TA and RA Appointments

Graduate students in good standing are generally supported throughout their PhD degree program.  Good standing means that you are meeting your milestones outlined on the Timeline: coursework and oral quals completed on time, research advisor and committee identified, prospectus completed on time, and otherwise making progress towards your degree research.  It also means that you are fulfilling the contractual obligations of your employment.

TA Appointments

TA appointments are a department resource, and as such the process is department-wide.  To satisfy the GEO and administrative deadlines for appointments, you should receive an email every semester with instructions how to apply for a TA.  This email will include a timeline that is based on the GEO contract and the graduate school’s “Timeliness of Pay” memo, an example of which can be found in the link. It is very important that everyone meets the deadlines in the timeline so that TA appointments and assignments are on time.


  • If you are working in a research group and past your second year: Mid semester, you should speak with your advisor about expectations for the following semester. Will they support you on a full or partial RA?  Do you need to ask for a full or partial TA?
  • If you are a first or second year student, you must meet with your academic advisor and fill out an advising checklist. Be sure to discuss your coursework and other commitments for the following semester.
  • Two weeks before the appointment paperwork is due:
    • Students needing or expecting a full or partial TA must send a request to the Graduate Program Manager (Katie Bryant). If you have a disability and would like to request an accommodation, you should do so at this time (see below).
    • The TA coordinator (Stephane Willocq) will send you a survey asking for input on your TA assignment (preferences, specific skills, etc) and for your spring course schedule and other time constraints.
    • Faculty will similarly be polled for (1) their course TA needs and (2) any TA requests they may have for students in their research groups.
  • Two weeks before TA assignments are due (as per GEO contract):
    • Students needing or expecting a full or partial TA must have responded to the above-mentioned survey.
    • Students needing or expecting a full or partial TA must be enrolled in courses and send their schedule to the TA coordinator (Stephane Willocq).
    • Incoming students or others who for technical reasons cannot enroll by this date must must still send their schedule to the TA coordinator (Stephane Willocq).

This process allows the department to put all assignments in place by the GEO deadline.  However, we do understand that situations can change: grants may come through or fail to come through necessitating appointment changes; personal situations or course schedules may change, necessitating changes in assignments.  The department will deal with these as quickly as possible, and we ask for your patience as we do so.

Students with disabilities: The Department does everything it can to accommodate students with disabilities.  If you are in need of accommodations for your RA or TA, you must visit this site, https://www.umass.edu/disability/employees/employee-resources, and must submit this form: https://www.umass.edu/disability/employees/employee-request-accomodations.  When you make your request for a full or partial TA, you must also also inform the GPM (Katie Bryant) of your needs. The GPM is the department contact for graduate student employees needing accommodations. Please do not assume that disabilities services will forward your needs to the Department; you must contact the GPM when you make your TA request.

If you do ask for accommodations please be assured that your request will be held in confidence by those who need to know. The GPM and faculty member making the TA assignments will need to know, as will the course instructor. In some circumstances, the department Head and/or GPD may also be notified. 

Regarding TA funding: In recent years we have had the resources to grant all requests for TAships by students who have abided by the terms of their previous contracts. We expect this situation to continue going forward.  However, as with all employment, our ability to hire TAs depends on funding.  Should the available funding not cover all requests for TAs, the department will prioritize: (1) first and second year students; (2) students who have met all their milestones on time and are making good progress towards their degree; (3) student need and equity.

RA Appointments

RA appointments are intended to support students in their research after they have identified a research advisor. They are not a department resource, and these positions are not open positions that can be advertised.  Instead, the funding for these positions usually comes from grants, and the funds are controlled by the Principal Investigator on the grant. Typically the Principal Investigator is your research advisor, but not always. On collaborative grants or contracts, someone else may control the funds.

To get an RA appointment, you first need to:

  • Find a research advisor;
  • Find a research project with that advisor;
  • Be in good standing and making progress towards your degree.

To optimize your chance of continuing your RA appointment, you should maintain regular contact with your research advisor and make good progress on the funded project. In that way, you also optimize your research advisor’s chances of getting new or renewed funding for your project, so that your RAship might be extended beyond the end of any one grant.

Summer RAs are often offered to students with the expectation that they will TA over the academic year.  This is particularly true of your first summer or two as a graduate student, and it is also common in some theory groups. Use this time to learn the skills you need and get started on a research project.