Considerations for Categorizing Postdoctoral Fellows

Topics: Compensation and Benefits, Human Resources, Administration and Finance, Doctoral Education, Research Enterprise

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Research Questions

  • Do administrators categorize postdoctoral fellows as students or employees? 
  • What funding sources, such as endowments or state grants, fund postdoctoral fellowships?
  • Are postdoctoral fellows compensated in the form of stipends, scholarships, or employee salaries?
  • Are postdoctoral fellows eligible for employee benefits, such as retirement contributions or health benefits?
  • What is the maximum length for participation in a postdoctoral fellowship at American institutions?


Neither the category of student nor employee perfectly describes postdoctoral fellows; as a result, administrators may struggle to manage postdoctoral affairs using either student or employee information systems. This report profiles research universities with postdoctoral fellow populations ranging between 300 and 1,550 individuals and outlines how administrators at these institutions segment and categorize postdoctoral fellows. The brief explores funding models, compensation, available fringe benefits, and eligibility requirements for postdoctoral fellows. Finally, the brief describes reported advantages and disadvantages of centralized administration of postdoctoral affairs.

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