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The Role of a Postdoctoral Scholar

Postdoctoral Scholars carry out a research program under the guidance of a research advisor, who is generally a Tufts faculty member.  Postdoctoral Scholars meet regularly with their advisors to apprise the advisor of the research results, discuss progress in the research, develop and troubleshoot approaches, plan upcoming work, receive direction and focus to the research, and to express mutual expectations.

The program aims to equip Postdoctoral Scholars with the skills necessary to become independent researchers in their respective areas of specialization.  The research training experience at Tufts typically lasts up to five years, or until completion of six years of post-doctoral research in total.  The Program is intended as a training program of finite duration, as opposed to a permanent position, that will enable Postdoctoral Scholars to become independent researchers.

Position Requirements

Postdoctoral Scholars are persons who have earned a Ph.D., M.D., D.V.M., D.D.S., D.M.D., Ed.D. or equivalent doctoral-level degree and may have worked previously as a full-time researcher in a postdoctoral training position.  Postdoctoral Scholars are engaged in research, scholarship, and training.  This includes, but is not limited to, design and execution of scholarly research that may include laboratory experiments, attendance at national and international meetings, participation in undergraduate or graduate courses, including seminars and research workshops, and mentoring graduate students and/or undergraduates.  In some cases, limited opportunities to participate in teaching may be available. Other opportunities include workshops related to career development.  Advisors supervise all of these activities.

Since the Postdoctoral Scholar’s experience is transitional to becoming an independent researcher, the Postdoctoral Scholar is expected to make his or her best effort to acquire the various skills necessary to advance his or her career in today’s job market with guidance from the advisor. These skills include, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to present research plans and findings in a cogent fashion, both in oral and written modes of communication.  These skills may be developed by writing grant applications, reviewing manuscripts submitted for publication, writing research papers and reviewing articles, and regular presentation of the Postdoctoral Scholar’s research at meetings and conferences held at Tufts and elsewhere.
  • The ability to carry out mentored research with the primary objective of developing the Postdoctoral Scholar’s research skills in preparation for a career. Enhancing intuitive ability and promoting independent thinking is a goal of Tufts’ Program which may result in a Postdoctoral Scholar obtaining new research insights.
  • The ability to establish contacts and network with colleagues pursuing related research agendas.  Such contacts can lead to much fruitful collaboration and can often yield promising employment opportunities.
  • A goal of the Postdoctoral Scholar’s research is the dissemination of knowledge to the professional community.  It is expected that research will be of publishable quality, and will be published in a journal appropriate to the field in a timely manner. A Postdoctoral Scholar is responsible for writing his or her manuscripts, with guidance from his or her Advisor.  The Postdoctoral Scholar is expected to participate in writing grant applications and reports that pertain to his or her research.
  • As part of the research training experience, Postdoctoral Scholars are expected to participate in all formal and informal academic endeavors of the Advisor’s research group and Department.  These activities include, but are not limited to: group meetings; joint meetings with other groups having similar research orientation; journal clubs for in-depth discussion of recent primary research literature; and regular research seminars. These activities lead to an understanding of research group management and supervision of others.
  • If the Postdoctoral Scholar’s career aspirations include research and teaching in an academic setting, the individual may be given opportunities to present lectures in one or more classes.

Postdoctoral Scholars learn current research methods through direct experience working with an advisor with the same primary interest. The Postdoctoral Scholar’s advisor is the frontline source of information and the one who sets the standards of conduct for efficient, ethical and productive research.  Communication between a Postdoctoral Scholar and his or her advisor is of utmost importance and is regarded as both an opportunity and a responsibility.

At the completion of their training, Postdoctoral Scholars will have learned appropriate research techniques, been exposed to current research problems, and they will be familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of research methods and developed the necessary portfolio of research accomplishments as assessed by publications, presentations and evaluative letters to be competitive for an independent position.

Individual Development Plans

To assist postdoctoral scholars with their career development, Tufts provides two Individual Development Plan (IDP) documents. One of these, the Postdoctoral Scholar IDP, is intended to be a tool that can help scholars consider their career aspirations and the types of skills and attributes that may affect their career objectives. This document is for each scholar’s personal use only. If a scholar chooses, the document may be shared with mentors or may be used to help him/her think about ways to engage mentors and improve skills that are appropriate to the career path(s) that are being considered.

The second document, called the Training and Career Goals Progress Report, is designed to help scholars think about how they are developing professionally. This report should be completed annually and shared with the research advisor prior to the annual review performance discussion.

