Research Policy Handbook


Postdoctoral Scholars

Policy Authority

Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Policy Contact

Now in Policy Details

This document sets forth policies and procedures related to the appointment, roles, requirements and responsibilities of Postdoctoral Scholars at Stanford.

1. Definition

A Stanford postdoctoral scholar is a non-matriculated trainee, in graduate student status, in residence at Stanford University pursuing advanced studies beyond the doctoral level in preparation for an independent career. Postdoctoral Scholars are appointed for a limited period of time and may participate on Stanford research projects and/or may be supported by external awards or fellowships. In all cases, their appointment at Stanford is for the purpose of advanced studies, research, and training under the mentorship of a Stanford faculty member.

2. Terms of Appointment

Postdoctoral Scholars are appointed on a full-time basis for a minimum of nine months for the primary purpose of receiving advanced research, clinical, and/or academic training at Stanford University.

In advance of the initial appointment, the terms and conditions of that appointment should be discussed and agreed upon by the Postdoctoral Scholar and the Faculty mentor(s), e.g., sponsoring faculty. This should include agreement on the anticipated length of appointment, scope of work and training goals, expectation of an annual research progress and mentoring, sources and amount of support, and possibly other details such as plans to submit fellowship applications, office space, lab, and supporting equipment such as computers.

A postdoctoral appointment at Stanford brings with it certain defined benefits, including insurance and leave benefits. These defined levels of benefits may not be modified or diminished by individual agreement with the department or the faculty mentor(s)/PI.

All Postdoctoral Scholars must be registered at Stanford during every academic quarter of their appointment. Registration entails payment of a quarterly postdoctoral fee by the appointing academic department or school on behalf of the Scholar.

If a Postdoctoral Scholar wishes to take courses for credit, which are not required by Stanford, the Scholar is responsible for the payment of any tuition and additional fees.

A. Eligibility and Term Limits

Initial appointments are generally restricted to those who have received their Ph.D. within the last three years or their M.D. within the last six years; exceptions to this restriction are permitted in cases when the candidate has been away from research activity after a doctoral degree and wishes to start a training program. Individuals are eligible to be in postdoctoral scholar status at Stanford for a period that does not exceed a total of five years for all combined years of institutional research training/activity, at Stanford and elsewhere.  The following periods are not included in such determination:

  • Up to one year spent in postdoctoral research carried out in the same dissertation lab/research group as doctoral work
  • Period of unpaid leaves

Extensions beyond five years are possible only upon submission of a request to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and after review by a Subcommittee of faculty on postdoctoral term exceptions as described below. All requests for such extensions must be reviewed and approved by the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs.

B. Appointment Processing

Individuals interested in a postdoctoral appointment should make their inquiries directly to the appropriate academic department or faculty member. Faculty members respond to correspondence regarding possible postdoctoral research, to determine whether the area of interest is appropriate for study at Stanford, and whether there is sufficient office/laboratory space and other resources needed to support the Scholar.

The sponsoring faculty mentor initiates the offer of appointment to the Scholar, with departmental approval. A standard offer letter is generated by the department, and communicated electronically and either accepted or rejected electronically by the Scholar. Offers of appointment are contingent upon final approval by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Departments wishing to appoint a Postdoctoral Scholar must follow the University’s online process and provide complete documents (including visa requests) to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs as early as possible and no later than two weeks in advance of the proposed start date for the appointment (longer period may be required for international scholars due to visa processing).

C. Joint Degree Appointees

In the case of candidates who are pursuing joint/dual MD-PhD degrees where one of the two degrees is conferred first, a postdoctoral appointment on the basis of the conferred degree is possible while the second degree is in progress if the postdoctoral training is unrelated to the ongoing degree in progress. Individuals who hold doctoral degrees, who are enrolled in a graduate degree program at another institution, and are at Stanford to pursue research activities that are pertinent to their ongoing graduate degree in progress should be appointed as Visiting Student Researchers rather than as postdoctoral scholars. In the case of postdoctoral appointees who are pursuing a graduate degree program at Stanford, the dual-status policy, Postdoctoral Scholars in Degree Programs (GAP 5.11), applies.

D. Full-Time Appointment

Stanford University maintains that effective and meaningful training for postdoctoral scholars requires full-time commitment by the scholar and the University. As such, postdoctoral scholars at Stanford are appointed in full-time status, or the equivalent of 100% Full Time Equivalent (FTE). Reduction in effort is not allowed in order to offset a funding shortfall, reduce the training expectations, or accommodate inadequate performance. 
However, University policy allows appointment of postdoctoral scholars on a part-time basis in limited circumstances relating to medical and family leave, or as described in the circumstances listed below. The University understands that family- or health-related needs may warrant granting temporary reductions in effort, such as for a new parent, or in the case of trainees undergoing significant medical procedures or treatments, in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • A reduction to a minimum of 50% FTE for new mothers or fathers for up to three months following the return from leave related to the birth or placement (adoption or fostering) of a child.
  • Consistent with applicable laws, in the event of a serious health condition of the scholar or one of their immediate family members, a reduction to a minimum of 50% FTE for scholars for a limited period of time not to exceed 12 weeks, intermittent or taken together, in a one-year period. This provision applies to postdoctoral scholars, regardless of whether they meet the legal eligibility requirements under the California Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
  • A reduction to a limit of 80% FTE in order to facilitate an appointment at the School of Medicine in a 20% Clinical Instructor position. The common configuration for these combined Postdoctoral scholar/clinical instructor appointees are 90/10 or 80/20. A revised offer letter must be made and signed articulating the expectations for both the postdoctoral and clinical portions of the effort and the total compensation.

If necessary, and as required by applicable federal and state medical leave laws, postdoctoral scholars may elect to request unpaid leave of absence in accordance with the leave policy described in Section 6 below. Requests for temporary reductions in effort are subject to review and approval by the Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs. Considerations include funding agency restrictions, research program needs and available resources in the lab, and applicable laws. Any reductions in effort may require a signed waiver of certain benefits and privileges.

