UTAustin MBS PDA:EmploymentDetails

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Postdoc employee benefits

For the most current information, please see the Human Resources Current Employee [1] and Benefits Overview [2] pages.

Insurance Benefits

Medical

There is one insurance option available for all UT employees:

  • UT Select [3], offered by Blue Cross Blue Shield. It is a PPO, meaning that you can choose any doctor, but it is cheaper if you stick with people within the network. Many doctors around Austin are in the network, but it's always a good idea to check and make sure.
    • UT pays the entire monthly premium for full-time benefits-eligible employees, including all full-time postdoctoral fellows. Information for Research Affiliate Postdocs (postdocs supported by individual fellowships) can be found below.
    • Note that you pay an extra $30 per month if you are a smoker, but UT also has several programs to help you quit if you want to [4], [5]
  • Campus clinics
    • The UT Health Austin employee clinic [6] is a great easy resource for on-campus healthcare. The copay is often lower since they are associated with UT, and there are a variety of specialty clinics to get the help you might need. Outside of the UT Health Austin clinic, most copays are $20-35, depending on the type of appointment. There are also many healthcare providers around Austin that accept UT Select, so feel free to shop around if you prefer,
    • The University Health Service is available for general visits via a service extension fee [7] for postdocs, [8] but non-tuition funded services such as physical therapy, radiology, lab services, and registered dietitian are accessible without paying the extension fee.
    • The UHS website (Healthy Horns) [9] can also be a valuable resource (although a lot of that info is for students), and the HR HealthPoint website [10] has more resources as well.
  • Dependents
    • It costs anywhere from about $250-$500 each month for full-time employees to add dependents (spouse, children) to your health insurance plan [11]
  • Enrollment and changes
    • Typically you can only make changes during annual enrollment (July 15-31st, subject to change) that will go into effect September 1st. However, getting married, having a baby or other qualified changes [12] would allow you to make changes to your insurance coverage outside of the annual enrollment period.
  • Flu vaccines
    • 'You should get vaccinated!' It's not just for you, but all the children, elderly, and ill people you interact with will appreciate it too. Conveniently, the University holds an on-campus flu shot campaign for about a month each fall [13], which is free if you have insurance through UT Select.
  • Prescription drugs
    • UT uses Express Scripts [14]. The copays range from $10-$50, and your yearly deductible is $100. This is built into the health plans, so you don’t have to do anything.
  • FLEX spending
    • Benefits can also include contributing to a FLEX spending account,[15] which can be used for qualifying health-related or child-care expenses.
Dental

There are currently three dental insurance plans to choose from as a UT employee [16]. All three are optional and require out-of-pocket monthly premiums. A quick summary of coverage options is available at the UT system benefits page [17]. The choices are an HMO option, a PPO option, and an enhanced PPO option.

Vision

There are currently two dental insurance plans to choose from as a UT employee [18]. Both are optional and require out-of-pocket monthly premiums. A quick summary of coverage options is available at the UT system benefits page [19].

Other

The University provides a basic level of Accidental Death and Dismemberment [20] and Group Term Life Insurance [21] coverage. The basic coverage package includes $40,000 in AD&D and Group Term Life insurance at no cost for employee only. You can also increase your coverage for a small monthly premium.

Retirement Benefits

For the most up to date information, see the HR page on retirement benefits. [22] 'This is something you should consider as soon as you start!' Your decision is forever, and how long you plan to stay at UT is the main factor.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

See the official information at UT's website [23]

  • This is the default retirement plan (if you don't actively choose between the two plans when you start your employment). It requires five years of UT employment (or other Texas state employment) in order to be vested. If your employment ends before 5 years, you get to keep your contributions to your retirement, but not the university's contribution to your retirement. To get your contributions back if you leave before the end of 5 years, here's the form [24].
Optional Retirement Plan (ORP)

See the official information at UT's website [25].

  • This plan requires employment for only one year and one day to be vested.
  • The ORP is like a 401k plan, where you choose how to invest your (and UT’s) retirement contributions.
  • UT actually contributes more to this plan than TRS (8.5% vs 7.7%, subject to change).
  • You must be proactive in order to elect this retirement plan, as you have to select it within your first 90 days of employment. To do so:
    • You need to enroll on the UT Retirement Manager website.
    • You need to fill out and submit "TRS Form 28" to the Benefits and Leave Management Human Resources office (currently at 1616 Guadalupe St., Suite 1.408, but check UT's website before going to be sure it hasn't changed).
  • Note, the University also provides free consultations with your retirement provider's financial advisors on campus, and they can be really helpful!
Additional savings options

