What fringe benefits do various institutions offer to postdocs?

by Kelle on January 28, 2013

In the spirit of the Parental Leave Policies and Grad Student Representation Wikis, I think it would be useful and timely to discuss how different institutions treat their postdocs with regards to benefits. So let’s hear it, what kind of benefits did your institution give you as a postdoc? Decent, affordable healthcare options? Dental? Vision? Affordable partner benefits (regardless of sex or marital status)? Access to on-site childcare? Retirement?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Niall January 28, 2013 at 8:27 am

This is a fairly American question as most of these are fairly universal or compulsory in Europe for employees. In the UK for example healthcare and dental are on the NHS so covered by taxation and retirement contributions are soon to become compulsory. On-site childcare is much spottier. All of the previous applies to employed people, those paid by stipends don’t get some benefits (like almost all UK PhD students not getting pension contributions).

Also holiday, compulsory in Europe, not so in the US.

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2 Michelle CL January 28, 2013 at 2:36 pm

In Denmark, full health coverage (also for families), 6 weeks paid vacation, 10 days of scheduled University/public holidays, special tax rate for foreigners, highly subsidized child-care, generous parental leave. Salaries are also high, even when factoring in a relatively high cost of living; post docs monthly – equivalent to $6,000 and PhD students about $4,800. Add 17.1% pension, either paid out as extra salary or saved in a transferable pension fund.

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3 Caitlin January 29, 2013 at 4:00 am

Benefits vary widely with institution… something I didn’t appreciate until it impacted my life (surprise!).

I’m at IfA Hawai’i and benefits here are not horrible but limited; healthcare is decent (HMSA or Kaiser), although those of us with a benefits stipend from outside aren’t allowed to top it off, so we end up paying out of our salary (this is quite annoying when most of the benefits stipend goes unused and returned to my funding agency!). That said, dental and vision coverage are surprisingly good. Retirement is non-existent; they don’t even let you buy into it.

RCUH (the “research corporation of the university of hawaii”) employs most postdocs here and is a pretty horrible and dysfunctional entity (e.g. they had my birthday wrong in their database so I had to go without health insurance for a month until they fixed it). IfA admin can be quite frustrating as well; the overheads are low, but you feel it. Also there’s an issue with fellows who are stipended and not directly employed by UH or RCUH; those fellows aren’t allowed to buy into the University healthcare, so they need to acquire private healthcare. Nominally that isn’t a huge deal, but Hawai’i is rather limited and there isn’t a single private provider in the state which includes prenatal visits in their plan. So, if you’re planning on having a baby as a [stipended] postdoc expect to pay for it out of pocket…

That’s the IfA in a nutshell! Curious to hear about other institutions.

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4 David R January 29, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Seems like Europe is the place to be then…
In Chile, if you have a particular fellowship, you get a small stipend to cover whatever health insurance you choose to buy. If you don’t have that fellowship, it’s all out of pocket. The stipend doesn’t cover that much, though, and women have to pay 3x for their insurance yet the stipend is the same across gender.
Not sure about retirement. I had heard that the way we were paid exploited a loophole to avoid having to provide such benefits, but I think it may now be mandatory though one can opt out if one doesn’t plan to remain in Chile.

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5 K. Willett January 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm

My wife attends vet school at the university where I work. One benefit that we rely on is the fact that my position as a postdoc allows her to pay in-state tuition rates as a member of my family. It’s a difference of more than ten thousand dollars each semester.

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6 D February 4, 2013 at 2:58 am

University of Colorado has a 2:1 match in the 401(a) – not sure how that compares to other universities, but my understanding is that’s fantastic compared to most “industry” employers. 401(a) kicks in after one year, or immediately if you’ve previously been in such a plan (I think a 403(b) counts). No vision, but medical and dental. So CU has better fringe benefits than some faculty jobs I’m looking at (no dental, two-year wait for 403(b), etc.).

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7 a October 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm

CU does not have 401(a) for postdocs. It has 403 (b) where you contribute 100%.

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8 D October 4, 2013 at 12:12 am

a: you are wrong. It has a 401(a) (the “Optional Retirement Plan”, which is poorly named as it is not optional) and _also_ a 403(b) if you want to contribute more.

The 401(a) is 10%+5%, where you put in the 5%, and you are vested after 1 year employment (unless you’ve previously had mandatory retirement contributions at another educational or nonprofit… this seems silly). If you’ve been PI on a grant at CU, you can see the benefits overhead (30.9%), part of which goes to support this.

If you are perplexed by this, contact Payroll and Benefits Services. You can start here: https://www.cu.edu/pbs/benefits/plans/pension-savings-mandatory.html

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9 D October 4, 2013 at 12:23 am

In fact, it looks like they’ve changed the rules to be more sensible, at some point in the last couple years. Looking at the benefits eligibility matrix, all research associates are now immediately eligible for the optional retirement plan. If you are currently at CU, a, then you are either in ORP or PERA (one or the other is required). If you don’t believe you are, check your payroll statement, then talk to PBS. (And if you are in APS, I probably know you. *waves*)

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