The NPA believes that the following are essential to a proper postdoctoral experience:
- Transition to career independence through the development of professional skills that enable the postdoc to actively pursue a career of his/her own choosing.
- Supervision by at least one senior scholar who actively promotes the postdoc's professional development.
- An individual development plan (IDP) that incorporates equally the postdoc's career and training goals and the mentor's research goals.
- Pursuit of basic, clinical, or translational projects so long as effort is focused primarily on research.
- Publication of the results of the postdoc's research and scholarship during their appointment.
- As the postdoctoral appointment is temporary by nature, the aggregate amount of time spent as a postdoc is recommended to not exceed five years (not including family medical leave or maternity/paternity leave).
- As postdocs are important members of the host institution's community, appropriate levels of compensation, health care, and other benefits commensurate with their essential status should be afforded, independent of the postdoc's source of funding.
A number of other organizations have developed similar definitions of a postdoctoral scholar, including: the National Academies, the Association of American Universities (AAU), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).