E. Appointment Continuation and Extensions/Renewals

Postdoctoral Scholars are appointed at Stanford for fixed terms, by issuance of re-appointment notifications that may total up to five years. Faculty sponsors may request an extension beyond the five-year total (see sections 2.F and 2.G, below). During its term, an appointment is contingent upon satisfactory performance and the existence of funding. At the end of the term and subject to the limits set forth in this policy, the appointment may be eligible for renewal, based on satisfactory performance, the existence of funding, programmatic need and continuing visa eligibility (for international Scholars). International Scholars should note that postdoctoral appointments are not guaranteed to match the length of visa eligibility.

F. Standard Extensions Beyond the Five-Year Term Limit

Postdoctoral training programs at Stanford are intended to be limited in duration and to prepare postdoctoral scholars for research careers in academia and elsewhere. Consistent with this philosophy, the university sets a five-year limit on the total term of postdoctoral appointments, at Stanford and elsewhere, in an effort to facilitate such transition. Those who wish to remain in research at Stanford beyond the term limits of a postdoctoral scholar appointment should be moved, as warranted, to more appropriate classifications at the University. In the two circumstances listed below, faculty mentors may request an exception to the term limit policy in order to extend the current appointment of a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford beyond five years of total research experience.

  • The Scholar has been offered, and has accepted a position with a defined starting date, and an extension of the Stanford appointment would bridge a short period of time (less than 1 year) to the start of that position.
  • The extension would allow for the completion of a nationally or internationally competitive postdoctoral research fellowship.

An administrative approval may be granted in these circumstances upon submission of supporting documentation to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Examples of appropriate documentation include: award or job offer letters, rationale from the faculty sponsor outlining the details of the case, and the scholar's curriculum vitae. Any other exceptions are rare, as described below.

G. Rare Exceptions to Postdoctoral Eligibility and Term Limits

In circumstances other than noted in section 2.F above, a faculty mentor may wish to request an initial appointment or an extension of an individual who has been actively researching for five years after the doctoral degree. Such cases require formal review as described below.

A sixth year of a new appointment or an extension of an existing appointment may be granted upon submission to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs of:

  • A request from the PI (form available here)
  • A training plan from the scholar (form available here)
  • The scholar's updated curriculum vitae
  • A copy of the PI’s complete IDP training record (available here) If there are gaps in the recorded IDP meetings, an explanation should be provided.

Scholars who accept a second postdoctoral training position at Stanford in a new field representing a major change in research direction may receive up to six total years of training. In this circumstance, the request will be reviewed by a faculty committee. To grant approval, that committee will review the following:

  • The record of annual Individual Development meetings that is filed with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. See IDP policy here.
  • The scholar’s updated  curriculum vitae
  • A clear description by the faculty mentor of the distinctions between the previous and proposed new research fields.

Other requests for new appointments or extensions of scholars beyond a fifth year of training where none of the criteria noted above, or in Section 2.F, are met will undergo a more detailed review by the faculty committee. In the case of extensions of existing appointments, the following are required:

  • Detailed account of ongoing mentoring by the faculty member of the postdoctoral scholars towards reaching the scholar's research goals, from the first year of appointment at Stanford. Such account may be demonstrated through the submission of the annual mentoring progress meeting notes and summaries.
  • A written description of an agreed-upon transition plan for the postdoctoral scholar and the faculty member to pursue during the extension period
  • Optional: A second letter of support from a faculty member who has been actively mentoring the postdoctoral scholar.

The committee will consider the merits of the case based on required supporting evidence:

  • Review of the career transition plans including timeline and resources that will be or have been accessed.
  • Review of the postdoctoral scholar's research activity during all years of postdoctoral training.
  • Review of the faculty sponsor's trainee history and outcomes.
  • A rationale outlining the reasons for the appointment or extension in a postdoctoral scholar status – which is a training period – rather than pursuing an Academic Staff Researcher or other staff position.
  • If the scholar has a significant family obligation, the committee will consider it favorably in the extension request.

The committee formulates a recommendation to the Vice Provost for Graduate Education in each case. The final determination is made by the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

H. Early Termination by Appointing Department

The postdoctoral appointment is contingent upon programmatic need, satisfactory performance, and the existence of funding. There is no guaranteed or implied renewal at the end of the term; the faculty mentor and postdoc should discuss renewal well before the end date, a minimum of 3 months if a visa is required. International postdocs may be eligible for up to five full years of a J-1 visa program, but there is no guarantee that the appointment will be renewed. Subject to the limits set forth in university policy, the appointment may be subject to early termination or non-renewal.

A postdoctoral appointment may be ended prior to the agreed-upon appointment end date as a result of funding shortfall, change in programmatic need, or lack of sufficient research progress or inadequate performance. Early termination may also be made following a determination that misconduct by the scholar has occurred.

Where termination is based upon misconduct or cause (including for disclosure or misuse of confidential information, conflict of interest, misuse of University resources, or any other misconduct or acts detrimental to University operations or violating University policy) advance notice of termination may be waived with the approval of the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs.

In all cases of possible early termination, the faculty sponsor must contact the department’s postdoctoral administrator, who may also recommend discussion of the case with the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs.

Faculty sponsors should give the postdoc an early termination notice 30-60 days before the early termination date, with a copy to the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs. In cases of funding shortfall, 90 days’ notice is typical. If the postdoc is on a visa, the faculty sponsor must also provide a written/e-mail notice of the early termination date to the Bechtel International Center.

Any terminations due to inadequate academic or research progress must follow a process by which progress discussions and written evaluation by the faculty mentor are made. This process must note the specific steps to be taken in order to remedy any deficiencies, and the possibility of early termination if those deficiencies remain by a specific date. Such process takes place several weeks/months in advance of taking this early termination action.

