Postdoc Definition

At Brown University and its affiliated hospitals, a postdoc — also known as a postdoctoral fellow (PDF), postdoctoral research associate (PDRA), research associate, or research fellow — is an individual who has received a doctoral degree (or equivalent) and is engaged in a temporary and defined period of mentored advanced training to enhance the professional skills and research independence needed to pursue his or her chosen career path.*

Brown University makes two types of postdoctoral appointments, postdoctoral fellows and postdoctoral research associates (PDRA), both of which are University-paid, campus-based appointments. 

Brown’s affiliated hospitals make two additional types of postdoctoral appointments, research associate and research fellow, which are hospital-based and hospital-paid appointments.

It is important to note that postdoctoral research associates (PDRAs) are Brown employees, while postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) are not. This difference in employment status means that PDRAs receive a salary and PDFs receive stipends, which have different tax implications.  Moreover, although both PDRAs and PDFs have access to health and dental insurance through Brown, payment and withholding arrangements differ.

It is important for institutions to set guidelines for the duration, training, and support of postdoctoral appointments.

Very briefly, a postdoctoral appointment should:

  • be temporary
  • involve substantially full-time research or scholarship
  • be viewed as preparatory for a full-time career
  • not be part of a clinical training program
  • be working under the supervision of a senior scholar or a department in a university or similar institution, and
  • allow and encourage the appointee to publish the results of his or her research or scholarship

*As defined by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), January 29, 2007.