So You Want to Renew Your Postdoc Contract…
By Amy E. Ghiretti, ghiretti at mail.med
Congratulations, you’ve made it through a whole year as a postdoc! Whether this was your first year out of graduate school or you’ve been at Penn for longer than you care to remember, there are a number of items that should be on your to-do list around the anniversary of your first day. This article will outline the steps you need to take to ensure the smooth and successful renewal of your postdoctoral contract.
First, you will need to work together with the Business Administrator and your PI to draft your official letter of reappointment. For this reason, it’s a good idea to give your Business Administrator a friendly reminder that you’re due for a renewal approximately a month prior to the expiration of your previous appointment term. Postdocs are not on a regular hiring schedule, so it can be difficult to keep track of when every individual is due for reappointment, so this will give them time to begin drafting your reappointment letter and get you updated in the system for the next year.
The renewal letter should be quite similar to the one you received when you were initially hired, and contain certain pieces of information to ensure that you, your PI, and your department are all on the same page. These include the length of your reappointment term (generally, one year), your salary (which should increase yearly, and be in accordance with NIH guidelines- http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-15-048.html), and your health insurance coverage. Make sure both you and your PI sign the letter, and keep a signed copy for yourself in the unlikely event of any discrepancies. For reference, the template for the standard reappointment letter used by most biomedical departments at Penn may be found here: https://www.med.upenn.edu/postdoc/appointment.shtml.
In addition to your contract, several other elements essential to your life at Penn must be renewed on a yearly basis. Chief among these is your PennCard, for which you will begin receiving email reminders to renew approximately one month before it expires. Keep in mind that your Business Administrator must update your information in the Penn payroll system before you will be able to renew your card. Give them at least 48 hours notice prior to your card’s expiration date, as it can take that long for the system to update and you don’t want to be stuck without an active PennCard while waiting for the paperwork to go through. Once the update is confirmed, you can go to the card office and renew your PennCard in the same way your first obtained it. Note that the office recently changed to a new system, and you may be required to take a new photograph upon renewal.
Around the same time, you will also begin receiving reminder emails to update any training requirements in KnowledgeLink (http://knowledgelink.upenn.edu/) that must be renewed on a yearly basis. As biomedical scientists, we are required to update our Penn Profiler Training Assessment every year, a survey which determines what training is necessary given an individual’s role in the lab. Based on the results of this survey, you may be assigned several types of safety training, such as IACUC training if your lab works with live animals, or radiation training if your lab works with radioactivity. While many of these training sessions are one-time only, or good for multiple years, other types of laboratory safety training must be taken yearly, and your Penn Profiler results will assign you the appropriate courses in KnowledgeLink.
The final item on your reappointment to-do list is the Individual Development Plan, which just this year became mandatory for all postdocs upon renewal of their contracts. The IDP is way for postdocs and their PIs to take stock of their performance, mentorship, and plans for the future on a yearly basis. In general, a good IDP should have 3 basic parts. First, an individual assessment by the postdoc, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of their work over the past year, assessing the support and mentorship they received from their PI, and defining their future career goals (at the current moment in time). Concurrently but separately, the PI should address a similar set of questions, discussing how they feel the postdoc has been performing, how their mentorship has succeeded or could be improved, and what they see as the postdoc’s current career goals. Finally, the postdoc and PI should meet, read each other’s assessments, and have an honest discussion about the similarities and differences between the two. While positive mentor-mentee relationships may find few surprises in the IDP, the exercise is beneficial nevertheless to ensure they stay on the same page going forward. For less successful postdoc-PI pairs, the IDP forces them to confront ongoing problems, and hopefully reflect on how to fix these issues in the coming year. A template is available at https://www.med.upenn.edu/postdoc/training_independent.shtml, but it is not necessary to follow this format exactly. The IDP is intended first and foremost to benefit the postdoc, so whatever format feels the most comfortable to each individual is acceptable. A copy of the IDP should be signed by both postdoc and PI and submitted to the departmental office upon completion.
Speaking from personal experience, both my PI and myself found the IDP to be a very useful exercise, although I’m only one year into my postdoc and not yet beginning to think seriously about the next stage of my career. It ensured we were on the same page with regard to both my current research and future goals, and made it clear any areas where we felt there could be improvement. As time goes on and I begin to think seriously about moving on, the IDP will only continue to become more important to make sure I’m receiving the type of support I need to succeed. Overall, it’s a great way to take a moment at the time of your contract renewal to reflect on the previous year and take stock of your situation as you head into yet another year as a postdoc.