3. Visas for International Postdoctoral Scholars

Stanford University appoints international Postdoctoral Scholars in a J-1 (Research Scholar) status. J-1 Scholars who are transferring from another appointment must maintain continuous active status (breaks in J-1 program eligibility are not permitted). When appointing an international Postdoctoral Scholar, the department must request a visa through the Stanford's International Center (Bechtel). Visa requests may be approved only in conjunction with the review of an appointment request to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. 

In the event that an international Scholar is approved for an H-1B (or other employment) visa status, those Scholar must be paid salary. See below, Attachment B: Policy on H-1B (and other employment visas) for Postdoctoral Scholars at Stanford University .

4. Levels and Sources of Financial Support

Postdoctoral Scholars must be supported either by Stanford grants and contracts, training grants, departmental or School fellowship funds, or external fellowships, or by a combination of these sources. Postdoctoral Scholars may not be self-supporting. Benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars are defined in Attachment D, see below. 

All Postdoctoral Scholars, regardless of their source of funding, must be paid at least the minimum level based on years of experience established annually by Stanford University at the time of the appointment, and on September 1 of each subsequent year. A school may also establish a higher minimum salary level for Postdoctoral Scholars paid within that school.

Postdoctoral scholars appointed in the School of Medicine in standard or advanced clinical training programs must be paid based on established Stanford Hospital and Clinics (SHC) Postgraduate year (PGY) levels in effect and in agreement with SHC Graduate Medical Education requirements.

Funding is not limited by the university's academic calendar, and must start and stop on the appointment start and end dates as established by the department. All financial support for Postdoctoral Scholars, whether paid as salary or as stipends, must be entered and recorded through Stanford's Graduate Financial Support (GFS) System.

A. Appointment on Sponsored Projects

Payments from Stanford research contracts and grants, or from other sources where services by the scholar are rendered in return for wages, such as on-call duty, will be processed in the form of assistantship appointments in the university's GFS system. Salary payments to Postdoctoral Scholars are made through the University Payroll Office where appropriate taxes will be withheld and the negotiated fringe benefit rate will be applied. See below in Section 6.

If a Postdoctoral Scholar is receiving salary for less than 50% FTE (for example, if most of the Scholar's support is in the form of fellowship stipends, with supplemental salary), the salary will be charged the "contingent" fringe benefit rate.

B. Fellowship Support

A Postdoctoral Fellowship is a competitive award of financial support to an individual Postdoctoral Scholar, providing a stipend and, in some cases, Stanford registration fees or other expenses. Although Postdoctoral Fellowships may be awarded on the basis of a proposed research program, they are not awarded to accomplish a specific statement of work, and they do not lead to an employer-employee relationship. Postdoctoral Fellowships are awarded on a merit basis to assist a Scholar in his or her professional training and development.

Stipend support may also be provided from department funds, gift accounts, and school fellowships where available, as well as from training grants and other external sources, where the financial assistance is not being provided as salary for work performed.

Postdoctoral Fellowships may not be awarded to international Scholars on an H-1B (employment) visa. Individual Postdoctoral Fellowships may specify other restrictions related to citizenship. Scholars on an H-1B visa may apply for fellowship support, but, if awarded, they will not be able to accept the funding without changing their visa status.

Applications for postdoctoral fellowships are processed in the same manner as sponsored projects, i.e., applications must be routed and approved through either the Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) or, in the School of Medicine, to the Research Management Group (RMG). Applications must be accompanied by a signed Proposal Development and Routing Form (PDRF) and should be submitted to either OSR or RMG at least three days before the proposal is due at the funding agency.

See below: Checklist for Determining Whether Funding is a Postdoctoral Fellowship or a Sponsored Project.

If a Postdoctoral Scholar is receiving salary for less than 50%, or is completely funded through fellowship support, the following sequence applies to determine the appropriate method of paying for the Scholar's insurance benefits:

  • If the Scholar is supported by a fellowship or an institutional training grant which provides funds to pay for the recipient's benefits, then those funds should be used for that purpose. For example, the NIH NRSA awards and training grants include an "institutional allowance" to be used to pay additional expenses, including health insurance, on behalf of the recipient of the award. Those funds may be used to pay the cost of benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars.
  • If no fellowship or training grant funds are available to pay the cost of a Scholar's benefits, then the cost must be borne by a departmental or other unrestricted account. Under no circumstances may the costs of the benefits be directly charged to sponsored projects.

Fellowship applications will be processed only for individuals with approved Postdoctoral appointments. If the Scholar has not yet arrived and begun the appointment, a copy of the offer letter must accompany a fellowship application

5. to Work Regulations: I-9 Requirement

Postdoctoral Scholars, regardless of citizenship, may not receive salary without a valid I-9 Form. A valid I-9 form is required by the Immigration Reform Control Act of 1987. Support from a fellowship or training grant does not require an I-9 Form. Other forms may be required, particularly for international Scholars.

6. State and Federal Tax Compliance

All Postdoctoral Scholars must have a Social Security number on file with Stanford.  All funds received by Postdoctoral Scholars, except from foreign sources to non-resident aliens as noted below, are subject to U.S. federal income tax. Reimbursement for travel expenses incurred to support the Scholar's education (e.g., to attend a conference as a student) may be reportable income. 

Note: Income from a foreign source going to a non-resident alien is not taxable. Income from a foreign source going to a U.S. citizen or to a resident alien is subject to U.S. tax.

A. Payments from Stanford Research Contracts and Grants

Payments from Stanford research contracts and grants will be subject to withholding (a W-4 form should be filed at Payroll). This applies to Postdoctoral Scholars who are U.S. citizens and those who are resident or non-resident aliens. Foreign citizens from countries which have a tax treaty with the United States may qualify under that treaty by filing a Form 8233 prior to receipt of their first salary payment.

