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Process Simplification Office of the Vice ... - University of Virginia

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 Process Simplification Office of the Vice President for Management and Budget  
 Review of Initiating Postdoctoral Appointees Final Report  October 15, 2010        
 
Review of Initiating Postdoctoral Appointees
 I. Introduction  Postdoctoral researchers represent a major component of the research enterprise at U.Va. and are essential to maintaining and expanding research productivity and funding. Adapted from the Association of American Universities, the University officially defines a postdoctoral appointment as follows:  The postdoctoral appointment is temporary and conferred upon an individual who has recently been awarded a Ph.D. or equivalent doctorate in the appropriate field and who will be involved in full-time research or scholarship. The appointment is viewed as preparatory for a full-time academic or research career, is supervised by a senior scholar, and the appointee has the freedom, and is expected, to publish the results of his/her research or scholarship during the period of the appointment. The postdoctoral appointment is renewed annually with a standard length of appointment of three years.  There are two types of postdocs at U.Va.: postdoctoral research associates who are funded internally and classified as University employees; and postdoctoral fellows who are funded externally and not classified as University employees. Due to their different employee classifications, postdoctoral research associates and postdoctoral fellows are eligible for different benefits.  The process of initiating a postdoctoral appointment at U.Va. is highly decentralized and requires considerable coordination among many offices. There currently exists no standardized, formal process for hiring postdocs, and the University does not have a dedicated, central office for postdoctoral scholars. As a result, research administrators among the various schools have identified challenges that delay the appointment of postdoctoral researchers including, but not limited to:  creating entries in the Oracle system to initiate payroll;  classifying postdoctoral positions;  obtaining computing IDs;  enrolling in benefits orientation sessions; and  acquiring University ID cards.  In addition to the difficulties faced by administrators in initiating a postdoctoral appointment, the postdocs themselves face a distinctive set of problems and uncertainties most frequently dealing with the policies, procedures, and benefits that are applicable to their unique position at the University.  In response to the issues raised by various stakeholders, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the School of Medicine initiated this project through the Office of Process Simplification to identify ways to streamline and standardize processes and procedures in order to facilitate the appointment of postdoctoral research associates and postdoctoral fellows.   
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 II. Approach to Work  The Office of Process Simplification sought to identify current processes of, challenges to, and policies governing the initiation of postdoctoral appointees at U.Va., and recommend steps to streamline and standardize these processes across the University. Several methods were used to collect data on the appointment and on-boarding of postdoctoral researchers both here at the University and at top research institutions across the country, including: (1) Meetings with the former Director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development Programs in the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Assistant Dean for Research and Director of the Office for Research in the School of Medicine, the Assistant to the Vice Provost for Administration, representatives from the International Studies Office and the Office of Human Resources Compliance and Immigration Services (HR-CIS), and research administrators representing the School of Medicine; (2) Analysis of current University policies and procedures relating to the postdoctoral hires; and (3) Review of postdoctoral offices at top research institutions in the United States (based on research dollars spent).  III. Research Findings  A. Analysis of Current Process of Appointing Postdoctoral Researchers  Meetings, focus groups, and facilitated dialogues were held with various stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the current process for on-boarding postdoctoral researchers and to identify the challenges and obstacles that surface during this process for research administrators, principal investigators (PIs), and postdocs. Several recurring themes arose during these meetings, the foremost being that the University does not have a formal, centralized process for appointing and on-boarding of postdoctoral researchers. This, in turn, poses multiple challenges to research administrators who are responsible for, among other things, creating Oracle entries for postdoctoral research associates and fellows, obtaining a computing ID through Information Technology and Communication (ITC), scheduling benefits orientation, and arranging for the issuance of University ID cards.  Classification of Postdoctoral Researchers  All postdocs who are University employees are considered Professional Research Staff (PRS) , but not all PRS are postdocs. Furthermore, most but not all postdocs are research associates,. Although postdocs at U.Va. fall under the PRS category for which certain policies exist, questions and issues relating to postdocs have emerged. Specifically, there is confusion as to what a postdoc is and what role they serve at the University. While the University has a definition adapted from the Association of American Universities (included in the introduction of this report), many are not clear as to what a postdoctoral researcher is or the difference between a PRS and a postdoc. Further, since postdocs are neither faculty who are governed by the Provost nor staff who are governed by University Human Resources (UHR), it is unclear what policies are applicable to them (e.g., Are they subject to annual performance evaluations? What grievance procedures should they follow?, etc.).   
