Frequently Asked Questions: Candidates


Q: Do I have to be member of an underrepresented group to apply for this fellowship?

A: No. The Program is open to all persons who meet the eligibility criteria without regard to race, gender, or ethnicity.

Q: I am not in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field or in economics or political science; am I still eligible to apply to this program?

A: In this program, Penn State offers postdoctoral research fellowships in most academic disciplines. Please consult the list of disciplinary areas and inquire if one of interest is not shown.

Q: Can I still be considered if I do not have U.S. citizenship or permanent residency?

A: Yes. Successful applicants must present documents demonstrating that they are legally authorized to work in the United States without restrictions or limitations. The University will not sponsor employment visas for this fellowship, but can sponsor J-1 Exchange Visitor visas. Please note that in compliance with federal law, all persons selected will be required to verify identity and eligibility to work in the United States and to complete the required employment eligibility verification document form upon hire. Information regarding citizenship, gender, race and ethnicity is requested for statistical purposes only and will not be provided to the Selection Committee.

Q: Can I apply if I have a JD, MD, MFA or EdD instead of a PhD?

A: Yes, applicants with terminal degrees in their field may apply for a postdoc in that or a related field, so as long as they are preparing for a career in university teaching and research.

Q: I’m an assistant professor. Can I still apply?

A: The fellowship is designed to give new scholars an opportunity to become more competitive candidates for tenure-track faculty appointments, with emphasis on research development. It is not a fellowship program for individuals already on the tenure-track to take time out for research with the intention of staying at their current institution. Applications from candidates with tenure-track appointments are not encouraged unless there is a clear explanation of how an award to the candidate would further the goals of the program. Applications from candidates in other than tenure-track appointments (e.g. fixed-term, adjunct) are encouraged.

Q: I received my PhD over 5 years ago. Am I still eligible to apply for this fellowship?

A: Yes. You are still eligible to apply if you are preparing for a career in university teaching and research. Please note that if you have already served in postdoctoral fellowship appointments at any university for a cumulative time exceeding five years, you may not be eligible for appointment in this program due to University policy that limits total time of service in academic postdoctoral appointments to five years. Applications from candidates who have accumulated more than five years of academic research-related experience (e.g., research assistant professor) since earning their terminal degree are discouraged.

Q: I will finish my doctorate after July 1, next year. Am I still eligible to apply this fall?

A: No. You must complete your doctorate on or before July 1 of the year following your application. Potential applicants who expect to complete their doctorate after July 1 should apply the following year.

Finding a Mentor

Q: How do I find a faculty mentor?

A: Applicants are encouraged to identify potential faculty mentors through professional contacts in their field, by reviewing the literature, and by searching Penn State websites for faculty members who are working in areas of interest. The best mentors for this fellowship are those who are not only competent in a technical field of interest, but who have demonstrated a commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity in higher education as well as an ability to successfully mentor postdocs for faculty positions. Mentors for selected Fellows must agree to complete training in advance of the fellowship period.

Q: Are assistant professors allowed to be faculty mentors?

A: The program encourages applicants to select a tenured faculty member as their mentor. However, in some cases assistant professors can be excellent prospective mentors.

Q: What are the expectations of the faculty mentors during the fellowship?

A: Please see the Mentor guidelines page.

Q: May I select a faculty mentor from my current department or campus?

A: The program encourages applicants to look for a mentor outside their current department and their home campus unless they can articulate a strong reason for remaining in the same academic location in their research proposal and/or education background statement. For the Penn State program, this FAQ only applies to current Penn State Ph.D. students, postdocs, etc. who are interested in applying to the Penn State postdoc program; applicants from other institutions (i.e., not Penn State) should identify a mentor in the most appropriate Penn State academic department.

Q: Can I select a retired faculty member to be my faculty mentor?

A: The program encourages applicants to select an active faculty member as their mentor. However, in some cases retired faculty members who are still fully involved in their department and their research program are excellent prospective mentors.

Q: Can a faculty member serve as a mentor for more than one applicant?

A: Yes, a faculty member may serve as a mentor for more than one applicant for the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

Q: What should be covered in my faculty mentor’s letter of support?

A: The e-mail sent by the application system to faculty mentors will ask them to address the following in a letter of support:

  • Applicant’s planned research.
  • Expected coursework, if any.
  • Extent to which the applicant will participate in departmental and campus academic activity (e.g., seminar programs).
  • Extent of applicant’s anticipated participation at national / international research meetings;
  • Facilities and resources available to the fellow.
  • Mentor’s involvement in mentoring for other programs designed to increase access and opportunity in higher education.

Q: Do I need a letter of support from the department head?