B. Stipend Payments

Stipend payments (from fellowship funds or training grants) for Postdoctoral Scholars who are US citizens or resident aliens are not subject to withholding. These Scholars will pay quarterly estimated taxes via the IRS Form 1040-ES and California Form 540-ES. Any fellowship stipends to foreign citizens (except from a foreign source going to a non-resident alien, as noted above) will be withheld for tax at the rate of 14% unless they are a qualifying resident of a country which has a tax treaty with the U.S. All non-resident aliens that qualify under such treaties must file a Form W-8 BEN with the Payroll Office prior to the first stipend payment if they wish to claim exemption.

Note that rules and policies will be modified as needed to accommodate changes in the tax laws. Contact Stanford University Payroll Office for additional information regarding taxes.

7. Registration Fees

Each academic quarter, a postdoctoral registration fee will be charged by Stanford University and is paid on behalf of the Postdoctoral Scholar. This fee may be charged directly to a grant or contract from which the Scholar is being paid, or to a Fellowship supporting the Scholar. Where neither of these funding sources is available, the fee will be paid by the faculty sponsor/department in which the Scholar is appointed

8. Attachment A: Grievance Resolution Procedure for Postdoctoral Scholars

Original Issue Date: November 26, 2001

Updated: April 1, 2020


This procedure applies to all postdoctoral scholars at Stanford University, including those at Stanford University School of Medicine.


This policy outlines formal procedures for resolving both academic and non-academic grievances of postdoctoral scholars at Stanford. This grievance procedure is designed to supplement, not to replace, the routine and informal methods of responding to and remedying postdoctoral scholars' problems and complaints.

Informal Resources

It is desirable for all parties concerned to make serious attempts to resolve disputes informally. This is particularly true for disputes that occur in a relationship of great importance, such as that between a postdoctoral scholar and mentor. There are many resources available to assist postdoctoral scholars in the informal resolution of problems. Confidential resources include: the School of Medicine and University Ombudspersons, the Faculty Staff Help Center and the Office of Religious Life. Other helpful resources include the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, the Stanford University Postdocs (SURPAS), and the WorkLife Office. Further information about these resources is available on the Stanford Website. Postdoctoral Scholars are also encouraged to consult with trusted faculty, if helpful and appropriate.

Grievances Defined

Any Stanford postdoctoral scholar who believes that he or she has been subjected to an improper decision by Stanford University, or by anyone acting officially on behalf of Stanford University, may file a grievance to obtain an independent review of the decision, and, if appropriate, corrective action. A grievance is a written complaint made to an administrative officer of the University concerning such a decision. The following grievance procedure applies to decisions that directly and adversely affect the postdoctoral scholar. The grievance procedure is not available to challenge a University policy perceived to be unfair or inadvisable or contest policies of an individual school, department or program of the University, unless such policies are inconsistent with University policy.

Filing a Grievance

The steps to be followed in filing a grievance are described below. At every stage, the postdoctoral scholar may discontinue the grievance procedure if he or she feels that the conflict has been resolved successfully.

  1. Discussion between the parties directly involved in the dispute where appropriate.
  2. Assessment of informal means available to assist the postdoctoral scholar in resolving the problem. At this stage, the postdoctoral scholar is encouraged to consult with any individuals with whom he or she feels comfortable discussing the matter. This may include parties directly involved, as well as any of the informal resources listed above.
  3. Consultation by the postdoctoral scholar with the program director, division chief or department chair, as appropriate, to discuss the dispute.
  4. If these steps do not yield a satisfactory resolution, the postdoctoral scholar may then file a formal grievance in writing to the dean of the relevant school, or to the Dean of Research for those programs not within a school. The grievance should be submitted in writing within 90 days of the decision that is the subject of the grievance. A delay in the filing of the grievance may constitute grounds for rejection of the grievance, although individual circumstances may be taken into account. The grievance document should include a description of the decision in dispute, and the reasons why the grievant believes the decision was improper. The grievance document should also include a description of the remedy sought and the informal efforts that have been pursued.
    1. SELECTION OF GRIEVANCE OFFICER(S)  The dean may select one or more "grievance officers" to consider the grievance and report to the dean as the dean directs. The parties will be consulted regarding the appropriateness of potential grievance officers. The grievance officer(s) will investigate the matters relevant to the grievance in light of the Standards for Review outlined below and provide a recommendation to the dean. The dean or grievance officer(s) may request a response to the issues raised from any individuals believed to have relevant information, including faculty, staff, students and postdoctoral scholars.
    2. RESPONSE TO THE GRIEVANCE The dean will inform the parties to the dispute in writing of his or her decision and the reasons for the decision, generally within 60 days of the filing of the grievance.

Filing An Appeal

  1. Appeal Provisions  If the grievant feels that the decision of the dean is inappropriate for substantive or procedural reasons, he or she may, within 30 days, file a written appeal with the Provost specifying those reasons. New issues should not be raised at this stage, and general dissatisfaction with the dean's decision is not sufficient reason to appeal. The Provost may select one or more "grievance appeal officers" to consider the grievance and report to the Provost as the latter directs.
  2. Response From the Provost  The Provost will notify all parties to the grievance in writing of his or her decision and the grounds for the decision, generally within 45 days after the receipt of the appeal. The decision of the Provost is final.

Additional Matters

  1. If at any stage the grievant desires the participation in the grievance resolution procedure by an advisor, he or she may select any postdoctoral scholar or University employee, who is not employed as as a lawyer, and who is both willing and able to work with the grievant seeking a resolution. If the time involved for the advisor is more than 20 hours in a calendar year, then personal time off or vacation time must be used for the excess.
  2. No adverse action may be taken against any postdoctoral scholar for his or her legitimate use of the grievance procedure.
  3. At any point within the grievance process, formal proceedings can be put aside in favor of voluntary mediation. For this to occur, both parties to the dispute must agree to participate in mediation. The Stanford Mediation Center advises on whether or not mediation is appropriate and provides mediation services through the University Ombudsperson's Office or external mediators. Further information is available on the Stanford Web site.
  4. The time frames set forth in this policy are guidelines. They may be extended by the relevant administrative officer in his or her discretion for good cause.
  5. Questions concerning the filing and appeal of grievances should be directed to the Postdoctoral Affairs Office.

Standards for Review

  1. Was the decision consistent with Stanford University policies and procedures?
  2. Were the proper facts and criteria brought to bear on the decision? Were improper or extraneous facts or criteria brought to bear that substantially affected the decision to the detriment of the grievant?
  3. Were there any procedural irregularities that substantially affected the outcome of the matter to the detriment of the grievant?
  4. Given the proper facts, criteria and procedures, was the decision one which a person in the position of the decision maker might reasonably have made?


9. Attachment B: Policy on H-1B (and other employment) Visas for Postdoctoral Scholars at Stanford University

Originally issued: July 1, 2010


Updated: August 14, 2020, Updated: March 22, 2019, Updated: March 8, 2012, Updated: November 17, 2017

I. Preamble

Postdoctoral scholars at Stanford are advanced non-matriculating student trainees in an educational program. Foreign national postdoctoral scholars are valued members of the Stanford academic community. In view of increasingly complex immigration and labor laws, a university-wide policy and procedure with respect to H-1B visa sponsorship for foreign postdoctoral scholars at Stanford University are defined and outlined below.

II. Policy

All foreign nationals holding a postdoctoral scholar positions are expected to come to Stanford University in an exchange visitor (J-1) status.

Only in compelling circumstances and only following prior review and approval will the University sponsor a postdoctoral scholar for an H-1B/E3 (or other H-1B equivalent immigration status) visa (Temporary Specialty Worker) petition.

Stanford files employment-based visa petitions only on behalf of beneficiaries receiving 100% of the support described in their offer letter as income reportable on a W-2 document.

The following circumstances warrant Stanford’s sponsorship of an H-1B petition on behalf of the postdoctoral scholar:

  1. The postdoctoral scholar is currently in valid H-1B status;
  2. The postdoctoral scholar has pending United States permanent residence as evidenced by an I-485 document;
  3. The postdoctoral scholar is married to a US citizen or a US permanent resident; or
  4. The postdoctoral scholar has received their PhD or equivalent degree in the United States on an F-1 visa and is currently completing six months of optional practical training at Stanford or elsewhere.

In cases not meeting the above criteria, the department may submit a petition to request H-1B sponsorship for a postdoctoral scholar and, if approved, the requesting department must follow the policy below described under Fees

III. Petitioning for Exception to the J-1 Policy

If a department wants to sponsor a postdoctoral scholar for the H-1B visa, other than in the situations described above, the department must submit a petition to request an exemption from the J-1 policy to a Visa Review Board, appointed by the Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

Based on the review board’s recommendation, the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs will make final determination about each petition. The review board and the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs may also consult with the Office of the General Counsel and the Bechtel International Center as necessary.

Any petition for exemption must contain evidence to support the H-1B request in light of Stanford’s interests, with the necessary attestation regarding fees. Supporting evidence may include some or all of the following documents:

  1. Proof of unique contributions/skill sets possessed by the proposed trainee as demonstrated through a formal application and selection process for the postdoctoral scholar position;
  2. Significant hardship on the progress of the research project in the case of the postdoctoral scholar’s possible departure from Stanford, evidenced by a pending job offer that promises an H-1B status outside of Stanford, statement from the training program director; and/ or
  3. In the case of a new appointment, the supporting evidence should include documentation of the absence of other candidates suitable for the postdoctoral scholar position, supported by a search process. Supporting data in this case requires position announcements, location and duration of postings, number of applicants received including assessment of qualifications of applicants.

Department administrators and appointing faculty should check the guidelines.

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs will convene the Review Board to evaluate the merits of each case. The board will meet on a set schedule to review the cases and recommend a decision, which will be communicated to the department in writing within one week of the review meeting date.

The department may not offer the candidate a commitment regarding the visa status until the Board reviews the case and a decision is made. If the Review Board approves a request to offer H-1B sponsorship for the scholar, the hiring department will then submit the necessary paperwork to the Bechtel International Center.

All H-1B petitions on behalf of the University must go through and be processed by the Bechtel International Center. Outside counsel may not be used to submit petitions on behalf of Stanford University. The only exception to this provision is in the case of renewals of current H-1B petitions that had been handled through external counsel. Renewals of those petitions would be done through external counsel.

IV. Implications of J-1 Home Return Waivers


Postdoctoral Scholars in the United States in J-1 status may pursue a waiver of the 2-year home return rule, where applicable, as a personal matter.  Stanford University is not involved in this process.

Stanford Implications

USCIS approval of a J-1 home return waiver renders the individual and his/her dependents ineligible to begin or extend a postdoctoral appointment at Stanford, where policy stipulates that all foreign nationals holding a postdoctoral scholar position are expected to hold exchange visitor (J-1) status.

Obtaining a J-1 waiver entails non-renewal of the postdoctoral appointment unless the Department and sponsoring faculty are willing and able to sponsor an H-1B exception petition, and a favorable decision is made by the Review Board. There is no guarantee that H-1B status will be acceptable to the faculty sponsor or department, nor that a petition will be granted  A postdoctoral scholar is ineligible to perform any work or receive financial remuneration or funding during the pendency of the H-1B exception application period if the postdoc is out of J-1 status.  Because of such implications on eligibility to continue in postdoctoral status, Scholars who are interested in pursuing a 2-year home return waiver are strongly encouraged to discuss with their faculty sponsor(s) and seek guidance from Bechtel International Center, prior to seeking such waivers. 

V. Fees

An internal processing fee is required by the department for approved H-1B applications, except in cases when the postdoctoral scholar is:

  1. already in valid H-1B status,
  2. has a pending permanent resident application, or
  3. married to a US citizen or permanent resident.

The internal processing fee of $900 must be incurred by the sponsoring department.

The scholar may pay USCIS processing fees, except for the anti-fraud fee which is required to be paid by the employer per US law, only if doing so does not reduce the wages earned by the Scholar below the minimum funding level appropriate to the Scholar based on years of prior experience that is required by the university.

With respect to other USCIS processing fees, departments should establish their internal policy in order to ensure equity among scholars in the department. Whenever possible, departments are encouraged to establish policies that would not require postdoctoral scholars to pay any fees related to their securing a position at Stanford University.

Because approved exceptions typically would be made in order to support a recruitment effort to bring the scholar to Stanford, it follows that departments are strongly discouraged from asking the scholar to pay processing fees associated with an H-1B petition in order to avoid a false impression that a candidate’s willingness to pay such fees might influence the appointment decision.

VI. Timing and Provisions

This policy takes effect on July 1, 2010. The policy is applicable to all current postdoctoral scholars at Stanford, regardless of their appointment date and any incoming scholars whose appointments take effect on or after July 1, 2010.

Current scholars on H-1B may remain in Stanford-sponsored H-1B status through the duration of their appointment. Renewals of H-1B petitions that had been handled through external counsel would be done through external counsel.


10. Attachment C: Rights and Responsibilities of Postdoctoral Scholars and Faculty Mentors

Date: April 11, 2012


While postdoctoral scholars are responsible for their career trajectory and success, Stanford faculty members are expected to initiate and provide on-going mentoring, guidance, and resources, in both scientific and career development, to support their Postdoctoral Scholars towards their goals successfully. Mentors/PIs should initiate those conversations and discuss research direction and progress and career goals. Scholars are encouraged to request those conversations if they are not otherwise taking place.

1.    Responsibilities of Faculty Mentors

A faculty mentor inviting a Postdoctoral Scholar to Stanford is expected to work with that individual to develop a plan of research and goals for the period of training in connection with the initial term of appointment and on ongoing basis. The faculty member approves this plan, and during the term of the appointment ensures adequate office/laboratory space. In addition, members of the Stanford faculty are expected to:

  1. Carry out an annual formal research progress and career mentoring discussion.
  2. Encourage Postdoctoral Scholars to seek secondary mentors who could provide them with opportunities in new areas of research, foster collaboration and offer them with guidance and support to assist with their career goals.
  3. Seek the participation of these secondary mentors or multiple other faculty members in the annual progress reviews with their Scholars.
  4. Encourage Postdoctoral Scholars to participate in career development activities (workshops, courses, pre-conference events), recognizing that the short postdoctoral training period requires seeking such information early in the training period.
  5. Encourage Postdoctoral Scholars to engage in social networking opportunities, such as attendance of talks and seminars in the department or University-wide.

2.    Responsibilities of Postdoctoral Scholars

Postdoctoral Scholars are expected to carry out the study or research outlined with the faculty sponsor, to communicate regularly with the faculty sponsor on the status of the research, and to notify the faculty sponsor of any change in plans. The Scholar is not expected to handle administrative duties for the PI or the lab/research group, or to be on a dissertation reading committee for any graduate student. The scholar is expected to continue his/her development toward independence.

3.    Joint Responsibilities

To facilitate the postdoctoral mentoring process, Postdoctoral Scholars and their faculty mentors (PIs) are expected to hold at least three formal one-on-one meetings that are not part of larger research team meetings:

  1. An initial meeting at the start of the postdoctoral appointment is a formal discussion within the first 4 weeks of the appointment, with the goal of understanding career-orientation, setting short-term objectives, defining research project responsibilities, and appraising existing knowledge and skills and the need of new knowledge and skills.
  2. Annual meeting(s) to discuss progress, preferably a formal discussion after the calendar New Year. Secondary mentors or other faculty mentors are also encouraged to attend.  The goal of this meeting is to review progress, evaluate prior set plans and accomplishments, regarding both research and career goals, and determine goals for the following year.
  3. Exit interview at the conclusion of the appointment is a discussion upon resignation or end of appointment, where it would be an opportunity to address future research trajectories; differentiation strategies if the Scholar is pursuing the same lines of research as the faculty mentors; and possible opportunities or plans for collaboration.

Templates to frame the discussions during those meetings are available.

11. Attachment D: Postdoctoral Benefits


Postdocs who must quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure or illness may use their available sick time or time off with pay to cover their absence.


Date: February 22, 2024

Subsequent updates:

Updated June 22, 2015

Updated July 20, 2015

Updated July 26, 2016

Updated February 1, 2019

Updated September 9, 2019

Updated August 14, 2020 (URL update only)

Updated: November 16, 2012

1. Insurance

The following insurance benefits are provided to all Postdoctoral Scholars and are funded either by the application of an approved fringe benefit rate to the salaries of qualifying (salaried for 50% FTE or more) Postdoctoral Scholars, or by fellowship awards, or - in the absence of one of these two sources - by the Scholar's faculty sponsor/department.

(See memo from Godfrey Mungal regarding Charging and Paying for Benefits for Postdoctoral Scholars and Graduate Students, originally issued in October 2003.)

A. Medical Insurance

All Postdoctoral Scholars must subscribe to Stanford Healthcare Alliance (SHCA), or provide proof of alternate insurance as required by Stanford University (and the Department of State in case of J1 visa holders).

Single-person insurance coverage through SHCA is provided at no charge to the Scholar. A portion of the cost of family medical coverage is funded by one of the sources described above (as applicable); that portion will be determined annually by Stanford University. The balance of premiums for any dependent medical coverage will be paid by the Scholar.