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Review of Initiating Postdoctoral Appointees
Immigration-Related Processes and Requirements  Further challenges exist for non-U.S. citizens, primarily concerning visa requirements (i.e., obtaining the correct type of visa and understanding the legal terms of visas) and tax regulations. While many of these issues are beyond the scope of this project and subject to federal law, it is crucial that departments and foreign nationals know and understand these requirements and comply with the appropriate federal regulations. For example, certain visas are job-specific and any changes in employment, including transferring from one department to another, must be reported in accordance with the terms of the visa. The HR-CIS, which is responsible for promoting and monitoring University compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and University policies and procedures with an emphasis on immigration, offers a variety of services and information online at http://www.hr.virginia.edu/other-hr-services/CIS/ , and serves as the University’s primary resource for all immigration-related issues including but not limited to visa applications, payments to and tax requirements for foreign nationals, and employment verification via the I-9 form.  Departmental Duties and Responsibilities  Meetings with various departmental research administrators, primarily in the School of Medicine which employs approximately 80% of the roughly 500 postdoctoral scholars at the University, highlighted several key issues that often delay the appointment of postdocs. The process begins with the departmental research administrator entering the postdoctoral research associate or fellow in the Oracle system as either an employee (paid through the payroll system) or non-U.Va. employee (paid through the AP system). Although the Oracle system requires that a social security number (SSN) be entered, the system will generate a temporary number if a SSN is unavailable at the time of entry. This is especially important for foreign nationals who, due to customs regulations, must be in the country for at least 10 days before they may apply for a SSN. It is unclear, however, whether a department may generate a temporary SSN in other instances (i.e., when the department has been unable to obtain the SSN for a new hire). Research administrators expressed concern about requesting a SSN from a newly-hired employee who has not begun employment (note that if approved by Office of Equal Opportunity Programs these hires do not require a formal search and therefore no information is available via Jobs@UVa), and typically do not begin the entry process until they have all personal information for an individual. To the extent possible, it is strongly preferred that employees be entered into Oracle prior to their arrival date, not only for payroll purposes but also for obtaining a University computing ID.  Research administrators emphasized the importance of obtaining computing IDs for postdocs prior to their arrival date at the University. Among other things, University computing IDs are required to register for training, which in some instances may be mandatory prior to undertaking any research responsibilities; to obtain a University ID card, which grants access to labs and buildings (especially after hours and on weekends when buildings may be closed); and to access the University network. Reports, generated through the Oracle system once or twice per week, are used by ITC to verify employment status of postdoctoral research associates, and computing IDs are not issued by ITC until a new employee appears on this report. As a result, there is often a lag time, which may be as much as one week, between the
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entry of an individual in the Oracle system and the ability to obtain a computing ID, which in turn delays other administrative tasks associated with a postdoc’s on-boarding including registering for training, etc. Research administrators repeatedly remarked on the necessity for computing IDs to be assigned prior to a postdoc’s first day of employment at the University. Another recurring issue raised by the research administrators but beyond the scope of this project involves instances when a postdoctoral research associate becomes a fellow and vice versa, which happens with some frequency at the University, and how the transition from one employment classification to another may be handled with minimal disruption to the employee (e.g., ensuring computing IDs are maintained, change in pay dates and benefits, etc.).  B. Overview of University Policies, Procedures, and Resources  Provost’s Policies on Professional Research Staff and Appointments of Foreign Faculty and Researchers  The Provost’s policy on Professional Research Staff, http://www.virginia.edu/provost/docs_policies/profres.html (see also Appendix A), provides guidelines for employment procedures, terms and conditions of employment, length of appointment, reappointment and standards for notice, removal by action for just cause, employment matters review procedure, salary schedule and review, patent and copyright policy, leave, and insurance benefits and retirement. The policy is applicable to all professional research staff, which includes all postdoctoral research associates, but is not necessarily applicable to research fellows who are not classified as University employees. This policy has been under revision, but as of this writing a revised policy has not yet been approved.  The policy on Appointments of Foreign Faculty and Researchers, http://www.virginia.edu/provost/docs_policies/foreign.html , also governed by the Provost, highlights the responsibilities of the University with regard to hiring foreign nationals. Due to the complexity of the rules and regulations in this area, the Provost has delegated liaison authority to the HR-CIS. See below for additional information on HR-CIS.  University Human Resources Website, Resources, and Policies  In 2010, UHR launched a new website that includes detailed information on the benefits (e.g. accidental death and dismembership insurance, disability insurance, dental insurance, life insurance, and medical insurance) available to postdoctoral researchers at the University, and links to additional relevant resources. Among other things, the newly designed section of the UHR website, http://www.hr.virginia.edu/hr-for-you/professional-research-staff/professional-research-staff-benefits/postdoc-benefits/ , more clearly defines the available benefits, provides references to related policies and procedures, and includes links to enrollment forms and other documents.  The HR-CIS website, http://www.hr.virginia.edu/other-hr-services/CIS/ , also provides various resources related to applying for visas, verifying employment eligibility (i.e., I-9),
