Postdoctoral Scholar Policies and Guidelines

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 the 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) 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 by following the Hiring Forms/Procedure below. 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 compensation amount for postdoctoral scholars. There is no maximum institutional salary. Relevant experience may be used to establish a compensation offer above the minimum. Examples of these experiences 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.

Effective July 1, 2023, the minimum compensation amount for postdoctoral scholars is $52,901 for a full-time, 12-month postdoctoral scholar appointment.

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


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: due November 30 each year.

  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 January 1 salary/stipend increase.

Compensation Increases

Performance Increases in compensation may occur only at the start of each calendar year (January 1) beginning in 2024. These increases will be based on annual institutional compensation guidelines and not on years of experience. Beginning in fall 2024: annual reviews should occur each fall (September – November).

Eligibility Criteria for Performance-Based Merit Adjustments can be found here.

During the transition between July 1, 2023, and January 1, 2024:

We do not recommend that you conduct a second performance review in 2023 in order to transition to the new fall performance review timeline but instead conduct a six-month “check-in” with postdocs in fall 2023, prior to the implementation of the January 1, 2024 salary policy.

To view frequently asked questions and details regarding new hires and position changes, see the Faculty, P&S, Contract, and Postdoc Annual Review and Performance Increase Timeline Shift here.

Types of increases:

  • Performance Postdocs who consistently meet the standards of performance for their positions will receive a performance based, meritorious salary adjustment in accordance with the parameters established during the annual review process. The adjustment must be documented by a written performance evaluation and will be effective annually as stipulated in the annual meritorious increase process. Performance based salary adjustments may not be proposed outside the annual review process.
  • Equity When necessary and necessary and appropriate, salary adjustments not related to performance but intended to correct equity disparities may be proposed for postdocs. Salary adjustments for postdocs require approval from the supervisor, the academic college, and the Dean of the Graduate College. Related information can be found here. For questions regarding equity comparisons or any additional information, please contact GA Support.

Funding The salary adjustment policy is applicable for all fund sources. All individual salary adjustments are subject to available funding.

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. Additionally, all candidates must apply to the position posted on the ISU jobs page in order to be considered for employment.

Process - New Appointees


For Faculty: Upon determining that you would like to hire a postdoctoral scholar, email your HR Delivery team () 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 HR Delivery team will initiate the business process with UHR Talent Acquisition. UHR TA 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 Staff Recruiting Specialist (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 UHR TA 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.

A contingent offer can be made after a candidate is selected and professional references have been verified. It is important to note that recommendation letters should not be used in lieu of contacting professional references. UHR TA will check references using the Workday system. If they choose, the hiring manager can contact the references for additional job-related information or request letters of recommendation. Please note that if the hiring manager elects to collect letters of recommendation, they must do so for each candidate unless only requested for the final candidate. After the candidate’s references have been contacted, an offer letter in Workday will be routed for review and signatures. Once the offer letter is signed, UHR TA verifies that the doctorate was awarded. If the degree has not yet been conferred and the conferring institution is not Iowa State, a letter certifying that all graduation requirements (e.g., course work/credits, dissertation defense, full approval of the final version of the dissertation, etc.) have been met is required from the student’s Graduate College or equivalent (a letter from the student’s adviser/major professor/department/graduate program is not sufficient) prior to the candidate starting the Postdoc position. In scenarios where the degree has not been conferred, and a letter is obtained, UHR TA will still verify the degree during the graduation month or require a copy of the doctoral diploma. UHR TA will initiate a Hire process in Workday. Once the hire process has been initiated, the Form I-9 process and onboarding is automatic through Workday, and a New Postdoctoral Scholar Orientation will be available 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. Competitive recruitment will be required for the continuation (renewal) of any postdoctoral scholar who was initially hired under this exception.

Predoctoral Scholars: Predoctoral Scholars (predocs) can be hired using the Hire Student business process and may be completed by JM Support or HR Delivery. Predocs that were previously Graduate Assistants must first be separated from their GA appointment, and then a new hire processed for the predoc.

Service Portal KB Articles to assist with hiring.

Graduate Student to Postdoctoral Scholar

Graduate Student to Predoctoral Scholar

Predoctoral Scholar to Postdoctoral Scholar

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 for additional compensation to: Heather Greenlee ()

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 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.