Stanford University
Postdoctoral Scholars

April 2012

Engineering, Humanities & Science, Earth Science, and Education - Changes in the University's Term Limit Policy for Postdoctoral Scholars


To: Faculty and Department Postdoctoral Administrators

We are writing to announce several important policy changes and mentoring guidelines that Provost Etchemendy approved after recommendation from the Universityís Advisory Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs. These changes add flexibility in supporting a positive experience of postdocs and in responding circumstances where you may find it necessary to extend a new or current postdoctoral appointment beyond the limits of the existing policy. The following highlights these changes and guidelines:

1. An annual meeting of research progress and goal setting between the faculty mentor(s) and the postdoc is strongly encouraged.

Considering that an annual discussion of progress and goal setting invite conversations about long-term goals that can be often missed, several faculty utilize a formal process with their postdocs. This process reviews accomplishments and maps the next set of short-term objectives along a career path. Faculty and postdocs have found this review to be rewarding and motivational. Towards facilitating this conversation, a template of suggested guidelines and questions was developed (http://postdocs.stanford.edu/faculty_mentors/PDF/Meeting_Template_Form.pdf).

We recognize that individual mentoring styles vary and they are valued; there is no implication that this suggested template is the only format that these discussions should follow, but the conversation should be carried out on an annual basis and notes kept.

2. A set of policies has been developed to regarding the four-year term limit for postdoctoral appointment eligibility:

a. An extension for a fifth year may be granted with the filing of a written plan that has been discussed and agreed upon by the postdoc and faculty mentor(s) with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

b. A set of standard exceptions to the limit is now allowed: discounting up to one year of training in the thesis lab; extensions that bridge time to a job that has been offered; and extensions to complete a nationally or internationally competitive fellowship.

c. In rare circumstances, a sixth year is allowed after review by a subcommittee of faculty. To be eligible for consideration, the annual formal goal setting and progress meetings must have occurred from the initial year of appointment at Stanford and notes provided to the subcommittee.

3. The policy adds new provisions that aim to support postdocs who are new parents that include a clarification that paid maternity/paternity leave time is discounted from the term limit, and a provision to allow a reduction in effort when it is necessary for the postdoc to take care of significant family obligations or due to medical reasons.

The full text of the policy and the relevant details are available online at http://rph.stanford.edu/9-4.html. Feel free to contact your departmentís postdoctoral administrator if you have questions about these changes, or reach out to Rania Sanford (raniasanford@stanford.edu ; 5-5075) or Tammy Wilson (tjwilson@stanford.edu) at the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs if you have further questions or wish to offer feedback.

Michael Longaker, MD, FACS
Chair, Provostís Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs
And Professor of Surgery

Rania Sanford, Ed.D.
Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs
Stanford University

School of Medicine - Changes in the University's Term Limit Policy for Postdoctoral Scholars


Dear Colleagues,

As you know, there is a delicate balance between providing sufficient and optimal training time for a postdoc and the need to ensure their timely transition to employment. While the majority of postdoctoral scholars across the University are here for two to three years, the optimal time span varies significantly by discipline, individual, and sub-discipline, and is highest in the Biosciences. After much discussion with colleagues, who were concerned about the limitations of postdoc term limit policy in addressing many circumstances that faculty and trainees face on a regular basis, the Provost has approved the following recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs. These changes aim to increase the flexibility in responding to the training needs of individuals who find it necessary to continue longer than our average as well as encourage advisor-trainee discussion and mentorship (see also http://rph.stanford.edu/9-4.html):

1. An extension of postdoctoral training for a fifth year required petition to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Going forward, such petition is grantable with the filing of a well-worked out written plan that has been discussed and agreed upon by the postdoc and faculty mentor(s). This written plan provides a mechanism to ensure clear communication between the faculty mentor and postdoc of immediate goals and to aid in recognizing realistic future options. This plan may be submitted as an informal paragraph. However, we recommend using the template for discussions, and accompanying form, that is available at http://postdocs.stanford.edu/faculty_mentors/PDF/Meeting_Template_Form.pdf. An earlier version of this template has been in use by many faculty over the past few years. Revisions were piloted with several faculty in the fall quarter, across Stanford schools, who provided positive feedback and modest changes incorporated in the current form.

2. The policy now formalizes a set of exceptions to the term limit: discounting up to one year of training in the thesis lab; allowing extensions that bridge time to a job that has been offered; and allowing extensions to complete nationally or internationally competitive fellowships.

3. The policy now grants a sixth year of training for individuals who are pursuing a second postdoctoral position in a new field upon review by a subcommittee of faculty who are members of the Provostís Advisory Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs.

4. Petitions for a sixth year of postdoctoral appointment (for current or new trainees) who are not pursuing training in a second postdoc in a new field may be reviewed by the subcommittee. The subcommittee will balance flexibility with efforts to ensure that training is highly effective and is as compact as possible in the interest of the postdoc. The review will be consider criteria that include the scientific merit of the case, the record of mentoring from the initial year of appointment at Stanford, the postdocís research activity, the faculty mentorís trainee history and outcomes. The postdoc and the faculty mentor will be asked to provide an agreed-upon transition plan to pursue during the extension period. Additionally, the subcommittee will look favorably on intervening significant family obligations that might have delayed progress of a trainee, and will work within the applicable constraints of immigration and labor laws. The University will evaluate those requests (and the results of the review) after a year of those decisions.

Importantly, in order to be eligible for continuing into a sixth postdoctoral year, postdocs and mentors must have carried out a yearly review of progress and a discussion of goals, starting from the postdocs first year in the lab. For current postdocs, such yearly reviews are required starting in 2012. Forms to guide these meetings are available online at http://postdocs.stanford.edu/faculty_mentors/PDF/Meeting_Template_Form.pdf. Notes or summaries from previously completed meetings should be provided to the subcommittee. We encourage filling of yearly meetings with your departmentís postdoctoral administrator, for later retrieval. If requested, the forms can be filed electronically with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at any time.

Several faculty and postdocs took part in formalizing this policy and developing the mentoring meeting guidelines. They and the committee feel that an annual review of progress invite discussions of long-term goals that are often missed otherwise. Several faculty utilize these templates and find the process to be motivational to their trainees, rewarding, and even transformativeóreinforcing mutual interests while offering an opportunity for feedback, difficult conversations, and exploration of possible new directions. Individual mentoring styles are valued and there is no implication that the suggested templates be the only format that these discussions should follow, and documentation of their occurrence will be required only in case of requests that appointments be extended as described above. Nevertheless, we hope that you consider implementing this yearly review and goal setting process for all your postdocs.

The full text of the policy is available online at http://rph.stanford.edu/9-4.html. Please do not hesitate to contact us or Rania Sanford (raniasanford@stanford.edu; 5-5075) if you have questions or would like to discuss these policies and mentoring expectations.


Daniel Herschlag, PhD
Professor of Biochemistry and
Senior Associate Dean
Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs
School of Medicine

Michael Longaker, MD, FACS
Professor of Surgery and
Chair, Provostís Committee on Postdoctoral Affairs
Stanford University

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: