During the first few days on campus, you should make sure these basics are taken care of in order to help you transition to being part of the Columbia community. Please be sure to check in with your Department Administrator in case they have an existing checklist of forms, authorizations, and orientations.
Your Columbia ID and UNI are your gateway to the University. In addition to being your official University identification, the Columbia Card is necessary to gain access to the numerous libraries, campus buildings, and gym facilities. Outside the University, your Columbia Card can help you take advantage of all the excitement New York City has to offer through certain programs and discounts.
The key to accessing computer services and electronic resources at Columbia is your University Network ID (UNI). Every student, faculty member, and permanent staff member is assigned one of these unique identifiers, consisting of your initials plus an arbitrary number. You will also need your UNI to gain access, for example, to restricted library information on the Web, Human Resources, and other University systems.
Your UNI and its associated password are generally the basis for gaining access to your university email account. Note that it is against University policy to share your password. Someone who knows your password can gain access to personal information about you, such as your benefits or certain employment records.
In order to receive important postdoc information and notices about OPA events, all postdocs are automatically added to OPA’s email list. If you don’t already receive weekly emails from OPA, send a request to: email@example.com so you can be added to our email list.
You must have a social security number (SSN) in order to lawfully work in the United States and receive a salary. To get a SSN or a replacement card, you must prove your U.S. citizenship or immigration status, age, identity, and employment eligibility. Only certain documents are accepted as proof of U.S. citizenship. These include your U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport, a Certificate of Naturalization, or a Certificate of Citizenship. If you are not a U.S. citizen, different rules apply for proving your immigration status.
Under the current law, only certain documents can be accepted as proof of identity. If you do not have a SSN, the Social Security Administration’s website provides detailed information about the application process and acceptable proofs of identity.
Once you have applied for a SSN you will be given a receipt. Bring this receipt to your departmental administrator for his/her use in preparing the paperwork for your appointment. Once you receive your official card from the Social Security Administration, give your department administrator a copy so that your records can be updated properly and the appropriate paperwork filed.
The nearest Social Security Office to Columbia’s Morningside Campus is:
Cav Bldg, 6th Floor
55 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027
The nearest Social Security Office to the Columbia’s Medical Center Campus is:
4292 Broadway (182nd Street)
New York, NY 10033
An Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) is a tax processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS issues ITINs to foreign nationals and others who are required to have a United States taxpayer identification number for United States tax return and payment responsibilities under the Internal Revenue Code (i.e., those who are to receive stipends only), but who are not eligible for a SSN.
ITINs are for federal tax reporting only, and are not intended to serve any other purpose. An ITIN does not authorize you to work in the United States or provide eligibility for Social Security benefits or the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Examples of individuals who need ITINs include:
- Non-resident alien filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for a SSN
- U.S. resident alien (based on days present in the United States) filing a U.S. tax return and not eligible for SSN
- Dependent or spouse of a U.S. citizen/resident alien
- Dependent or spouse of a non-resident alien visa holder.
Citibank offers a Citi-Secured MasterCard (secured by an 18-month Certificate of Deposit) developed to meet the needs of individuals with no established credit or with little credit history, with or without either SSNs or ITINs. For additional information, visit a Citibank branch. If you have a Citibank credit card in your home country, you may also qualify for a Citibank card in the United States. Please contact the above individuals for additional information.
OPA New Postdoc Orientation – In an effort to acclimate new Postdocs to Columbia University, we would like to offer a first look at the research, professional development, and quality of wellness resources available at Columbia to postdoctoral trainees. Discussion also includes a brief rundown of benefits, introduction to creating an Individual Development Plan (IDP), and a Q&A session. A one-hour Orientation is held once every 6 weeks (except December) and rotates between the Morningside (MSD) and Medical Center campus (CUMC). All new Postdocs University-wide are welcome to attend any campus session. Time and room location will be announced on the Events Calendar.
HR New Employee Orientation– Please also make sure to attend the Human Resource new employee orientation. The HR orientation goes into more detail about the benefits available to you at Columbia and your enrollment options. The Human Resource offices at the Morningside Campus and the Medical School Campus each run their own new employee orientation (the one on the Medical Campus is called the "Welcome Program"). Please click on the appropriate link below to obtain the orientation schedule. It is strongly recommended that postdoctoral research scientists/scholars attend one of these sessions within 30 days of their start date.
Nearly 43% of all postdocs come to Columbia from international locales. But if one excludes residency postdocs from this total, the figure jumps to 71%. Serving this large population are two offices for International scholars housed on the Medical Center and Morningside Heights campuses. They are the International Students & Scholar’s Office (ISSO) ISSO assists international students and scholars with, among other things, documentation matters.
All candidates for postdoctoral appointments who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents (“green card holders”) must obtain a visa prior to starting their appointment at the University. As a result, visa issues should be addressed prior to the issuance of a letter of appointment or an offer of extension of an appointment. Your departmental administrator will advise you of the required procedure.
