Veterinary and Animal Sciences

Procedures for Appointments and Reappointments to Teaching and Research Assistantships in the Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences.

Abbreviations:
TA = Teaching Assistant
RA = Research Assistant
GPD = Graduate Program Director
VASCI = Veterinary and Animal Sciences

I. Typical requirements for candidates for TA/RA positions.
PhD students are supported by three means: Teaching Assistantships provided by the Department,
Research Assistantships funded by individual Principal Investigators through grant support and
by external sources, such as government scholarships and other non-departmental University based sources.

The selection of TA appointees is made by the graduate faculty of the Department,
whereas selection of RA appointees, specific terms of contract, and other details of RA
appointments are at the discretion of the faculty member who is the principal investigator on the
grant or contract which financially supports the RA appointment, subject to departmental and
university regulations, and terms of the financially supporting grant or contract.

Master students are sometimes eligible for TAs but they are usually supported by their advisers,
or may be accepted into the graduate program only under the condition that they support
themselves.

Students who have adjunct faculty dissertation advisers are not eligible for departmental teaching
assistantships, and must be financially supported by their advisers.

II. Guarantee of support for five years.
PhD students who are recruited into the Department on Teaching Assistantships are guaranteed
support for a 5 year period provided that they maintain satisfactory academic progress and (as
relevant) perform their required teaching and research duties satisfactorily. Support will consist
at the minimum, of the two academic semesters in each year. In some cases, if sufficient funding
and need for TA appointments is present, students beyond five-year (Ph. D.) limits may receive
TA support. In the first year, a teaching assistant is required to maintain a minimum course load
of nine graduate credits each semester in order to retain departmental support. Further details of
degree requirements may be found on the Veterinary and Animal Sciences Department Web site.
In most instances students who are recruited into the Department as TAs, are awarded RA
positions after they select a dissertation advisor.

III. General limitations on appointments.
Appointments as teaching assistants are limited to the first five years for Ph.D candidates,
or to the first two years for M. S. candidates. Appointment to a teaching assistantship is
not guaranteed beyond the end of a given semester when (a) academic progress is
unsatisfactory (failure to maintain a 3.0 grade point average), or (b) teaching duties are
performed unsatisfactorily (as measured by teaching evaluations performed by the TA’s
supervisor), or (c) if a dissertation adviser from faculty of the department of Veterinary
and Animal Sciences has not been appointed by the end of the second semester of
graduate residence. Interruption of the student’s graduate study at the University of 
Massachusetts for at least two semesters for other than academic reasons will make it
possible for the student to be eligible for one extra semester of departmental support.

Graduate students appointed as teaching assistants or research assistants may not, in
general, accept current employment elsewhere, except for modest tutoring commitments.
Exceptions must be approved both by the graduate program director and dissertation
advisor prior to acceptance of any other employment. Concurrent employment is strongly
discouraged by the department, and students should note that there are University
regulations governing the number of hours that a student may be employed while being a
graduate student (calculated as the number of hours for the assistantship plus the number
of credit hours, and excluding dissertation or thesis credits). International students may
not exceed twenty hours of employment per week, in compliance with their visa
requirements.

Teaching assistantship appointments include the January intersession period. Details of
public holidays, personal leave, and vacation entitlement can be found in the Graduate
Appointments Policies and Procedures document issued by the graduate school. While
the department has some flexibility in setting working conditions, any proposed departure
from the terms of the contract should be discussed with the student's supervisor well in
advance.

International graduate student applicants are expected to provide documentation of
spoken and written English proficiency in advance of admission. The department reserves
the right to make TA or RA employment conditional upon further training in English, by
procedures set forth by the GEO contract and University policy.

Students appointed as teaching assistants or research assistants are governed by the
conditions of the agreement between the University and Graduate Employee
Organization (GEO).

IV. Safety training requirements.
Prior to conducting any work in a research or teaching laboratory, students must undergo
safety training as prescribed by the Department's Safety Committee. Documentary
evidence of the satisfactory completion of the safety training requirement must be filed
with the departmental GPD. This safety training includes the Web-based OWL program
provided by the University environmental health and safety organization. If a TA or RA
is informed in writing or by electronic mail about a need to comply with specific safety
requirements by a specific deadline, failure to comply by the deadline is grounds for
being barred without further warning from employment under circumstances that require
those safety protocols. If documentation of safety compliance is presented after such an
occurrence, reinstated permission to resume normal duties will be automatic, so long as
the appointment has not been terminated in the meantime. This policy reflects the
department’s commitment to workplace safety guidelines.
Similarly, any student that is to be involved in animal research must undergo training in
animal handling and care. The office of Research Compliance conducts periodic training
sessions. Training has to be re-certified every year in order to continue animal
experimentation. The student must also be included in an approved animal protocol prior 
to the beginning of activities that involve animal use. An email memo to the office of
compliance is enough to comply with this requisite. The student must also be trained in
specific animal handling techniques as described in the approved protocol. It is the
responsibility of the principal investigator to oversee that the student complies with these
requisites.

