Institute of Astronomy

Post-Doctoral Researchers

Welcome to the Official IOA Postdoc Webpage

The IOA hosts one of the largest populations of postdoctoral researchers in astronomy in the UK. The size of this postdoctoralpopulation (around  75 postdocs currently) compared with the number of permanent academic staff (18) means that the great majority of IOA postdocs remain at the IOA for only a few years. Time spent at the IOA is generally found to be an excellent preparation for further academic (or, in the minority of cases, other) employment. As well as providing a highly stimulating scientific environment the IOA also strives to offer a high level of support to those at this critical career stage. We are working with the newly formed IOA Postdoc Committee to best meet postdocs' needs (see their link for further informal information/discussion). In particular we recognise that there are particular issues for those with caring responsibilities and/or those relocating to a new country. We also recognise that postdocs often have training needs and a wish for constructive feedback on their performance during their time at the IOA.

 Highlighting some of the measures/practices benefiting IOA postdocs:

The IOA is committeed to underwriting the costs of a postdoc working the full duration of their original contract in cases where they may have taken some form of leave associated with caring responsibilities (e.g. maternity/paternity leave).

IOA postdocs are offered an appraisal by a member of staff who is not their line manager during the first year of their postdoc, with the opportunity to repeat this annually.

The University  offers a full programme of courses falling under the broad category of `Researcher Development' as well as a Careers Service which can offer advice both on specialised academic applicaitons and more general career progression.

IOA postdocs have the opportunity to gain undergraduate teaching experience through supervising Masters thesis projects (contact course co-ordinator) and participating in small group teaching. You must have completed the obligitory training in October. It also possible for postdocs to co-supervise graduate students (see teaching section).

There is much general information available on the University's Website to help answer questions you may have prior to your arrival or once in Cambridge, so it is well worth looking there. There is also a web page with information specifically for research staff, and others with information for those new to Cambridge.

The Institute of Astronomy website is a good source of information. Some, but not all, of the research areas are covered by the research at IoA link. While the postgraduate handbook was written primarily for postgraduate students, much of the information is useful for postdoctoral fellows as well, such as the sections on Departmental Life, Computers, Reference and Who's Who are worth a look. The last one in particular gives you local contacts for various non-academic questions.  The Institute of Astronomy, is part of Cambridge's 'School of Physical Sciences'.

Before you come to the IoA


If you have any queries you should contact  Joy McSharry who, if she can't answer directly, will put you in touch with somebody who should be able to help. You should also have been given the contact details for a "mentor" who are asked to provide information and advice if you need it.  In the unlikely event that they cannot assist you, you might try Bob Carswell who after many years as an academic at the Institute is happy to help you .

All postdoctoral staff will have a senior academic staff member appointed as their science advisor. This person may be the project supervisor or principal investigator on a research grant, but not always. They should be able to help with questions related to your science at IoA, such as what computing facilities you might need.

A mentor has a somewhat different role. Normally he or she is a postdoctoral fellow who has taken a position at IoA within the past 1 - 3 years, and so can give advice based on recent experience of arriving in Cambridge and IoA as a new postdoc. After your arrival, mentors are encouraged to maintain regular contact with you for the first year at least, but the scheme is quite informal and the degree of contact is largely up to you.

Research needs

If you have particular requirements for your research then please discuss these with the person who offered you the post, or your nominated science contact (if you have already been told who it is), or the director well in advance. At least then there is a chance something close to what you need will be ready when, or soon after, you arrive.

At some stage two or three months before you arrive the computing support people should contact you outlining the nature of the computing setup here and asking what your specific computing preferences/needs are. If you have any computing related queries earlier, or have not heard from them, please contact IoA computing support, with a copy to your nominated science contact if you know who that is. Please say that you are a new postdoc, and give your starting date at the IoA. A member of the computing staff should then contact you by email.


You should have been told how much you will be paid. Deductions are made for Income Tax, National Insurance and Superannuation. Overall if your income is in the “basic band” then in total approximately a quarter of your earnings will be deducted. See the links on Income tax, National Insurance (a fund which is supposed to cover state pensions, and finances the National Health Service) and Superannuation (i.e. Universities scheme pensions - follow the USS link) for more detail, though it can be hard to find exactly what you want. The first two are compulsory, and since the University pays an additional contribution into the third there are some advantages in contributing to that scheme even if you don't plan to stay in the U.K. The University Payroll Section will automatically send you instructions on how to obtain a National Insurance Number, which you will need if you are to be paid at all.

