Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the difference between a Postdoctoral Associate (PDA) and a Postdoctoral Scholar (PDS)?

A PDA is an official university employee. PDAs will have their taxes withheld (state and federal only along with Social Security) automatically by Human Resources. PDAs also have their benefits (health, vision, dental, parking) deducted from their paycheck pre-tax (meaning you end up paying less income tax). PDAs receive an official W-2 tax form at the end of the year, which is also reported to the federal government. Postdocs being hired to work on an existing R01 or other research grant awarded to their PI will most likely be PDAs.

A PDS is an official Postdoc position, but NOT a University employee. This position is generally restricted to Postdocs who have private funding sources or are part of Training Grants that do not permit benefits or other “overhead” charges to be applied to the grant. This situation can cause some problems for Postdocs when it comes to parking, child care access, work injury-related health care, and other benefits where the Postdoc is not recognized as an employee and cannot obtain access to these benefits through normal routes. It is up to you to discuss this with your supervisor and department to determine what benefits you have and work out the best arrangement. Typically, since this position provides the University with a sense of “honor” because it has been won by the Postdoc, and salary is not being charged to research grants, the department or PI will pay for these benefits (like a normal employee), out of departmental or research funds provided that such additional payments are permitted by the granting foundation. If a suitable arrangement cannot be made, the office of academic career development (OACD) may be able to mediate or help.

A summary of the differences between PDA and PDS benefits can be found here.

Another important distinction for the PDS is that the University does not take taxes out of your paycheck. It is up to you to pay estimated taxes (federal, state, and local) on a quarterly basis to avoid “underpayment penalties” which can be assessed by these government agencies for failing to pay a certain percentage of your taxes before April 15th. Because no W-2 is generated by the University, a 1099-M may be generated (although not always the case). It is sometimes best to consult with a tax professional to determine what the best course of action may be. Because the PDS is a non-employee, this can cause problems when applying for loans as the recent financial crisis has caused some lending institutions to tighten the restrictions on loans. A PDS is viewed by some lending institutions as “self-employed” or a “contract worker” and therefore ineligible for a loan. Consult with a financial advisor or shop around at different banking institutions if you are in need of a loan (for a car or a house).

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

What health insurance coverage do I get from the University?

The University is committed to ensuring that all postdoctoral appointees have access to a comprehensive health care plan for themselves and their families. PDAs and PDSs who receive full-time or fractional appointments are eligible to participate in the University’s health insurance plan for faculty and staff. The University will provide individual coverage at an assigned cost to the individual. Family coverage (for spouses and dependent children) is available by paying the supplemental premium per University guidelines. To enroll in the individual or family plan, the PDA/PDS must complete an enrollment form. PDA/PDSs who participate in the University health insurance plan may elect to purchase optional dental and vision coverage. As non-employees, the value of the Postdoctoral Scholars’ University contribution to health insurance is subject to IRS reporting as imputed income.

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

What do I do if I have an accident at work?

Be sure to follow your department’s stated procedure for injuries at work; this may involve notifying your compliance officer and following their instructions.  Postdoctoral Associates should call UPMC Work Partners at 1-800-633-1197 (available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week) to report your injury and open a worker’s compensation claim – this is a service paid for by the University of Pittsburgh through the UPMC Insurance Company and has nothing to do with being a UPMC employee. This will allow you to seek treatment without you or your Pitt Postdoc insurance being billed for treatment.** For your treatment to be covered by a worker’s compensation claim, you must seek treatment at one of the designated providers listed here: You must also notify your supervisor of the accident.

You can seek medical care from one of the designated providers for 90 days.

If you require emergency medical care, you may seek treatment at the closest Emergency Department for your initial care, but any additional medical treatment must be obtained from one of the designated providers for your treatment to be covered by a worker’s compensation claim.

**As Postdoctoral Scholars are not considered university employees, they must have their treatment covered through their own health insurance. It is therefore important that Postdoctoral Scholars seek medical treatment at a provider approved by their health insurance.  If a PDS is injured at work and has trouble obtaining appropriate medical care or is unable to cover the copays or drug costs of work injury-related care, they should call the Office of Academic Career Development at 412-648-8486 at the first opportunity to have appropriate care arranged and all questions answered.  This service is open to all postdoctoral scholars regardless of what school their appointment is in.

