Postdoctoral Fellows

What is a Biological Sciences Division (BSD) Postdoctoral Fellow?

Postdoctoral Fellows (PDFs) are funded by an an individual federal fellowship (e.g. NRSA F32, NSF), T32 grant, or paid directly by a home institution, fellowship, or other organization. PDFs are not employees of The University of Chicago. Find out if your fellowship can be paid through the university as a salary – if it can, you must be appointed as a Postdoctoral Scholar. This entitles you to some of the benefits of a University employee. However, most fellowships cannot be paid as salary. Each PDF will have a primary faculty sponsor who will be responsible for developing a mentoring program for the trainee with clearly established expectations and goals. If you are switching from Postdoc Scholar to Fellow, the PDA has developed a checklist available here.



  • PDFs should have received a doctoral degree within 5 years of commencement of a PDF’s term. This requirement may be waived in special circumstances, such as when the individual has changed fields or had a career interruption. The total duration of an individual’s postdoctoral experience may not exceed 5 years, including postdoctoral work at other institutions.
  • PDFs may be citizens/permanent residents of the United States (for NIH NRSAs & Training grants), or foreign nationals who hold an F-1 or J-1 BCIS visa classification. Because H-1B visas are employment-based visas, individuals with an H-1B visa status may not be appointed as PDFs.
  • PDFs must have a current faculty member at the University of Chicago as the sponsor.
  • PDFs are eligible for reappointment if the PDF remains in the faculty sponsor’s laboratory for a second (or subsequent) year; is in good standing with documented progress towards training goals; and if the faculty sponsor’s funding continues to support the appointment.
  • PDFs may not generally hold this status (or any combination of relevant postdoctoral experience) for longer than 5 years.



PDFs will receive a training commitment from the faculty sponsor and will be periodically reviewed for purposes of evaluation and setting goals for the training experience. Faculty Sponsors shall prepare a Mentoring Plan, which generally satisfies the “Guide For Mentoring plan for Postdoctoral Scholars” which is available from the BSD Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs. PDFs are also monitored by their funding source.



All PDFs are paid an amount that is no less than the minimum amount established by the NIH/NRSA schedule in effect at the time of appointment (for more information, please see our Policies & Benefits page). Any increase above the minimum is at the discretion of the faculty who accept the PDF into his/her research laboratory. If the PDF is supported by an NIH NRSA fellowship their compensation may not be increased using federal funds.


Supplemental Stipend

As of January 1, 2004, PDFs in the Biological Sciences Division are provided an annual supplement to their stipend to assist in the purchase of health, dental, life and long-term disability coverage, and allows a contribution toward an individual retirement account (see Retirement below) and taxes. This action was taken in response to the disparity in living support available to postdoctoral fellows who are funded by training stipends and postdoctoral scholars who receive salary and benefits from the University. Since postdoctoral fellows are not employees and therefore are not eligible for employee benefits, there is a disincentive to accept postdoctoral fellowship awards as such acceptance leads to a loss of employee benefits without any compensating increase in economic income.  The supplemental stipend addresses this inequity.

All PDFs receive the Supplemental Stipend. For fellowships that do not include funds for health insurance coverage, the supplemental stipend is $8,500 (as of July 1, 2016). For fellowships that already include funds for health insurance coverage the supplemental stipend is $1,800 (as of July 1, 2016).

Taxes are withheld by the University for the supplemental stipend only.



Gallagher Benefit Services administers benefits for postdoctoral scholars, fellows and visiting scholars. PDFs are required to enroll in health insurance. Gallagher also offers dental and vision insurance, and life insurance. See Gallagher Benefit Services for details.

Payment Method for Coverage not provided by the University of Chicago

Any PDF who purchases coverage from vendors not provided by The University of Chicago will pay for that coverage themselves after tax and not via payroll deduction. The Supplemental Stipend or fellowship money used to pay for such coverage must be received in the PDF’s paycheck to enable the PDF to pay the vendor and will therefore increase the PDF’s taxable income.


Retirement Plan

As non-employees, PDFs do not receive retirement contributions from the University and may not contribute to University retirement funds.  Instead, PDFs may establish and contribute to an Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA). The Supplemental Stipend includes the cost of a 2.5% employer contribution as is received by postdoctoral scholars. Payments to retirement accounts may not be made through a payroll deduction. The Supplemental Stipend or fellowship money used to pay for such accounts must be received in the PDF’s paycheck to enable the PDF to pay the vendor and will therefore increase the PDF’s taxable income.



Appointment Length – PDFs appointments are generally for a 12 month term.

Term Limit – PDFs are limited to a maximum of 5 years total postdoctoral experience, including appointments at The University of Chicago and elsewhere. PhD must have been awarded within the last 5 years.

Administrative Appointment

To initiate appointment, the Faculty Sponsor shall submit the following documentation to the Office of Academic Affairs:

  1. Department endorsement of the appointment as a training experience
  2. Description of the training/mentoring commitment and terms for evaluation
  3. Compliance Screening certification
  4. Citizenship form and appropriate visa documentation
  5. Health Insurance enrollment form or proof of health insurance coverage
  6. Current curriculum vitae
  7. Completed “5-point” memorandum, for MD/PhD candidates addressing the restrictions on patient care

Appointment of a PDF requires the recommendation of the Department and/or Faculty Sponsor depending on Departmental policy, and approval by the Dean.


Leave Policy

PDFs are entitled to four weeks of compensated leave during each 12-month term appointment, and up to 12 days of compensated sick leave per 12-month term. This combined time may be used as parental leave. As non-employees, PDFs are ineligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Short-term or Long-term disability coverage is provided for all postdoctoral researchers at UChicago through Gallagher Benefit Services. Personal Leave of Absence or Childbearing, parental, and family leave policies for fellows are subject to the requirements or limitations of the funding agency. For example, here is the leave policy for NIH NRSA trainees.


Income Taxes and FICA

For U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and resident aliens, the University of Chicago is not required to withhold income taxes or deduct F.I.C.A. contributions (Social Security taxes), from stipends. However, any supplements received ARE taxable.  Each Fellow should file a declaration of estimated tax (IRS Form 1040-ES and Illinois, IL-1040-ES) and pay quarterly installments of the tax on the stipend. Supplements (and other taxable income) will be subjected to tax dedutions by the University. Failure to file the declaration of estimated tax will subject the fellow to interest on any under-payment of tax when he/she files an annual tax return.


Visa Restrictions

PDFs may be citizens/permanent residents of the United States, or foreign nationals who hold an F-1 or J-1 BCIS visa classification, dependent on the specific criteria of the fellowship award.  As H-1B visas are employment-based visas, postdocs with an H-1B visa status may not be appointed as a PDF; they must receive a salary and be appointed as a Postdoctoral Scholar or Research Professional Associate.


University Housing

PDFs are eligible for University Staff/Faculty housing. However, PDFs are ineligible for the Employer-Assisted Housing Program and Staff Loan Programs.


Staff and Faculty Assistance Program

The Staff and Faculty Assistance Program (Perspectives, Ltd) is a confidential service that provides support, counseling, referrals and resources for issues that impact your life.

PDFs are not eligible for the Laboratory Schools tuition benefit, reduced tuition at the University of Chicago or commuter benefits.