The Manager can request assistance with additional external advertising.

Once the posting application deadline has closed, the SRS can rate the candidates, or the Manager can complete this task him/herself. From the pool of candidates that meet the minimum qualifications, the Manager will work with the SRS to determine who to interview and who will conduct interviews. The final decision of who to hire is up to the faculty manager/principal investigator.

Once a candidate has been selected, the SRS will perform a degree verification, and a contingent offer can be extended. The HR Delivery Team will initiate a Hire process in Workday. Once the offer has been extended and accepted, onboarding is automatic through Workday, and a New Postdoctoral Scholar Orientation will be extended through the Postdoctoral Scholar Office at the beginning of each semester.

Appointing a Recent ISU Graduate: A faculty member may appoint his or her newly graduated Iowa State University Ph.D. student for a maximum appointment of three (3) months without advertising if the hire happens within 30 calendar days after commencement. A competitive recruitment will be required for continuation (renewal) of any postdoctoral scholar who was initially hired under this exception.

For questions regarding the competitive recruitment policy, please contact Misty Treanor at .

Process - Reappointment

If a postdoctoral scholar will be reappointed after the initial appointment, the Manager shall email the HR Coordinator () to initiate this process. When reappointing a postdoctoral scholar, begin this process in a timely manner to ensure no payroll delays.

Renewals do not require a new competitive recruitment.

Additional Compensation

Prior approval is required on payments for salary above the postdoctoral scholar's base salary. Please submit a request to pay additional compensation to the following:

Misty Treanor
Postdoctoral Scholar Coordinator

Lynette McBirnie-Sprecher
Business Manager

The request must include:

  • A description of the nature of the work, including if/how the work has been performed in the past
  • An explanation of why it is considered to be clearly outside of the scope of the person's normal duties
  • The amount of the proposed compensation and an explanation of how this amount was determined
  • An estimate of the amount of time that the individual will spend on the activity and the estimated dates of service
  • An explanation of how the person can reasonably carry out his or her full-time job responsibilities during this time period.
  • Whether it is expected that the proposed activity will continue beyond the period for which the compensation is requested

Resignation Process

Non-Renewal of Appointment – Principal Investigator

In the event that a postdoctoral scholar appointment will not be renewed, it is recommended as a professional courtesy to provide as much notice as possible prior to the end of the appointment. This time period should allow the postdoctoral scholar to successfully complete or transition any ongoing projects and also to allow them time for future plans and accommodations. At least a 60-day notice is highly recommended; more time is recommended for international postdoctoral scholars to provide sufficient time for making visa arrangements.

Please follow these steps immediately after informing the postdoctoral scholar of a non-renewal:

  1. Notify the HR Coordinator () to start the resignation process in Workday.
  2. Email/share with the postdoctoral scholar an invitation to take the Postdoctoral Scholar Exit Survey.
  3. Refer the postdoctoral scholar to the departmental check-out process (returning keys, etc.).

Resignation of Appointment - Postdoctoral Scholar

Submit written notification of intended departure to your Principal Investigator/Supervisor. It is recommended as a professional courtesy to provide as much notice as possible prior to leaving. At least a 30-day notice is highly recommended

Please fill out the Postdoctoral Scholar Exit Survey and refer to the Postdoctoral Scholar Departure List.

All unused accrued vacation is forfeited at the time of resignation. Postdoctoral scholars are encouraged to use their accrued vacation during their appointment time.

Resignation of Appointment - Department

Please follow these steps:

  1. Notify the HR Coordinator () to start the resignation process in Workday.
  2. Email/share with the postdoctoral scholar an invitation to take the Postdoctoral Scholar Exit Survey.
  3. Refer the postdoctoral scholar to the departmental check-out process (returning keys, etc.).

Postdoctoral Scholar Exit Survey

Is your postdoctoral scholar experience ending soon?

The Graduate College is interested in obtaining feedback about the ISU postdoctoral scholar experience. The Exit Survey will take about 15 minutes to fill out.

The results from this survey will give the postdoctoral scholar Office valuable information on relevant areas, resources, and services needed to enhance the postdoctoral scholar experience at Iowa State. All responses to this survey will be kept confidential. Thank you in advance for taking the time to complete this survey.