Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs
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Chapter 3

Postdoctoral Appointments, Reappointments, and Terminations

  • Per the Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, postdoctoral appointments are made on an annual basis for no more than five years irrespective of institution at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Postdocs are considered “academic support staff” positions per the Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, and are NOT covered by many of the policies for traditional staff, student, and faculty positions. As a result, the Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows in the Physical, Biological, and Health Sciences and in Engineering, was created in 1996 (see Appendix: Policies), and was the primary policy document for individuals in this title. In September 2004 the policy was revised and is now the Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania. The BPP policies for postdocs in the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Veterinary Medicine were revised in 2006 to bring them closer to the general university policy (see BPP Policies for Postdoctoral Appointments, Training and Education)
  • The University specifies three postdoctoral titles for use in the Payroll/Personnel System (see Chapter 4).
  • School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine Faculty and Business Offices must use the approved standardized appointment letters and process for biomedical postdoctoral appointments.
  • Foreign national appointments must comply with all University, state and federal guidelines and regulations as they pertain to immigration. The Office of International Programs should be contacted whenever the appointment of a foreign national is anticipated.


The standardized postdoctoral initial appointment and reappointment letters were by prepared Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs and approved by the BPP advisory committee. Letter templates contain critical information meant to outline the working relationship and to protect both the mentor and the postdoc. Letters are available online or as an e-mail attachment. When contacting BPP to request letters, please indicate what type of computer and software you have. The types of letters and what they include are outlined below:

Initial Appointment Letters (see Appendix: Letters)

It is critical that Initial Appointment Letters are sent well in advance of the postdoc’s anticipated start date. This allows both the faculty mentor and the postdoc to ask any questions and to clarify the terms of their future appointment. It also allows the department and faculty member to assist the postdoc with completion of any visa paperwork (if needed) as well as provide the postdoc with time to obtain the necessary documentation of his or her terminal degree.

The time prior to the initial appointment is the best time to address additional concerns, such as housing. See Chapter 7 for more resources.

  • Official University Title
  • Work Project Description
  • Start Date
  • Length of Appointment (one year from start date)
  • Conditions of Appointment
  • Postdoc Insurance Information/SRA Info
  • Postdoctoral Policy
  • BPP Postdoctoral Appointment Manual
  • Patent Policy Information
  • Foreign National
  • Diploma/Degree Requirement
  • Signatures

Renewal Letters

Postdoctoral appointments are renewable. Postdoctoral positions are annual appointments and thus, a postdoc’s reappointment date will always be the same day and month as the initial start date even if the postdoc transfers to another department or lab on a date other than the reappointment date. For example, if a postdoc began on 5/1/06, her reappointment date will always be 5/1 of the respective year.

As with initial appointments, renewals should be one year in length. Departments who wish to have a shorter or longer period of appointment must consult with BPP to discuss the specific situation.

  • Annual Reappointment: Towards the end of each appointment year, Faculty mentors should review the performance of the postdoc, research needs of the lab, and their budget to determine whether or not to renew the postdoc’s appointment. If they decide to renew the appointment, they must give the postdoc a standardized renewal letter. Faculty mentors are also encouraged to discuss performance, including productivity, with postdocs at this time.  Three months in advance of the end of appointment is the required time frame for these conversations and for drafting renewal letters.
  • Terminal Reappointment: The Policy for Postdoctoral Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania (September 2004) states that “no doctoral postgraduate can serve at the University of Pennsylvania for more than five years at the status of postdoctoral fellow”. The “terminal reappointment” letter is sent to a postdoc who is at the end of his/her fourth year to indicate that the coming year is the fifth and final year that he or she can remain in the postdoc title.

Departmental Transfer Letters

This letter was created specifically for biomedical postdocs who transfer from one department to another during their current appointment period. When a postdoc transfers to another department it does not warrant a new start date, but rather the postdoc will continue out his or her current appointment with the new department/mentor until the postdoc’s time of reappointment.

Termination Letters

The standardized initial appointment and renewal letters indicate the full term of the appointment (1 year from begin date) and therefore an additional termination letter is not required if the appointment ends on the pre-established end date. However, faculty members are strongly encouraged to remind the postdoc verbally or in writing as the end date approaches if it is their intent to terminate the appointment.

If a postdoc is being terminated on any other date during the appointment year, he/she MUST be given the appropriate three months written notice. The standardized termination letter should be used in these instances of funding discontinuation or unsatisfactory performance.

We strongly encourage faculty members to assess postdoc performance and funding resources as often as necessary to provide as much advance notice as possible when there is need for termination. In addition, faculty should consult with the department Business Administrator (BA) and BPP before terminating any postdoc during the appointment year.

The existing University Postdoc Policy stipulates that the mentor can only terminate postdoctoral appointments with three months written notice. The purpose of this policy is to protect the postdoc from unfair dismissal. However, rare circumstances may arise where immediate dismissal is appropriate.


From time to time, postdocs may wish to resign their appointment prior to the last day of the appointment year. All Biomedical postdoctoral appointees are expected to follow the guideline below:

When a postdoctoral appointee chooses to resign from his or her position prior to the end of the appointment period as indicated in his or her postdoctoral appointment letter, it is expected that he or she will provide at least one month’s notice. Upon leaving the laboratory, a postdoc has an obligation to leave the original notebooks, data and reagents in a state that will allow continuation of the project and ensures compliance with the Intellectual Property Policy and other relevant policies of the University.”