photo of Killian Court Postdoc Information

The Postdoctoral Position

Postdoctoral Associates and Fellows are valued members of MIT’s community, playing critical roles as trainees and partners in our academic and research enterprise. As postdocs transition from the role of advanced student to young professional, this postdoctoral experience at MIT is a major step in their careers.

Working under the supervision of MIT faculty members, postdoctoral scholars come to MIT to develop their scholarly competence. Postdocs are appointed with the title Postdoctoral Fellow or Postdoctoral Associate depending on the type and source of funding. MIT Policies and Procedures provides detailed descriptions, including terms and conditions, for postdoctoral associate and postdoctoral fellow appointments. The Statement on the postdoctoral training period at MIT provides additional guidance. In addition, the Vice President for Research periodically communicates MIT’s responsibilities regarding the postdoc salary rate, health benefits for Postdoctoral Fellows, mentoring plans, and annual reviews, summarized in the Vice President for Research Update

Defining Postdoctoral Fellows and Associates

What is the difference between a Postdoctoral Associate and a Postdoctoral Fellow?
The MIT title of Postdoctoral Associate applies to those who are paid a salary by MIT.  Their salary is usually charged to a grant or contract secured by their faculty mentor.  The MIT title of Postdoctoral Fellow applies to researchers who receive funding in the form of a fellowship or stipend, usually from an outside agency, either directly or distributed through MIT on behalf of the sponsor.  Typically, fellows are responsible for applying for a fellowship award.  See Benefits for additional information.


What benefits does a Postdoctoral Associate receive?
Postdoctoral Associates are paid by MIT and therefore considered employees of the Institute. They are eligible for all MIT employee benefits as described by MIT's Benefits Office. (Note the specific requirements related to length and percent effort of the appointment.) 

What benefits does a Postdoctoral Fellow receive?
Because of their funding source and appointment type, Postdoctoral Fellows are not considered employees of MIT, and this status impacts eligibility for various programs and the specific arrangements.  MIT offers health and dental insurance to Postdoctoral Fellows, as well many of the “discounts and perks” available to employees. For further information, see the Benefits Office description of Postdoctoral Fellow Benefits. The MIT Affiliate Health Plan is available to Fellows who are appointed at least 50% time and for a minimum of three months. See the Vice President for Research Update  for important additional information regarding funding minimums and equalization of health insurance payments.

What are other differences and considerations?
For those who may change titles during their stay at MIT, an important resource is Impact of switching from a Postdoctoral Associate to a Postdoctoral Fellow appointment (or vice versa), available from the Office of the Vice President for Finance. The administrator who works with postdocs in each area will also be very helpful.

MIT is engaged in on-going efforts to equalize provisions for Postdoc Associates and Postdoctoral Fellows wherever possible.  Many resources are in place for all postdoctoral scholars; see for example Resources and Information for Postdocs and Athletics membership information.

Federal and state laws and the way MIT benefits are funded create distinctions between salaried and unsalaried postdocs. An MIT salary is a payment for services that is paid through MIT’s payroll system. Every salary is subject to withholding taxes and Social Security deductions (see below). In addition, for each MIT salary paid by the hiring department to the employee, there is an additional “fringe rate” (currently 26%) for the MIT “benefits pool.” This rate is negotiated annually with the federal government. It funds employee benefits and must be charged to the same MIT source- often federal grants- that pays the salary. In contrast, a Postdoctoral Fellow’s stipend or fellowship is considered non-salary support, and is not subject to withholding taxes, Social Security deductions, or a fringe rate. Because the benefits pool does not support fellowship appointments, other arrangements are made for comparable provisions when possible.

What time off provisions are in place for Postdocs? See details here.

Tax Information

Postdoctoral Associates are taxed as employees and have taxes withheld from their paychecks (federal and state income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare, or FICA). They need to submit the necessary withholding forms to MIT online, following HR/Payroll instructions.

Tax regulations for Postdoctoral Fellows are different, including regarding tax withholding. Fellowship stipends disbursed by MIT, except for foreign sourced fellowships, are subject to federal and state income taxes but not to Social Security or Medicare taxes. The stipend income is referred to as “unearned” income by the Internal Revenue Service, and Fellows are required to pay taxes on it.
For United States citizens and permanent residents, MIT does not withhold taxes, even though the stipend is taxable, and such Fellows may need to make estimated payments quarterly to the IRS (federal) and the state.
International postdocs should consult the International Scholars Office website.

Additional tax and benefit Information is available through MIT’s Office of the Vice President for Finance (HR/Payroll) and MIT Employee Benefits. See in particular Payroll Information for Postdoctoral Fellows and Associates and Impact of switching from a Postdoctoral Associate to a Postdoctoral Fellow appointment (or vice versa).