B. Dental Insurance

Single person dental insurance will be provided at no charge to the Scholar; premiums for dependent coverage above the single rate will be the responsibility of the Scholar.

C. Vision insurance

Single person vision insurance will be provided at no charge to the Scholar; premiums for dependent vision coverage above the single rate will be the responsibility of the Scholar.

D. Life and Accidental Death Insurance

All Scholars are provided a $50,000 life insurance policy and a $50,000 Accidental Death & Dismemberment policy as part of a group policy.

E. Disability Insurance

All Scholars are provided with short-term and long-term disability coverage through a group plan. The plan used will depend upon whether the Scholar is paid a salary or receives fellowship stipends. The plan's short-term benefits are the same as, or better than, the State of California's disability plan. Filing for disability insurance is the responsibility of the Scholar.

2. Retirement Voluntary Savings

Postdoctoral Scholars who are earning W-2 wages from the University may (subject to certain restrictions based on immigration status) be eligible to save for their own retirement in the University's Tax Deferred Annuity Plan (TDA), a voluntary savings plan under section 403(b) of the Internal Revenue Code or through post tax contributions into a Roth IRA. For more information on eligibility and on how to enroll, visit the Postdoctoral Benefits web site. All contributions to either retirement option are solely funded by the Scholar. No matching contributions are made on behalf of Stanford enrolled in the TDA or Roth IRA.

3. Leave Policy: Unpaid & Paid Absences

The leave policy for Postdoctoral Scholars (postdocs) is in place to provide equitable leave and to meet individual requirements, while complying with state and federal law. This policy defines the different types of leaves, their purposes and maximum duration. Eligibility requirements vary, and Postdoc Benefits has specific information.

A. Unpaid Absences

1. Personal Leave of Absence

Postdocs may request unpaid leave during the course of their appointment under the following guidelines:

  • Personal leaves must be approved by the faculty sponsor.
  • Some agencies that fund postdocs require a written request or notification for any leave. The postdoc is responsible for ascertaining the requirement, and for submitting any written request or notification to the funding agency.  If applicable, the funding agency’s approval must be obtained in writing.
  • Faculty sponsor determines approval and is based on programmatic need and other relevant factors, funding agency guidelines, and visa regulations for international postdocs.
  • All requests for personal leave require final review and approval by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
  • If a personal leave is approved, the faculty sponsor may choose to continue paying for the institutional cost of medical, dental, and vision insurance. Otherwise, the postdoc is responsible for the full cost of these insurance plans. The PI remains responsible for the disability premium during an approved, unpaid LOA. Departments and postdocs must make arrangements regarding payment of health benefits with the Postdoc Benefits Office prior to the leave.
  • Postdocs on an approved unpaid LOA may request to drop their medical, dental, and vision benefits for the duration of their leave under certain circumstances:

    o   All postdocs may drop their dental and vision coverage for the duration of their unpaid LOA.

    o   Postdocs who remain in California during their unpaid LOA must maintain medical insurance for the duration of their leave and the insurance must meet California’s requirements. Proof of new insurance must be submitted to Postdoc Benefits within 30 days of the approval of the leave or they will be reenrolled and charged the monthly premium.

    o   Postdocs who remain in the US but outside of California during their unpaid LOA must maintain medical insurance per the state’s requirements. If the state has no requirements and the postdoc chooses to drop Stanford medical insurance and remain uninsured during their leave, they assume all financial liability for their medical services. 

    o   Postdocs who leave the US during their unpaid LOA may opt to drop medical insurance and remain uninsured when outside the US. They assume all financial liability for medical services received during the leave.  

    o   Maintaining appropriate medical insurance per state (and/or visa) regulations during an unpaid LOA is the postdoc’s responsibility.

    o   Postdocs have the opportunity to re-enroll in the medical, dental, and vision plans when they return from the unpaid LOA.

  • Leaves should not exceed 90 days and will only be approved if the postdoc will return upon its conclusion.  Terminal leave is not permitted without the approval of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
  • International postdocs must maintain current visa status throughout the unpaid leave period.
  • Requests for an unpaid leave that extends beyond the postdoc’s appointment or visa end dates must be accompanied by a reappointment and, in the case of international postdocs, a visa extension. All postdocs maintain their appointment affiliation with the University, which typically includes privileges, and benefits eligibility while on approved unpaid leave of absence.
  • Exceptions to this policy require petition to the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs.
  • When a postdoc does not return to Stanford University at the end of their leave, or when a department learns that a postdoc will not return, the department may initiate a termination of appointment.

2. Medical Leave for Illness or Disability of the Postdoc

Postdocs may request a medical leave due to a disability resulting from a physical or mental illness, injury, pregnancy, childbirth, bone marrow or organ donation, a written order from a state or local health officer not to work because of infection with or suspicion of infection with a communicable disease, or because of participation as a resident in an alcoholic recovery program or drug-free residential facility program as a result of a referral by a physician.

A postdoc taking disability leave may be entitled to a disability benefit that provides a portion of salary during this leave. Postdocs may supplement their disability benefit with any unused time off with pay, including sick time. The postdoc must file for disability in order to be eligible for this benefit. Otherwise, such leave is unpaid although, any unused time off with pay, including sick time can be used to cover this time. The institutional portion of a postdoc’s health premium continues to be paid by the faculty sponsor or by the benefits pool during an approved medical leave. Any questions should be directed to the Disability and Leave Specialist in the Postdoc Benefits Office.

3. Reproductive Loss Leave

Effective January 1, 2024, Postdoctoral scholars (postdocs), regardless of gender, have the right to five days off for a reproductive loss and up to 20 days in a calendar year. Reproductive loss is broadly defined to include a failed adoption, failed surrogacy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or an unsuccessful assisted reproduction.