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and paying non-U.S. citizens. Further, the website provides explanations of and links to Compliance and Immigration Policies and Procedures to ensure the University and its departments remain in compliance with federal regulations. These resources and regulations are available and applicable to all University employees and in certain instances students.  Information Technology and Communication Policy on Accounts  According to the ITC Policy on Issuance and Expiration of Accounts, http://itc.virginia.edu/policy/accounts.html , each department is required to arrange for a postdoc’s (UVa paid and non-UVa paid) information to be added to UVa database. Departments should submit their requests to accounts@virginia.edu .  Policy on Issuance of University Identification Cards  University Policy HRM-002 establishes guidelines for the issuance and usage of U.Va. ID cards, and clarifies those who are eligible to be issued an ID card. According to this policy and further clarified by the ID Card Office’s website, http://www.virginia.edu/idoffice/obtainid.html , full-time and part-time employees who are paid by the University and receive benefits are eligible to receive an ID card at no cost to the department or employee. Others, including postdoctoral fellows, may be issued an ID with written authorization from the sponsoring department or UHR, which must include the following: employee name, computing ID and date of birth; length of assignment (an expiration date must go on card); valid reason for needing ID card; and a PTAO for $10 fee or indication that the employee is to pay by cash or check.   Vice President for Research Postdoctoral Website and Postdoctoral Enhancement Programs  The Office of the Vice President for Research maintains a website for postdoctoral researchers, http://www.virginia.edu/vpr/postdoc/ , to which various resources are posted including a postdoctoral handbook; information on health insurance and other benefits, salaries and stipends, and taxes; resources for international postdoctoral scholars; and career and professional development. Services provided by Postdoctoral Enhancement Programs include:  administering health insurance and related benefits for postdoctoral fellows;  offering English courses for foreign national postdocs and their families;  providing career and professional development counseling;  offering ombudsman services;  maintaining the Postdoctoral Enhancement Programs website, postdoctoral database, and listserv; and  developing “Best Practices”for all postdocs at U.Va.  
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 C. External Benchmarking of Top Research Institutions  The Office identified 10 top-rated research institutions and reviewed the online information and resources available to postdoctoral scholars, hiring officials/principal investigators, and research administrators. Included as part of this study were the following institutions:  University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://www.grad.wisc.edu/research/postdocs/index.html   University of California-Los Angeles: http://www.gdnet.ucla.edu/postdocs.html   University of Michigan: http://med.umich.edu/postdoc/   University of California-San Francisco: http://graduate.ucsf.edu/postdoctoral/office-postdoctoral-affairs   University of Washington-Seattle: http://depts.washington.edu/pdafrs/   University of California-San Diego: http://research.ucsd.edu/postdoc   The Ohio State University: http://medicine.osu.edu/research/postdoc/Pages/index.aspx   University of Minnesota: http://www.grad.u /postdocto _ mn.edu ral affairs/   University of California-Davis: http://gradstudies.ucdavis.edu/postdocs/   Pennsylvania State University: http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/postdoc/index.cfm   While each of the institutions presented information and made resources available in its own unique format and style, several themes and trends quickly emerged as the data were analyzed. First was the posting of relevant policies and procedures for postdocs, research administrators, and in some case the principal investigator/hiring official. Several institutions had policies specific to postdocs (e.g., the University of Michigan Standard Practice Guide, http://spg.umich.edu/pdf/201.19.pdf ) that clearly defined what a postdoc is and articulated the policies and procedures that are applicable to postdocs at their institutions. Second, the majority of the institutions included sample appointment letters for research associates and fellows that detailed the project on which the postdoc would be working; identified the PI and/or mentor; and included information (and where appropriate links to access more detailed information and additional resources) on the length of the appointment, salary, evaluation process, and benefits. Third, the institutional websites included links and information on campus and community resources to assist those new to the community and/or the campus. Fourth, many included information on orientation programs designed exclusively for postdoctoral scholars. Fifth, several institutions included dedicated pages for research administrators and PIs, which provided overviews of postdoc policies and procedures, specific directives for appointing postdocs, guidelines on how to coordinate benefits for postdocs (research associates and fellows), required forms that must be completed (e.g., appointment forms), and lists of all research administrators across the institution. Finally, UC-Davis included on its website a postdoc appointment checklist for research administrators to facilitate the appointment process and ensure the appropriate actions are taken in a specific order.  It is recommended that further research and benchmarking of these institutions and the University’s other peer institutions that were not included on this list be conducted in order to obtain additional details on processes and procedures related to the appointment of postdoctoral research associates and fellows.