If you want to put more into retirement than mandatory contributions to TRS or ORP, there are also some additional UTSaver voluntary retirement programs that you can use, which are also detailed on the benefits website. [26]

Other perks and info

Transportation
  • CapMetro transporation is FREE for all UT students, faculty, and staff - anyone with an active UT ID card
  • Motorcycles or scooters park for FREE at all Austin street parking (for up to 12 consecutive hours)
  • Parking Permits: Class A permits [27] are the easiest to get and cost ~$172/year (see link below for current prices). You park in the big surface lots around campus (they're marked), and it typically requires early arrival to secure a spot
    • You can build a carpool group with others to receive discounted permits and better parking spots
    • Depending on your location, it can be closer to just park in neighborhoods for free (such as north of campus – pay attention to signs)
    • You can also get a permit for parking on campus on the weekends and after hours during the week. AN permit (surface parking only) is $45/year. AN+ permit allows for garage and surface parking and is $75/year
    • There are more coveted types of permits (for example, parking garages), but seniority rules, and waitlists can be long. Here is a list of faculty/staff parking options, and current availability and cost at UT's parking website [28]
  • Bicycling to campus is easy with plenty of bike racks. You need to register your bike with Parking and Transportation services [29], and they also offer some on campus kiosks etc for help with working on your bike. Don't forget to wear a helmet!
Leave
  • Paid Leave
    • Vacation (annual) leave - starts accruing right away, but you can't take vacation hours until you've worked for 6 months
    • Sick leave - can start using right away, also can be used to care for a sick family member (immediate family)
  • Unpaid
    • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) [30] for those who have been employed for at least 12 months: Allows you to take up to 12 weeks of leave for medical reasons, including for the birth/adoption of a child. Your insurance continues to be paid.
    • Parental Leave [31] for those who do not qualify for FMLA: Allows you to take up to 12 weeks of leave for new babies or adoption of a child under three. There is no insurance premium-sharing when you are on parental leave.
    • Leave of Absence [32]
    • All types of unpaid leave include job restoration after the designated amount of time
    • For confidential leave management information contact 512-475-8099
Classes
  • After 12 months of employment, UT employees are allowed to take one class per semester for free. However, you must be admitted to UT as a degree seeking or non-degree seeking student in order to receive this benefit. (Because of the work/cost of the admissions process, I'm not sure how many postdocs actually take advantage of this.)
  • There are informal classes going on at UT which you can take. For example, I’ve taken a night programming class that was offered specifically for training grad students and postdocs
  • LinkedIn Learning is also available to UT staff
Other random things
  • Longhorn Auto Assistance Program [33] (LAAP): If you are on campus and either lock yourself out of your car or have your battery go dead, call UT Police and they will assist you for free.
  • The Blanton Museum [34] on campus offers free admission with a guest for faculty, students and staff
  • Discount event tickets often are sent out to UT staff or students, keep an eye on your email inbox
  • UT Dine-In Dollars [35]: This currency is loaded onto your ID card, and can be used at UT food vendors. You receive a 10% discount over standard prices
  • Notary services are also available through members of the Human Resources Office

Types of positions

Note: Postdoctoral assignments have a max of 5 years, and this includes time spent in both Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Affiliate – Postdoc positions, and time spent as a postdoc at other institutions.

Postdoctoral Fellow

The "Postdoctoral Fellow" position is a temporary training position for recent PhD graduates. At UT, you can be appointed as a Postdoctoral Fellow for up to 5 years, and you must have received your PhD within 3 years of your initial postdoc assignment.

Full-time Postdoctoral Fellows are eligible to receive the same benefits as all UT faculty and staff: insurance (medical, dental, vision, life, disability, long term care, flexible spending account); paid annual, sick, and holiday leave; and participation in a retirement program: https://hr.utexas.edu/prospective/benefits.html


Research Affiliate Postdoctoral

You become a "Research Affiliate Postdoc" when you (as a postdoc fellow) are awarded a fellowship or traineeship from an external agency or organization. You may be paid directly from the granting agency, or through a University account administered by the Office of Sponsored Projects. Your payments aren't made through the University payroll system (which means that the University is not withholding taxes on these payments). See the "Becoming a Research Affiliate" section for more details.

As a Research Affiliate Postdoc, you are not considered "benefits eligible", but even so, you can enroll in certain health insurance plans that are part of the University’s group insurance program: https://hr.utexas.edu/current/insurance/plans/rapostdoc_fellow.html . However, you have to pay the insurance premiums yourself. See the "Becoming a Research Affiliate" section for more details.