Reproductive loss leave is separate from bereavement and disability leaves, but there may be situations in which a postdoc also needs to take disability leave. Please work with your department administrator and Postdoc Benefits to address your specific situation.

To be paid for reproductive loss leave, postdocs may use sick time and time off with pay (if available) or take unpaid time if they do not have enough available time. Supporting documentation is not required to take this leave.

4. Maternity Disability Leave

Postdocs who are pregnant and give birth are eligible to receive a disability benefit.  Most commonly, physicians certify 4 weeks pre-partum leave and 6 weeks post-partum (8 weeks if C-Section) leave. The actual length of a disability leave is dependent on the individual condition and doctor certification. Postdocs who apply for disability benefits receive up to 6 weeks of full pay while on maternity disability leave (begins on first day of disability benefits). Full pay is comprised of any benefits available from the disability carrier plus a supplement from the primary source of funding for 6 weeks. The postdoc is expected to apply for short-term disability benefits during this time. If the postdoc does not apply for disability benefits, the faculty sponsor is not responsible for providing a supplement to maintain full pay.  Once the 6-weeks of supplement is exhausted, postdocs may supplement their remaining, approved maternity leave with any unused time off with pay, including sick time. Any questions should be directed to the Disability and Leave Specialist in the Postdoc Benefits Office.

5. Family Leave for Serious Health Condition of Qualifying Family Member or to Bond with a New Child

State and federal law provides leave for various family circumstances, including to care for a qualifying family member with a serious health condition or to bond with a new child.  The eligibility requirements, duration and qualifying events for these family leaves vary.  Please contact the Disability and Leave Specialist in the Postdoc Benefits Office for current information regarding Family Leave.

B.  Paid Absences

Postdocs are eligible to take time off during their training.  Eligibility is assessed by length of appointment and is subject to restrictions from relevant funding agencies. This policy is not a vacation policy; postdocs do not accrue vacation.

1. Time off with Pay

Postdocs are eligible throughout the year for time off with pay that should be scheduled with faculty sponsor approval. Time off with pay may be requested up to 15 days per year and is available for use each January 1st. Newly appointed postdocs whose appointments do not start on January 1 receive time off with pay that is pro-rated at 1.25 days per month beginning from the appointment start date, the entirety of which is available day one of their appointment. Faculty approval for time off is based on any relevant funding agency guidelines, impact on programmatic need, and visa regulations for international postdocs. Time off with pay may be used for personal reasons, including injury or illness, Winter Closure days that are not designated as University holidays, and other limited absences. Because time off with pay is not vacation, pay in lieu of time off is not possible, nor can unused time off be carried over to the next calendar year. Unused time off with pay has no cash value and is not paid out in any fashion at the end of the postdoc’s appointment. Faculty sponsors are responsible for monitoring and tracking time off taken by postdocs.

2. Paid Sick Leave

Upon appointment, and thereafter each calendar year, postdocs receive a lump sum of 40 hours of paid sick time pursuant to the Paid Sick Time Leave Law. For established postdocs, an additional 56 hours is available each January 1, totaling 96 sick leave hours per calendar year. Newly appointed postdocs whose appointments do not start on January 1 receive the 56 hours pro-rated at 4.67 hours per month beginning from the appointment start date, available on day one of their appointment.

Postdocs are expected to notify their faculty sponsor when taking sick time. Sick time may be used to care for self or a family member (child, spouse, parent, parent-in-law, and same-sex domestic partner) for illness or injury and healthcare appointments, including medical, dental, and vision. Postdocs who take more than 5 consecutive days of sick time may require a note from a medical professional before returning to work. In such cases, the postdoc should consult with the Postdoc Benefits Disability Specialist. Sick days do not accrue from one year to the next. Unused sick time has no cash value and is not paid out in any fashion at the end of the postdoc’s appointment. Faculty sponsors are responsible for monitoring and tracking sick time taken by postdocs.

3. University Holidays 

Postdocs are eligible for time off during all official University holidays, including the designated holiday days during Winter Closure. The funding agency determines pay status during this time off, if relevant. Individuals who work on a University holiday may take another day in lieu of the University holiday, to be scheduled in agreement with the faculty sponsor.

4. Miscellaneous Authorized Absences

In addition to Time off With Pay, Paid Sick Time, and University Holidays, the following absences are authorized with pay:

a. Voting

When a postdoc is unable to vote outside of regularly scheduled work hours, faculty sponsors shall authorize necessary time off, but not to exceed two hours with pay. Such time off should be scheduled when least disruptive to programmatic needs.

b. Jury Duty

Postdocs summoned to jury duty receive time off with pay for the periods of absence from scheduled work as required by the court. The postdoc retains any payments received from the court. The postdoc must provide verification from the court or jury commissioner of time spent on required jury duty

c. Court Appearances

Postdocs subpoenaed as a witness in a non-work-related matter receives time off with pay for the periods of absence from work as required by the court.

d. Bereavement Leave

When there is a death of a close family member of a postdoc, regular pay continues for the necessary period of absence from work, not to exceed five working days. If additional time off is needed, a faculty sponsor may approve using available time off with pay. Definitions of terms used:

  • Close Family Member: limited to postdoc’s spouse; same sex domestic partner; children of postdoc, spouse, or same sex domestic partner; parents and parents-in-law; parent surrogate; brothers and sisters of postdoc; grandparents and grandchildren of the postdoc, and any other dependent family member who lived in the postdoc’s residence.
  • Necessary period of absence: the time required to attend the funeral or memorial service and discharge related responsibilities. This period is subject to the approval of the faculty sponsor.

5. Military Training Leave

Postdocs who are required to perform annual military training duty are permitted up to 17 days per calendar year. The PI supplements the postdoc’s military base pay for the scheduled working days of absence, up to the postdoc’s full salary or stipend. Postdoc’s must complete one year of their appointment in order to receive supplemental military training pay