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 IV. Recommendations  The data presented reveal several key findings regarding the appointment of postdoctoral scholars at the University. First postdoctoral research associates and postdoctoral fellows are a unique group at the University as they are neither faculty nor staff. Second, no standardized process or guidelines exist that detail the requisite steps for the hiring and on-boarding of postdoctoral research associates and fellows. Third, the University does not have a centralized office solely dedicated to postdoctoral programs and affairs.  Given the findings presented above, the following options for improvement are presented for consideration:  A. Establish Policies and Procedures Specifically for Postdoctoral Scholars  Currently, postdoctoral research associates follow policies and procedures created for the PRS, and while this category of postdocs is classified as PRS, confusion remains not only about the definition of a postdoc, but also about what policies and procedures are applicable to them. Therefore, it is recommended that policies and procedures be established at the University to define and clarify the role of postdocs. These should include, but not be limited to, a clear definition of postdoctoral research associates and postdoctoral fellows (how they are the same and how they differ); where categorically postdoctoral researchers fall at the University (i.e., are they considered faculty, staff, or something different) and who governs the policies related to them (the Provost, UHR, or the Vice President for Research); what benefits they are eligible to receive and those for which they are not eligible; and what additional policies and procedures are applicable to postdocs. In addition to these policies and procedures, it is recommended that sample offer letter templates be created for both research associates and fellows that clearly articulate the terms of the position and eligibility for benefits, and include references to additional resources and information (see Appendix B for sample letter templates from the University of Wisconsin-Madison).  B. Central Office of Postdoctoral Programs/Affairs  The Office of the Vice President for Research (VPR) currently maintains the Postdoctoral Programs website and has previously employed a Director of Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development Programs, a position which is now vacant. It is recommended that the VPR expand the scope of the existing office so that the University maintains a dedicated office of postdoctoral affairs and programs; and structure the director’s position so that s/he serves as the primary liaison and single point of contact for research administrators, PIs, and postdoctoral research associates and fellows across the University. Creating a centralized office that serves as the single point of contact for all matters related to postdoctoral scholars will provide a better opportunity to identify and implement best practices and further develop the research enterprise at the University.   
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In conjunction with the establishment of this office at the University, it is recommended that the following practices also be considered for implementation:   In consultation with UHR, establish specific guidelines and develop a checklist for research administrators of the hiring, on-boarding, and orientation processes. The guidelines and checklist should include information on how offers should be made by the PIs (including sample letters), , obtaining a computing ID and U.Va. ID card, complying with immigration and employment verification requirements, etc.  Create a listserv for research administrators in addition to the postdoc listserv.  Assess the feasibility of conducting monthly/bi-monthly meetings for research administrators that will serve as a means to communicate new information and policies and address issues and/or problems research administrators are encountering. Similar meetings are currently held for fiscal administrators at the University and serve as an excellent tool for communicating important issues and addressing potential issues and concerns.  Enhance current website and provide all relevant information and resources for postdocs, research administrators, and PI.  Establish orientation programs dedicated to postdoctoral researchers, which depending on demand should be held semi-monthly.  Create orientation and ongoing training opportunities for research administrators.  Finally, it is recommended that a more in-depth analysis be conducted on best practices at the University’s peer institutions and the top-rated research institutions to identify additional ways in which the University can streamline processes for initiating the appointment of postdocs and enhance their research training experience.  