A: Yes. The Penn State President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program office, in concert with the proposed faculty mentor, will request a letter of support from the department head. This separate letter from the department head should comment on: the expected effectiveness of the mentoring plan; the mentor’s demonstrated commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity; the mentor’s history of postdoc advising; and the potential for a near-term opening for a faculty position in the disciplinary area of interest. The letter may also or alternatively identify a potential fit with another Penn State department, if appropriate.


Q: What materials are needed to submit an application?

A: You are required to submit the following materials:

  • Thesis Abstract – one page.
  • Research Proposal – 700-1,000 words (not including references and citations).
  • Education and Background Statement – 500-700 words describing your personal background and contributions to inclusion, equity, diversity, and equal opportunity through your academic career.
  • Curriculum Vitae.
  • Writing Sample – sample publication or unpublished paper, please limit to 35 pages (not including references and citations).
  • You are also required to find a mentor who will be willing to provide you with a letter of support, and who will be willing to request a letter of support from their department head.

Q: May I apply to more than one President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program – at Penn State or other universities?

A: Yes. Applicants may apply to each of the President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship programs with the same application, provided they submit separate mentor letters and research proposals.

Q: If I am only applying to the Penn State President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship program, do I need to provide information about a mentor at another university?

A: No. The on-line application may be used to apply to one or more programs. Those applicants who are only applying to the Penn State Postdoctoral Fellowship program must identify a faculty mentor at Penn State, but do not need to identify a faculty mentor at another university.

Q: Are there sample applications available for review?

A: No. There are many variations on successful applications. Applicants are encouraged to consult with their academic advisors and mentors about how to prepare and submit a competitive application.

Q: Should I send my graduate transcripts along with my online application?

A: No. The program no longer requires transcripts to be sent with the application. However, the program will request official graduate transcripts if you are selected as a finalist and will not offer you a fellowship until official graduate transcripts are received.

Q: How will I know when my faculty mentor, department head, and reference letter(s) have been uploaded to my online application?

A: You will receive e-mail confirmations from the online application system each time a letter is uploaded to your application. You can check on the status of your application, including the arrival of your mentor, department head, and reference letters, by using the username and password you created and returning to the application information page.

Q: What is the application deadline?

A: The deadline for submitting the online application is November 1. The deadline for faculty mentor, department head, and reference letters is December 1.

Q: When will the final decisions be announced?

A: Finalists will be notified, and awards announced close to March 31 each year. Please consider restraint when contacting the program office about the selection results. Successful candidates are notified first. Alternates are notified if awardees do not accept or if current fellows do not renew their terms. Additional fellowships are awarded to candidates on the alternate list through June, if resources become available. The program makes every effort to notify all candidates as soon as possible.

Review and Selection

Q: Who will review my application?

A: Applications will be reviewed by at least two faculty members during the first round of review. If your file moves forward in the review process, it will be read and discussed by faculty members from a range of fields in related disciplines.

Q: What criteria are considered by the selection committees when reviewing applications?

A: Review committees evaluate applicants in all fields according to their potential for success in an academic career with special consideration given to potential for contributions to inclusion, equity, diversity, and equal opportunity as described in our evaluation, selection and eligibility criteria.

Q: Should the research proposal focus on expanding on the doctoral work (i.e. turning the dissertation into a book) or should it reflect a new project or direction in research?

A: In general, selection committees prefer to see a proposal that includes a significant piece of new work. However, in some fields or for some individuals, a proposal to complete or expand upon previous work might be favorably reviewed. In such cases, this should be combined with a plan for making a significant start on a new project.

Q: I’m unable to relocate because of family reasons. May I still apply?

A: The program requires that you are in residence and establish a presence at your mentor’s campus, school or department. If you wish to propose continuing work where you completed your Ph.D., we recommend that you consider working with a different faculty member or a different department if possible. If you wish to stay with your current department or faculty advisor, please explain your situation in your education background statement.

Funding Support

Q: Does the support from the University administration include space?

A: No. The University provides a salary of $50,000-$60,000, depending on the field and level of experience, and $5,000 for research and professional development. The award also includes enrollment in a health plan for the fellow and dependents (with some contribution from the fellow), and other benefits as included at the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs website. Penn State also has guidelines for postdoc parental leave. (Please note: Departments and mentors will make appropriate arrangements for space and other necessary resources).



In 2021, Penn State joined in a collaborative partnership with the University of California and other leading universities to offer postdoctoral fellowship opportunities for promising scholars. In this program, Penn State now offers postdoctoral research fellowships in most academic disciplines, coupled with faculty mentoring, professional development, and academic networking opportunities.

President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program

Office of Postdoctoral Affairs

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802