How much vacation time am I entitled to?

A PDA/PDS on a 12-month contract receives 20 compensated days annually per contract year that can be used for vacation, personal days and brief sick day periods. More protracted illnesses are covered by the medical leave provision outlined in the next section. With the exception of sick days, compensated days must be taken at times that are approved by the faculty mentor. Compensated days are not able to be carried over from one contract year to another and are not paid out upon termination or expiration of an appointment. A PDA/PDS also will receive compensated time-off for University-wide holidays and the Holidays recess, unless the department chair and faculty mentor give the PDA/PDS written notice that it will be necessary for the PDA/PDS to perform essential work duties, in which case alternative compensated time off will be provided. Source: Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018

A proposal to expand these vacation days was approved earlier this year and will go into place shortly.  Under the new policy, PDA/PDSs will continue to have 20 paid vacation days PLUS the University Holidays (paid) PLUS Holiday recess (paid).  Check back to this page for updates regarding the implementation of new vacation time procedures.

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

What if I need to take leave due to pregnancy, long term sickness or to care for a family member?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), PDA/PDSs who have been appointed for at least 12 months and have served a minimum of 1,250 hours in the preceding 12 months are eligible for a total of 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for a serious health condition, or a family member¹s serious health condition, and an additional 8 work weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a PDA/PDS¹s child following the 4 work weeks of paid leave described above. PDA/PDSs are subject to the same FMLA procedures and requirements as regular University staff as set forth in Policy 07-07-02 and Procedure 07- 07-02 posted at: Additional information on a PDA/PDS¹s Rights and Responsibilities under the FMLA is set forth in the government notice reproduced at Appendix B to Postdoctoral Guidelines. Certain funding agencies may provide paid sick days for PDSs on an annual basis.

Please note, as of August 2018, official maternal leave for the birthmother was increased from four to six weeks.

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

Am I entitled to participate in the University’s pension scheme?

Effective July 1, 2005, newly appointed Postdoctoral Associates will not be eligible for the University’s 401(a) matching contribution plan but continue to have the option of placing pre-tax contributions in the University’s 403(b) tax-deferred savings plan with either TIAA-CREF or Vanguard. A new option, known as the Roth after-tax 403(b) option, is available effective October 1, 2008, to members of the University community whose appointments allow them to elect pre-federal tax deferred contributions to TIAA- CREF and/or Vanguard (available to Postdoctoral Associates). The tax implications of choosing one of these options should be explored with a personal tax advisor or investment counselor.

Postdoctoral Scholars are not eligible for any University offered retirement account as they are not able to elect pre-federal tax deferred contributions being non-employees.  PDSs should pursue retirement saving at a private financial institution of their choice.

No postdocs at the University of Pittsburgh are eligible for matched contribution retirement plans.

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

Human Resources Benefits Page

Pitt Postdoc Classifications and Benefits Summary Sheet

Can I be covered by the University paid basic life insurance?

Postdoctoral Associates and Postdoctoral Scholars are provided with the University paid basic group life insurance coverage at one times base salary up to a maximum of $50,000. Additionally, both categories are eligible for participant-paid optional life insurance as well as spouse and dependent life insurance coverages. Additional life insurance coverage information can be found at

As non-employees, the value of the Postdoctoral Scholars’ University-paid life insurance is subject to IRS reporting as imputed income.

Source: ‘Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018’

What do I do if I experience sexual harassment or discrimination at work?

As members of the University community, it is important that PDA/PDSs are familiar with the following policies and procedures, as well as their potential roles and responsibilities in the University workplace:

• Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018

• 06-05-01, Sexual Harassment

• 07-01-03, Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Procedure

• pitt , Harassment by Telecommunication

• 02-04-03, Faculty-Student Relationships

• 10-02-05, Computer Access and Use

PDAs/PDSs are also encouraged to complete the online sexual harassment training

program described at

What do I do if I feel I have been unfairly treated or have a conflict in the workplace?

In addition to following the steps below, postdocs in the health sciences with conflicts in the workplace or in need of unbiased professional advice can make an appointment with the OACD to discuss these issues. All postdocs can contact the UPPDA Advocacy Committee for advice and contacts who may be able to help.