Payment is normally made directly into your UK bank account. The University bank is Barclays, but any one you are happy with is fine. You will normally need something to show you will be residing here, and being paid by the University, and, if you need one, please ask for a letter of introduction to open a bank account from Joy McSharry.

Note that with possible visa fees, up-front health service fees and accommodation deposit and first month's rental there may be significant costs you will have to bear before you get paid by the University (see next three sections).


If you are a non EEA national then you will generally need a visa to work in the UK. The UK Visas & Immigration (renamed from UK Border Agency) rules for those wishing to work in the UK keep changing, and use a points based system with caps on the allowed numbers in relevant categories. Where permission to work in the UK is a requirement, then entry is ususally under the Tier 2 (General) Category. The Department will apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship and once this is granted you will then need to request a visa. Unfortunately applying for a visa costs a significant amount of money (including obligatory healthcare surcharges) see UK Border Agency fees . You might wish to ask Joy McSharry directly if you have further concerns. Tier 2 employees have responsibilities that they must sign up to.  Joy will send you a letter detailing your obligations before you arrive.

It is also worth looking at the Cambridge University information for overseas employees and immigration information pages.

EU queries.  The Univeristy has a website which it is constantly updating with answers to many queries or concerns you may have since the EU referendum.


When you start your employment with the University you will be regarded as a UK resident and so be covered by the UK National Health Service (see the UK immigration website and the NHS website). As of April 2015 most non-EU nationals have to pay an up-front fee of 200 pounds/year though - see UK healthcare part of an immigration application. This is non-recoverable if you leave the country early, and does not appear to entitle you to a reduction in the National Insurance deductions from you salary.  The NHS covers almost everything, though there is a charge for each prescription you are given, and also for dental treatment. If you are likely to need several prescriptions then prepayment to cover a fixed period could be a good option - see the prescription charges website. After payment of the NHS fee you are then able to use the NHS so there should be no need to make alternative arrangements for health cover for any period you are in the UK .

Don't forget to register with a G.P. and Dentist.


The University has an Accommodation Service, with a map showing what is currently available (put the mouse pointer on a flag to see basic details). There is normally plenty, and rather than wind up with a year-long contract for something you have not seen and may not like, you might prefer to follow the example of many others and look intensively when you arrive in Cambridge. Many find something suitable within a couple of weeks, and nobody has wound up in a tent in the IoA grounds by adopting this approach. (Joy can help you find temporary accommodation whilst you look). You will generally be asked to pay a security deposit and the first month's rent for any long-term accommodation.

Whilst you're here

On Arrival

There is a small amount of administration which needs to be done immediately on arrival. (See Joy McSharry, room H04). You will be given an induction and tour of the Iinstiutute and provided with important things like keys. You will be given computer access, and shown where to get stationery, incoming mail etc. We will give you an induction check list of things which need doing, such as signing your employment contract, claiming travel expenses, having a photo taken for the IoA picture gallery, etc etc.

Settling in

The Institute of Astronomy has a tradition of informality, and functions well because members can ask essentially anybody about pretty well anything. If somebody can't help directly then they will usually know who you could take the question or problem to.

You don't need to rely on your nominated contacts for information. You will find everyone willing to help. Among these are Beverly Woolston, who you will likely encounter at Reception when you first pass the front door, anybody in the administrative section - including our local personnel expert, Joy McSharry - and any of the scientific staff. Many work with their doors open when they're in, so are approachable in their offices if you don't manage to see them at coffee or tea time.

Getting to know people

Many of those at the IoA get together in the foyer outside the Sackler Lecture Theatre for coffee, tea and biscuits (or cookies for those who speak trans-Atlantic English) at about 11:00 - 11:30 weekday mornings, and 15:30 - 16:00 most afternoons. This is an ideal way of meeting people. Please come and join us. There is a (very) nominal monthly charge for tea and coffee - please contact reception.

