What Neutral Parties Are Responsible for Handling Grievances of the Postdoc?

Responses to this question indicated a wide diversity of mechanisms. The largest number of organizations (76 percent) said that a dean or department chair handled grievances; smaller numbers pointed to a human-resources staff person (51 percent), the adviser (46 percent), or an ombudsperson (43 percent).

Institutions reported a wide variety of “other” methods for handling postdocs' grievances, from “same as junior faculty” to “office of grad studies and research” and “ombudsfolks—faculty peer adviser selected by postdocs”). A few reported that most of the responsibility lay with a single person; a smaller number described a more flexible process (“Dispute resolution guideline for College of Medicine postdoctoral fellows; Ad hoc committee makes recommendation to associate dean for research and graduate education”).

CLOSEUP Survey Results

counter the isolation experienced by many postdocs, especially those from overseas, and protect against the occasional instances of abuse.

It is true that experienced investigators have little time to spare for additional duties. However, postdocs have found that even brief discussions (one to two hours per meeting) can bring valuable rewards in new perspectives and suggestions.

Ethical development.

Institutions should emphasize the importance of professional development and ethics as a central feature of mentoring. By establishing seminars or workshops on research conduct and ethics, the institution can supplement what is learned from the adviser and provide a baseline code of behavior for all postdocs.5


The imbalance of power in the adviser-postdoc relationship increases the possibility of misunderstandings and abuses. A desire for a grievance procedure is commonly reported by postdoc surveys, and the AAU recommends that each institution's core policies should provide mechanisms to resolve grievances. The University of California system, for example, recommends that campuses establish a standard grievance procedure for postdocs that is written, protects due process, contains clear time lines, and requires a clear statement of alleged grievance and requested remedy.6 The COSEPUP survey shows that institutions handle grievances through a variety of mechanisms (see Box).


As referenced earlier, the National Academies' publication, On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, 1995, may be useful in such discussions.


Council on Graduate Deans, University of California, Report on Postdoctoral Education at UC, Fall 1998. See web site www.ogsr.ucsd.edu/PostdocEdu/Report.html.

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