Immigration documentation is handled by ISSO. If you are here on a J-1 visa, with Columbia sponsorship, the name and address of the appropriate university office is on your Form DS-2019 (issued by the Department of Homeland Security/SEVIS) provided with your visa information.
Although some requests for documentation submitted to ISSO may be filled on the spot, it is prudent to allow at least five business days for processing. You should bring your passport and all relevant immigration documentation (including your Form DS-2019) with you when you go to ISSO for information or document processing.
Each Postdoctoral Officer is responsible for maintaining his or her appropriate status with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and knowing and following pertinent regulations. Postdoctoral Officers should familiarize themselves with their obligations to DHS by visiting the DHS website. If you hold a J-1 visa, you may also visit the ISSO website. If you are uncertain about your status, check with ISSO immediately. You should also consult with ISSO before visiting the District Office of the U.S. Immigration Service. If you take time early on to familiarize yourself with your obligations to the Department of Homeland Security, you should find it easy to maintain your legal status. If, however, you allow yourself to “fall out of status”, it may be extraordinarily difficult to be reinstated to legal J-1 status.
In addition to providing assistance with immigration documentation, ISSO’s website contains a wealth of information for international postdoctoral applicants. All non-U.S. citizen applicants should visit the "Getting Started" section of the site.
ISSO Contact: Kathleen McVeigh (212-305-8165)
For information on United States Income Tax Treaties for all countries, please visit: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/international-businesses/united-states-income-tax-treaties-a-to-z
Proof of Degree
In order to become a postdoc, the candidate of interest must have his/her MD or PhD; depositing the Ph.D. for defense at a later date is not sufficient. If the dissertation has been successfully defended, but the degree not yet awarded, a letter from the applicable university’s registrar should be obtained, stating the date on which the degree will be conferred. If the letter is not written in English, it must be accompanied by an official English translation.
If you have any questions about your documentation, please contact the following people:
Morningside Campus: Pearl Spiro, Assistant Provost, Academic Appointments
Medical Center: April Armstrong-Studivant, Director of Faculty Affairs
Tuition Exemption for English Classes
For Postdoctoral Research Scientists/Scholars, Postdoctoral Research Fellows, and Postdoctoral Clinical Fellows who attend the American Language Program, the Tuition Exemption Program pays for one course per per term up to a maximum of two (2) per academic year (all sessions during the summer term count as one term.) The program does not pay for other courses, nor for any courses taken by family members or children. There is no waiting period.
Workshops for International Postdocs
OPA organizes several workshops throughout the year for our international postdocs. Please visit our events calendar for more detailed information about our upcoming programming.
The International Student and Scholars Office (ISSO) also provides informational programs and workshops. For a list of upcoming ISSO programming please visit the ISSO events calendar.
The Research Compliance Training Finder is an interactive tool that identifies which research compliance trainings postdocs may be required to take. The Finder creates a personalized training chart of required and recommended trainings, complete with links to the trainings and the responsible offices. The identified trainings can be added to your Rascal Training To-do List.
RASCAL is the web-based application used to complete required trainings. If required trainings are not taken by the postdoc, the funders may have the opportunity to revoke funding from the lab or project.
Important reminder to postdocs re: filing your annual disclosure form in Rascal:
The requirement: You must file an annual disclosure form in Rascal. Under Columbia policy and federal regulations, Columbia researchers are subject to rules relating to financial conflicts of interest, including disclosure and training. One of these requirements is that researchers, including postdocs, must file a “financial interest report” (also known as your “annual disclosure form”) with the University at least once per year.
Here’s how to file in Rascal: To file your annual disclosure form, go to www.rascal.columbia.edu, select “Conflict of Interest,” then select “Start New Annual Disclosure” to fill out the form. You can save the form in progress, and if you need to get back to it, select “Continue Annual Form in Progress.”
If you are late in correctly filing an annual disclosure form, you may block the account of an entire research award. This can affect payment to everyone on the study team!
Here are three things to remember when filling out your disclosure form:
Answer all questions on the form fully and truthfully.
Will you be participating in any research at Columbia? If yes, you must answer “yes” to question #1 on the annual form, which asks whether you conduct research.
Will you be participating in any research that is funded by NIH or another agency of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS)? If yes, you must answer “yes” to question #2 on the form, which asks whether you participate, or plan to participate, in PHS-sponsored research. A “yes” answer triggers additional follow-up questions that are required by PHS regulation. If you are not sure about the funding source for your research, please check with your supervisor or departmental administrator before you answer this question.
Technical questions about Rascal? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the Rascal helpline (212) 851-0213. Substantive questions about your disclosures? Contact the Office of Research Compliance and Training at email@example.com, or (212) 851-2896.