There is a social list for students and staff at IoA, which you can subscribe to by sending an email to ast-publist-request. If you are interested, there is also a university-wide social group for postdocs. For this you need a Cambridge University Computing Service "Raven" password to sign up and obtaining this may take a few days if you don't have one already.

Inviting visitors to the IoA

All visitors must be approved by the Director. Please give as much notice as possible and look in the IoA administration section on the intranet for the policy and further information.  The IoA has limited visitor space, so if you know you are going to be away, please notify reception, so that your desk space can be used if needed.

University Employment

The University has information specifically for research staff, new employees and those new to Cambridge

There is also an official map. For a collection of resources aimed at post-docs, try the Association of Cambridge University post-docs.

Employee benefits (CAMbens) for staff are outlined here (including discounts, cycle to work scheme, CAMbens Cars, reward schemes, development opportunites and how to get involved in the wider Iniversity and community etc.)

For information about terms of employment (holiday entitlement, types of leave, sickness etc) please see here. If you have any queries, or you need to know about policies or procedures (e.g. parental leave) please don't hesitate to get in touch with the Mary (Departmental Administrator) or Joy (HR Administrator). Please be aware that that any holiday leave should be cleared with your science advisor and and any sickness recorded with a CHRIS/62 form sent to the Departmental/HR Administrator. 

For information about pay and how to access your payslip online please see here.  This link also provides access to employee self service, where you need to ensure the University has a record of your current residential address and contact details.  Please ensure that this is kept up to date during your employment.

The University provides employees with  Occupational Health, Safety and Staff Councelling Services.

IoA Administration

The Institute of Astronomy has a number of administration staff who can help with various things. After you've arrived have a look at the page on Department Administration for a summary of who deals with what.

(Please note that the Administrative staff are not available on Bank Holidays or during the Christmas close between Boxing Day and New Year's Day).


Most grants come with some allowance for travel to conferences etc. If you want to go to one please check first with the grant PI or David Savidge, Department Finance Officer, in office H04 beforehand to make sure that we can cover it. Expense claim forms are available from the noticeboard outside office H04.

The University has travel insurance for employees going on University business, so you should not take out a policy independently but apply to the University to have the trip covered. See

A STFC grant to the IoA separately covers travel expenses for necessary observing trips to major telescopes. See the PATT Grant link on the IoA intranet page, which contains a link to an online authorisation form. The contact for this grant is Debbie Peterson.

If you are going to be away for a few days or more it is helpful if you tell Beverly Woolston at reception that you will be doing so. She can then tell anybody who asks why you are not answering your phone and when you will be back.

Funding Applications

If you wish to apply to an outside agency for funding for travel (or anything else) please inform David Savidge, Department Finance Officer, in plenty of time. For any grant administered by the University he also has to submit an application to the University's Research Office, and they usually require five working days to check and approve applications.


Publication costs (i.e. page charges) are not normally included in UK grants, since there is no charge to authors for publishing in the local journal, the inappropriately named Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. If you have a strong reason for wishing to submit a paper to some journal which does have page charges and hope that the IoA will pay them, please check first with your nominated mentor, grant PI or the department administrator.

You may need to publish your work in a journal which offers open access in some form. The main astronomy journals have different embargo periods for free access to the material they publish. Currently it is one year for AAS journals, two for most of A&A, and three for MNRAS. Most astronomy journals encourage you to put the accepted version of papers on arXiv, so satisfy requirements for "Green" open access. Different funding agencies have different requirements, but if you are funded by a UK research council there is a local web page which provides some help.


There are opportunities to help you gain experience outside pure research. For example, you might wish to give one of the short (normally 8-lecture) specialist graduate courses at IoA on a subject close to your research area. If you do, please contact Paul Hewett (Director of Graduate Education) to see what slots are available. If you want to see the current programme, look here.


Other useful links are to e.g. the Vitae web page offering support and information to researchers, careers advice for Physical Science postdocs, and the Cambridge University Skills portal.

..and there are bound to be things we have left out which you desperately want to know. Please tell Joy McSharry or Bob Carswell if there are items which you think we should add to this page. Please let us know if there are stale links, or inaccuracies in the information above - things do change and we are not always on top of these changes.

Page last updated: 8 June 2018 at 14:53