V. Typical availability of positions.
Typically, about 2 to 7 graduate students are admitted into the Veterinary and Animal
Sciences Department graduate program each year, but the number can vary greatly
according to the applicant pool and availability of total funding to support TA and RA
appointments. The total number of available TA positions varies somewhat from year to
year, but typically is about 6-8 at any one time. Two of these positions are guaranteed for
new students. The allocation of the other positions varies from year to year. The number
of RA positions available varies with the amount of funding available to faculty, and
recently has ranged between the equivalent of 15-20 positions (including in this case both
master and Ph.D. students). Due to the uncertainties in obtaining outside funding, it is not
possible to predict with certainty the number of RA positions that will be available in any
given future semester.

VI. Mechanism for announcing availability of positions, and notice of renewal.
In the spring proceeding an academic year, all continuing graduate students are asked to
confer with their research mentors about the availability of research assistantships for the
upcoming year. Such RA positions may be for either fall or spring semesters or both, and
may be full or partial appointments. Students who wish to request TA appointments are
asked to apply for them at this time. Faculty research mentors are at the same time asked
to furnish a plan for the financial support of graduate students whom they are mentoring.
A comprehensive support plan for all graduate students is then generated for the coming
academic year, within the framework of the 5-year support guarantee made to students in
good standing. This support plan is revised by multiple iterations of this request
mechanism as the start of the new academic year approaches (based upon updates to
availability of research funding for individual faculty), and is finalized several weeks in
advance of the start of each semester. As funding becomes available at times that are not
certain in advance, some fine-tuning of position availability is carried out as a Fall
semester is ongoing, for the following Spring semester. Once a student has committed to
a TA appointment by signing a contract, the student is expected to fulfill that
commitment even if other support becomes available, unless released from the
commitment by the Department Head.

The timing and availability of RA appointments is completely governed by availability of
funds to individual principal investigators. In the vast majority of cases, RA appointments
are made by principal investigators to students whom they are mentoring, and are only
advertised beyond the research group of the principal investigator in cases where there
are insufficient personnel. This policy is consistent with typical grant and contract
conditions, and with a necessity for principal investigators to work with students who
have appropriate professional and safety backgrounds. 
Students interested in finding out about available research projects may find out about
them in two ways: (1) direct conversation with professors/principal investigators, (2)
Descriptions of research projects posted in the individual web page of each faculty from
our graduate group.

VII. Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences TA/RA Appts/Reappts
Lists of available departmental grants for which employment opportunities are available
will be maintained within the main Department office, in order to assure that the data is
as current as may be achieved by coordination of the University Office of Grants and
Contracts, and VASCI Department staff. The information is accessible upon request of
graduate student employees of VASCI Department, in the manner described by GEO
Contract Article 23, Section 6.A (July 1999- June 2003 version).

VIII. Satisfactory performance.
The standard University forms and mechanisms are employed to evaluate the
performance of TAs. Both evaluations by students being taught and faculty supervisory
evaluations are carried out during the final two weeks of classes each semester. In general
practice, if TA performance is unsatisfactory during the semester, faculty supervisors
inform the TA in question, first verbally, then, if necessary, in writing with copies to the
main department office. Unsatisfactory performance typically involves absence from
assigned work periods, late performance of assigned work duties, or unsatisfactory
interactions with students being taught. If performance is particularly and chronically
unsatisfactory in the opinion of the faculty supervisor, the department reserves the right
to decline to offer TA assistance to a poorly performing individual, consistent with the
department's aim to offer the highest possible levels of teaching quality. Any student
denied TA reappointment for poor performance would be informed of this before the end
of the semester during which the evaluation was carried out. In practice, it has been rare
for performance to be so bad as to cause TA reappointment to be declined.

The performance of RAs is primarily determined by the principal investigator of the grant
or contract which provides financial support. Principal investigators are expected to
communicate dissatisfaction with RA performance to the student involved, first verbally,
then (if deemed necessary) in writing with copies to the departmental GPD. In cases
where a principal investigator has striven over period of time to improve job performance
in consultation with the student involved, and remains dissatisfied, the principal
investigator may decline to renew the appointment. In cases where a principal
investigator declines reappointment, the student involved will be informed in writing at
least a month in advance, and the departmental GPD will be informed at the same time. If
it happens that a student leaves the research group of his/her mentor, he/she is free to
seek to join the research group of another faculty member in the department. The
Department does not guarantee placement in another research group.

IX. Other opportunities.
Occasionally, other forms of graduate employment opportunities become available within
the department. Examples include summer teaching, tutoring, and special need 
appointments for various programs. Such opportunities are typically announced on the
departmental Web page, by announcement to graduate students by electronic mail, or by
hard copy posting by the prospective employer.

Pablo E. Visconti, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Director
Department of Veterinary and Animal Sciences
University of Massachusetts