A PDA/PDS who believes that he or she has been treated unfairly should first discuss the problem with the faculty mentor and the department chair. Each school should designate a faculty member, or member of the administration experienced in postdoctoral education, whose duties are to serve as a resource to the PDA/PDS in addressing and resolving grievances. If a resolution cannot be reached at either the departmental level or through the efforts of the designated resource person, the PDA/PDS should present the grievance to the dean for informal evaluation and, as necessary, adjudication. The determination by the dean is the final step in the grievance process.

Early Termination of Appointment: Early termination refers to the dismissal of a PDA/PDS prior to the end date of the contractual period of appointment. Early termination may be initiated only if the PDA/PDS has received an appropriate and timely written warning with respect to his or her performance, or has clearly violated one of the major canons of institutional responsibility or University Policy. The PDA/PDS must be informed in writing of the reasons for the termination. The termination letter must be signed by the faculty mentor and co-signed by the department chair. The appeals procedure must be included with the early termination letter.

The appeals procedure for early termination is as follows: (1) The PDA/PDS must appeal to the dean in writing within two weeks of receiving the notification of termination. (2) The dean or his/her designee will appoint a panel of two faculty members and two PDA/PDSs recommended by the University of Pittsburgh Postdoctoral Association (UPPDA). The dean or his or her designee will serve as chair. No one from the involved academic department shall be eligible to serve on the appeals panel. All involved parties shall represent themselves before the panel. (3) Within six weeks of filing the appeal with the dean, the appellant shall be provided with a hearing, and subsequently shall be notified of the panel’s findings and recommendation. The dean’s decision will be rendered in a timely fashion, and the appellant so notified as soon thereafter as possible. The dean’s decision is the final step in the appeals process.

Source: Postdoctoral Guidelines updated Summer 2018

What are my responsibilities as a postdoc and what are my mentor’s responsibilities to me?

The ‘Guidelines for Postdoctoral Associates and Postdoctoral Scholars’ state the duties and rights of a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh. They can be found here:

Briefly, this document states:

The responsibility of the faculty mentor should include regular meetings to provide feedback and advice on the PDA/PDS research and scholarship, such as review of research results, identification of alternative resources and approaches, etc., and discussion of career advancement plans and strategies, such as plans for presentation of research results at national professional meetings. The faculty mentor should provide opportunities for the individual to advance by enabling his/her participation in laboratory, department and University-based professional development opportunities; the faculty mentor should ensure that the PDA/PDS attends seminars and presents research seminars, has opportunities to gain experience in teaching, and develops oral and written communication skills, such as public speaking, manuscript preparation and grant-writing.

The individual (PDA/PDS) is responsible for meeting the obligations and expectations provided in the letter of appointment and in initial discussions with the faculty mentor, including demonstration of ethical standards, maintaining good laboratory practices, engaging in collegial conduct with his/her mentor and coworkers, and meeting additional obligations or activities as stated in the letter of appointment (i.e., teaching, grant writing, training laboratory members). A PDA/PDS must adhere to all University policies regarding research conduct.

What can I do if my mentor doesn’t fulfill their responsibilities to me?

As a postdoc it is important that you have additional mentors to support you in your career development. The OACD has implemented new strategies to help postdocs in the health sciences stay on track with their training. Every new postdoc appointee must now complete a Postdoctoral Career Development Plan with their mentor and complete Progress Assessments.

The Postdoctoral Career Development Plan is a tool postdocs can use to stay on track with their mentor and is an avenue for postdocs to recruit additional mentors. It may be helpful for current postdocs and postdocs outside the health sciences to use these forms unofficially to develop a plan with their mentors.  To access these forms visit:

Start attending University networking events and seminars to meet people who could be on your mentoring team. Consider approaching additional mentors who have followed a career pattern similar to the one you are pursuing, or mentors with expertise relevant to your area of study who could help you troubleshoot technical problems. The OACD may be able to connect postdocs in the health sciences with a suitable mentor. For further information and suggestions see the OACD website:


University of Pittsburgh administrators take their obligation to postdocs very seriously.  These policies are in place to protect members of the University community and prevent abuse to anyone working at the University of Pittsburgh.  If you have a serious problem at work that needs urgent attention, please contact:

The Office of Academic Career Development

The Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Studies
     Stephanie Hoogendoorn, Assistant to the Provost
or for any concern you may contact the UPPDA Advocacy Committee