Becoming a research affiliate

Research Affiliate Postdoc

This “special” type of arrangement/appointment typically happens when a postdoc is awarded external funding, such as a fellowship from NSF, NIH or elsewhere. When receiving support from an individual/external fellowship, you are not considered a "normal employee" anymore. And there are some important differences...

MOST IMPORTANTLY - If you've submitted a fellowship proposal and you think you might get funded, be proactive and talk to the HR professional in your department or research unit. This is the person who assisted with your initial appointment at UT-Austin, and they can answer many questions you might have about becoming an external fellowship-supported Research Affiliate Postdoc. (If you don't know who your departmental HR contact is, ask your PI to point you to the right person.)

Steps to take upon notification of an award

1. Notify your department (if you have not done so already).

2. You have to provide Human Resources with several documents within the first month of your status change, though doing it the month before is highly recommended:

  1. Affiliated Postdoctoral Fellow – Sponsoring Faculty Form
  2. Insurance Enrollment/Change Application
  3. Proof of Relationship Documents (if you have kids or a partner)
  4. Beneficiary Designation Form (for the life and AD&D insurance)

These forms should be submitted to the Human Resource Service Center (hrsc@austin.utexas.edu), along with a copy of your fellowship paperwork that includes: name of fellow, funding source, fellowship begin date, and fellowship end date.

3. Be sure to check that your keycard still works. Often times, it gets reset in the change.

The money stuff

While you no longer accrue vacation time and sick leave, what you have accrued can be used if you return to standard employment at UT, or paid out (according to university policy) when you leave UT. In some instances, they've been known to pay it out at the end of the school year that you change appointment in. If you made any contributions to TRS, they can be refunded to you, though with a small penalty. This, too, may have to wait until you leave UT, but you can find the form here.

Taxes – Since you are no longer a “normal” employee, UT does not withhold your taxes. So now you have to put the big kid pants on and do it yourself. What’s even more, you have to pay them quarterly. (This may be different for international scholars. Contact the International Office with questions.) The IRS has forms that you can use to pay taxes quarterly - in April, June, September and January. They are usually due about halfway through the respective month. I have gotten away with doing it yearly in the past, though it is against the rules and you may get audited, then have to pay additional fees. The VPR Postdoc Office has some resources listed for people who might need assistance with taxes: https://research.utexas.edu/postdoc/resources/postdoc-handbook/ (Scroll to section on Personal Finances.) The National Postdoc Association also maintains a helpful tax info page for "non-employee" postdocs: http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/?page=TaxIssues

Benefits

Research Affiliate Postdocs have access to standard UT employee Medical, Dental and Vision options. Prescription Drug Coverage and the basic Life and AD&D insurance are also included under the Medical coverage. Unfortunately, you must now pay the full monthly premium for your UTSelect insurance if you decide to stay with it (no premium sharing for Research Affiliate postdocs). Costs are listed here: https://hr.utexas.edu/current/insurance/plans/rates.html#fellow. Some fellowships provide supplemental funds to assist with this, but the responsibility for actually making the monthly payment is yours. (Of course, some Research Affiliate Postdocs might choose to find insurance coverage outside of UT.) There is also a cheaper alternative: you can choose to switch to the 'student' health insurance, which almost as good as UTSelect, but is significantly cheaper. It is called the Academic Healthcare Plan (AHP) or sometimes the Student Healthcare Insurance Plan (SHIP). Talk to your HR person about this option - they can help determine if it's available to you.

Retirement

UT no longer contributes to your retirement, so you have to start your own independent plan, especially if you previously had TRS. If you have ORP, you may be able to work with your investment company to continue to add to your existing retirement plan. If you have questions about this, you can contact Human Resources (512-471-4772)


Responsible conduct of research

Ensuring that research is done responsibly and ethically has become a critical aspect of our scientific development. The NIH, NSF and other funding agencies often require postdocs to prove that they are actively educating themselves about Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR).

There are two main venues where you can receive education and credit for RCR training at UT:

  • The Office of Sponsored Projects (OSP) provides a webpage with links to some resources about RCR training including online options through the university. [36]
  • The CNS Postdoctoral Association often includes RCR topics in its monthly seminar series (info here [37]). Contact Anne Tibbetts [38] if you need proof of your participation.

A recent CNS Responsible Conduct of Research session was a presentation/discussion on plagiarism. Dr. Sara Saylor from the University Writing Center gave the Avoiding Plagiarism presentation, and also provided a resources handout available for download here [39]

Most of us often have other experiences that can also contribute to your RCR training, though it is on you to present these to your funding agencies. Here are some examples:

  • Mentoring undergraduates
  • IRB or IACUC training
  • Online RCR training provided by scientific societies