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Recommended Five-Year Appointment Limit

Beginning January 1, 2021, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs recommends that the length of any postdoctoral appointment at Northwestern University should not exceed a period of five years inclusive of all postdoctoral appointments at other institutions. Exceptions to this five-year limit should be permitted only in cases where additional time and training is clearly needed to prepare the postdoctoral fellow for their future career. This policy will go into effect on January 1, 2021 and will only apply to new postdoctoral fellows appointed after this date.

A five-year limit on postdoctoral appointments is a widely accepted best practice that has been implemented at nearly all of Northwestern’s peer institutions. The National Institutes of Health and the National Academies endorse these policies to promote the understanding that postdoctoral appointments should be treated as a temporary and transitory period of training on the path to a stable, long-term career.

Do previous postdoctoral fellowships count towards the five-year appointment limit?

Yes, the five-year maximum on the tenure of postdoctoral fellows is inclusive of all previous postdoctoral appointments at Northwestern or at another institution. This is consistent with policies in place at many of Northwestern’s peer institutions.

Will there be any possibility to extend an appointment past the fifth year?

In line with policies at peer institutions, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs will approve extensions for a sixth year of appointment. Appointment extensions beyond the sixth year will not be considered.

What criteria can be used to extend a postdoctoral appointment?

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs will approve extensions for a sixth year of appointment when both the mentor and the postdoctoral fellow clearly demonstrate that additional training is needed to support the postdoc’s professional goals. Extensions will also be granted in the case of a significant leave of absence, such as family leave or another documented approved leave. Extensions must be approved in advance by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

How can I submit a request to extend an appointment?

A formal exceptions process will be announced closer to the January 2021 implementation date.