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A PPENDIX A P ROFESSIONAL R ESEARCH S TAFF P OLICY  Source:  http://www.virginia.edu/provost/docs_policies/profres.html  Em lo ment Procedures A ointments to the Professional Research Staff must be consistent with the rovisions set forth in this memorandum. Pros ective ersonnel should be made full aware of the conditions of the proposed employment when a position is offered to them.  A formal written offer stating the terms and conditions of employment may be forwarded to the candidate u on a roval of the dean. U on acce tance of the offer, the transaction should be submitted online to the a ro riate vice resident for a roval and the followin forms should be submitted to Human Resources for inclusion in the official personnel file:
Job Description Curriculum Vitae Copy of Offer and acceptance letter Employment Agreement Form I-9 (Certification of Employment Eligibility)  Aliens may be employed as Professional Research Staff members if they have current ermission and a ro riate documents from the U.S. Immi ration and Naturalization Service. The Immi ration Reform and Control Act of 1986 makes it ille al to hire knowin l an alien who is not authorized to work. Documents must clearl indicate that a candidate is eli ible to work either as a le al alien or as a United States citizen. Failure to examine documents, to sign the verification form (I-9), or the inability to make the I-9 available for overnment ins ection is unishable b a civil fine. It is not necessar to hotoco identit and eli ibilit documents on U.S. citizens, but for aliens, it is necessar to hotoco and attach such documents to the I-9. No ersonnel action is rocessed to ut salaried or wa e em lo ees either facult or classified on the University payroll without a completed I-9. Questions regarding the I-9 form and the hirin of aliens should be referred to the Director of Transactions and Records, Division of Benefits and Records, De artment of Human Resources.  Students are not eli ible for a ointment as Professional Research Staff, but must be appointed under the Student Authorization issued by the Office of the Provost. A student is defined as a erson enrolled in a de ree ro ram with the Universit of Vir inia.  Documentation of affirmative action recruitin efforts for Professional Research Staff a ointments or the a roval of exem tion which are not exem t from the formal search process is to be submitted at the time of the original appointment. A University of Vir inia "re ort of recruitin activit " will indicate where ob announcements have been listed, and rovide information re ardin the ender and race of a licants for those willing to disclose race) and those who are interviewed. Refer to the Office of Equal
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O ortunit Pro rams EOP web a e for information re ardin the affirmative action procedures of the University.  Terms and Conditions of Em lo ment A.  Research Staff  1. Research Assistant Requires a master's degree or equivalent. Research Assistants perform research duties as directed b the Princi al Investi ator with a minimum of su ervision. The Research Assistant should have the abilit to establish his/her own priorities, design methodologies, follow established quality standards, anal ze data, re are written documentation and make formal presentations. The Research Assistant should also have the ability to assume leadershi of other research staff. This title is rimaril for the erson whose em lo ment is for a short term, 12 months or less. However, any position that is expected to continue beyond an initial one-ear a ointment must be advertised and searched in advance of the initial appointment in accordance with the University of Virginia's EOP rocedures.   2. Research Associate Re uires a doctoral de ree. Research Associates work inde endentl and perform assigned research on their own initiative with a minimum of direction. This cate or is rovided for the recent Ph.D. or e uivalent whose em lo ment is for a limited time normall not more than three years) and is for the purpose of acquiring additional experience and trainin while contributin si nificantl to a research ro ram.  B.  Senior Research Staff  1. Research Scientist Re uires a doctoral or master's de ree with ex erience or their e uivalent. The individual is ex ected to erform assi ned tasks on his/her own initiative. In addition to a firm background in the particular field, the Research Scientist should demonstrate the abilit to assume leadershi of small rou s and work without additional su ervision once ob ectives are defined and methods of a roach set.   2. Senior Scientist Re uires a doctoral de ree or e uivalent in trainin or ex erience. The individual is ex ected to have sufficient ex erience and back round to or anize small research rou s includin Assistants throu h Research Scientists. The individual is ex ected to erform assi ned tasks on his/her own initiative with a minimum of direction. Senior Scientists do not normall serve as co-Princi al Investi ators on research ro ects. However, if circumstances warrant this level of service, an a ointment as co-Princi al Investi ator ma be ranted at the discretion of the dean.  
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