Appointment Letters

By tradition, postdocs have often been invited to work in a researcher 's lab with no more formality than a phone call or a handshake. Institutions are now beginning the good practice of issuing a formal letter of appointment that contains important contractual elements. The following model is offered to faculty by the postdoctoral office of one university:

Initial Letter of Appointment Outline

  • Offer of postdoctoral position, with brief explanation of research project.

  • Effective date of appointment, amount of stipend, source (and expiration date) of funding, and payroll information.

  • Length of appointment (e.g., annual, with reappointment contingent on satisfactory performance).

  • Leave policy.

  • Copy of institutional policies attached with letter.

  • Health insurance information and requirements and a description of the other benefits provided and (equally important for the postdoc to know) not provided.

  • Intellectual property policy and agreement (enclosed for signature).

  • Work eligibility requirements for US citizens and foreign nationals.

  • Request for proof of doctoral degree (diploma or registrar statement).

  • Request for candidate's signature and return of letter by given date.

Best Practices


In return for working on the adviser's project and with low monetary compensation, the postdoc has the right to expect good mentoring: oversight, feedback, sympathetic consultation, and periodic evaluations. There should be opportunities to present posters and papers and to learn manuscript writing and grant proposal writing. The mentor-trainee relationship can be crucial in helping the postdoc understand the context of his or her research and the requirements of a career focused on advanced research.

The postdoc shares responsibility for making this relationship work, and should understand the multiple demands on the adviser's time. Like any personal relationship, the success of mentoring depends on good will and clear communication by both parties.

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