Confirmation of Employment

Postdoctoral Scholars will receive a letter confirming employment. There are no unpaid Postdoctoral Scholars at Tufts nor does Tufts allow postdocs to volunteer to do research.

Conditions of Employment Activation

Employment will be effective only after the following conditions have been met by the Postdoctoral candidate:

  • Completion of an application for employment.
  • Proof of completion of the Doctoral Degree – The candidate must show an official diploma or transcript (with translation into English if it is in a foreign language), or other acceptable proof of final doctoral degree conferral to the hiring department’s administrator/manager. A copy will be sent to the Human Resource department for inclusion in the employee’s record. If the final degree has not yet been formally conferred, but all the requirements have been met, a statement of completion of studies from the prospective Postdoctoral Scholar’s home institution (Registrar’s Office or Dean of Graduate Studies) is requested for conditional admission for twelve months. This statement should indicate the date on which all requirements were completed and the expected degree conferral date. If the degree is not formally conferred within twelve months, the Postdoctoral Scholar will be required to withdraw from his/her Tufts Postdoctoral position.
  • Proof of employment eligibility – The candidate must prove that he/she is eligible to work in the United States by completing an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification and providing appropriate documentation.
  • Visa requirement for Non-United States Citizens – A candidate who is not a United States citizen must provide evidence of work eligibility at Tufts University that is valid for the entire period of employment. The University’s International Affairs Offices, located on the Boston and Medford campuses, can provide information regarding H1, J1, and other non-immigrant visas. The sponsoring faculty member or Department will provide assistance in completing the appropriate visa application. However, the University generally will not apply for permanent residence on the candidate’s behalf. The University will pay certain fees associated with visa applications. The employer is required to pay an anti-fraud fee and many, but not all, departments pay the H1-B visa filing fee. However, other fees in connection with the visa and its revalidation are the Postdoctoral Scholar’s responsibility. Government regulations stipulate that J-1 visa holders enroll in insurance coverage which is provided through the university. The University’s International Office can provide information regarding this coverage. For more up to date information on visas or to ask questions, please visit the University’s International Affairs website: in Boston or in Medford.
  • Social Security Number – A United States Social Security Number (SSN) must be reported for all new hires. If the candidate does not have a SSN, he/she must apply for one at a local office of the Social Security Administration. Any employee who will be paid on the University payroll must have a Social Security Number or show proof that he/she has completed an application for that number.
  • Completion of Tax Withholding Information – An Employee’s Withholding Allowance information indicates the number of federal (W-4) and state (M-4) withholding allowances claimed. This can be changed at any time in Employee Self Service. Taxation for non-residents is governed by specific regulations. These employees may also be eligible for tax treaties. Please click here for more information.
  • Completion of Direct Deposit Authorization – Direct deposit allows the net pay to be deposited to a bank of choice, provided that the bank is a member of the Automated Clearing House. Payment through direct deposit is a condition of employment at the University.

Postdoctoral Scholar Orientation

Human Resources Orientation – Postdoctoral Scholars are invited to participate in an orientation given by Human Resources, which includes an overview of Tufts and discussions topics such as employment policies, technology resources, Environmental Health and Safety, Tufts Police, identification cards, and parking facilities.

Postdoctoral Orientation – Postdoctoral orientations are held quarterly during the academic year to encourage Scholars to learn about policies that are specific to them, meet their colleagues and to learn about the postdoctoral program at Tufts.

Additional Orientations – Postdoctoral Scholars must comply with specific requirements including health evaluation, immunization or training that may be required for Postdoctoral Scholars who work with laboratory animals, are involved in human subject research, or are involved in work that could expose them to biohazards.

Length of Employment

Employment at Tufts as a Postdoctoral Scholars should not exceed five years or until completion of six years of Postdoctoral research in total. A term may be extended due to unusual circumstances. Each School’s Postdoctoral Officer will have additional information on this issue and is the only person authorized to allow extensions. The Postdoctoral Officer may also authorize part-time employment in unusual circumstances.


  • Termination for performance reasons – A Postdoctoral Scholar may be terminated if performance is unsatisfactory. Usually, there will be a written communication discussing performance concerns and suggestions for achieving a satisfactory level of performance. However, the University reserves the right to terminate a Postdoctoral Scholar without such written review.
  • Resignation – If a Postdoctoral Scholar decides to resign, he/she should inform the advisor and the School’s Postdoctoral Officer in writing and provide one month’s notice.
  • Compliance with University Policies upon Separation – Under all circumstances, upon leaving employment, a Postdoctoral Scholar has an obligation to leave the research records and materials in a state that will allow continuation of the project and ensures compliance with all applicable policies.