The OVPRI is announcing an important change to the employment status of VCU postdoctoral scholars. Postdocs are currently employed as “limited status VCU employees,” meaning they are not state employees and have limited benefits. Effective Dec. 25, 2022, VCU postdocs will be recognized as state employees, receiving benefits that align with 12-month term faculty, with an annually-renewable appointment subject to availability of funding. This has important implications for all involved, so we want to explain the logic and the details of this decision.
Why are we doing this?
There are two important reasons for this change. First, VCU Human Resources has determined that the current terms and conditions of postdoc employment at VCU are consistent with the definition of “state employee” in the Code of Virginia. It has become apparent that while our reasoning for categorizing postdocs as limited status employees was acceptable a decade ago, it is not appropriate now. Second, it’s the right thing to do. VCU postdocs consistently state their desire for benefits such as access to state employee health insurance and a retirement plan. This issue has placed us at a disadvantage in recruiting postdocs. The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and George Mason University already hire postdocs as state employees with the same benefits as 12-month term faculty.
Does this impact all VCU postdocs?
This change applies to all postdocs paid with extramural grants or VCU administrative funds, the category termed "Postdoctoral Scholar – Fellow." This is the majority of VCU postdocs. However, postdocs paid from training grants (e.g., NIH T32 or F32) or direct-pay foundation awards, are not impacted because they are not VCU employees. They are termed "Postdoctoral Scholar - Trainee or Affiliate" and are paid via stipend, not a salary.
How does this affect faculty mentors?
With the new benefits, faculty should be in a better position to recruit high quality postdocs who will likely stay at VCU longer. Retaining outstanding postdocs will be a significant benefit to our research enterprise. The major hurdle is paying for the increase in fringe benefit costs. The current fringe benefit rate for postdocs is 19.8%, while the rate for term faculty is 40.3%. An increase of 20% on a $50k/year salary is $10,000/year. We are very concerned about the impact on ongoing and funded research grants. Therefore, the OVPRI has agreed to:
(1) Defray the added fringe benefit expense which is expected to cost ~$3.3 million on all existing research grants through June 9, 2024. Starting on June 10, 2024, this cost will shift to faculty mentors.
(2) Pending proposals (already submitted) which were budgeted using the lower fringe benefit rate will also have the added fringe benefit costs defrayed through June 9, 2024.
Effective immediately, faculty will be expected to include the full fringe rate for postdocs listed on all new (or revised) grant applications. Please plan your budget accordingly, with the new fringe benefit rate for awards starting Dec. 25, 2022.
How can I get more information and express concerns?
Contact John Ryan, Ph.D., associate vice president for research development at email@example.com. Dr. Ryan will also hold a town hall meeting to discuss this on Feb. 9 at 9 a.m. The Zoom link for this meeting is: https://vcu.zoom.us/j/93673712168.
Thanks for all you do to make VCU an outstanding research university and a great place for postdocs to train.
P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D.
Vice President for Research and Innovation
John Ryan, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President for Research Development