Responsibilities of Postdoctoral Fellows and Faculty Supervisors

(revised 3/10/2015)

The Harvard School of Public Health recognizes that postdoctoral research fellows are trainees working in an apprenticeship mode in preparation for a career as scientific professionals.  The mentoring provided to the postdoctoral fellow by the faculty mentor is critical to the fellow’s career development and advancement.

In addition, postdoctoral fellows are generally expected to function responsibly and autonomously within the school’s complex and decentralized environment.  Independent thinking and action are in fact requisite to successful careers in research.

Responsibilities of postdoctoral fellows include the following:

  • Assume primary responsibility for the development of his or her research and career.
  • Play an active role in seeking career and research advice, both from the faculty supervisor and from other faculty members as appropriate.
  • Perform the research required by the faculty supervisor to a high standard and in accordance with all institutional and federal regulations.
  • Work in a collegial and cooperative manner with the faculty supervisor and other co-workers.

Responsibilities of HSPH faculty supervisors include the following:

  • Ensure that mutually understood expectations and goals are in place at the outset of the postdoctoral training period.  This may be best accomplished during the review of the postdoc’s initial career development plan.
  • Strike a reasonable balance between the postdoctoral fellow’s responsibility to participate in research directed by the faculty supervisor and opportunities to develop scholarship reflecting the postdoctoral fellow’s own interests.
  • Respect the postdoctoral fellow’s individuality, working style, and career goals and be aware that the rate of progress of postdoctoral fellows will vary.
  • Maintain an atmosphere in which the postdoctoral fellow feels free to approach him/her for advice or discussion of differences.
  • Encourage each postdoctoral fellow to seek advice and collaborative opportunities from other faculty members, or even to identify a second mentor, since the training experience can only benefit from a variety of perspectives.
  • Promote ethical standards for conducting research, including compliance with all institutional and federal regulations.
  • Accord full recognition of the postdoctoral fellow’s contributions to scholarship, including appropriate authorship of published work.  (The authorship guidelines developed by Harvard Medical School, available online at provide guidance in this area.)
  • Establish clear plans for how projects will be divided when fellows complete their training.
  • Support the postdoctoral fellow’s use of the full benefits of his/her employment at HSPH, including vacation time.

Postdoctoral fellows and faculty supervisors may meet with Mahnaz El-Kouedi, Assistant Dean for Faculty Affairs, to resolve problems on an informal basis.  HSPH also provides a formal process for the resolution of issues that may arise between a postdoctoral fellow and his/her supervisor (see grievance policy at