VI. Graduate Stipends: Teaching & Research Assistantships

Graduate Stipends: Teaching assistants (TA) and Research assistants (RA)

PhD students are supported by three means: 1) Teaching Assistantships (TA) provided by the Department, 2) Research Assistantships (RA) funded by individual Graduate Advisor through grant support, or 3) external sources such as government scholarships and other non-departmental University-based sources. The selection of TA appointees is made by the Graduate Program Director and Department Head with advice from department faculty members. 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, subject to Departmental and University regulations, and terms of the financially supporting grant or contract. Although Master’s students are sometimes eligible for a half time TA, they are accepted into the Graduate Program only under the condition that they support themselves or are supported by an RA. Students whose Graduate Advisor is an adjunct to the ABBS program are not guaranteed departmental Teaching Assistantships, and thus normally must be financially supported by their Graduate Advisor.

Guarantee of Support for Five Years

PhD students who are recruited into the ABBS program as rotating PhD students supported on Teaching Assistantships are guaranteed support for a 5-year period on TA or RA funding provided that they maintain satisfactory academic progress and (as relevant) and perform their required teaching and research duties satisfactorily. Support will consist, at a minimum, of the two academic semesters in each year. In some cases, if sufficient funding and need for TA appointments is present, students beyond the five-year (PhD) limit may receive TA support. Students who join the program on foreign government fellowships are responsible for their support throughout their tenure in the program although in some circumstances the department or Graduate Advisor may contribute if fellowship funding is insufficient.

General Limitations on Appointments

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). Students may be terminated during the semester if duties are not performed to the satisfaction of the instructor.

Graduate students appointed as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants should note that there are University regulations that govern 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 course credit hours excluding dissertation or thesis credits). This is so that students can use their remaining time to conduct research, for course work preparation, homework, and study. 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.

Availability of positions

The ABBS Graduate Program admits 2 to 7 graduate students 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 9-11. The number of RA positions available varies with the amount of funding available to faculty and recently ranged between 15-20 positions (including both Master’s and PhD 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.

Mechanism for announcing availability of positions and notice of renewal

Faculty research mentors are 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 the 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.

Safety Training Requirements

Prior to conducting any work in a research or teaching laboratory, students must undergo safety training 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 from employment under those circumstances that require those safety protocols without further warnings. If documentation of safety compliance is presented after such an occurrence, permission is reinstated automatically to resume normal duties 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 who 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 Graduate Advisor to oversee that the student complies with these requisites.

Vacation & Holidays

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. The University has 12 paid holidays and fulltime Ph.D. students are offered 16 days of vacation time that are counted as Monday-Friday days as contracted through the Graduate Employee Organization (i.e., student union). 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 Graduate Advisor well in advance. Other than University holidays, vacation time must be approved by the Graduate Advisor or the Graduate Program Director in advance of booking vacation arrangements.

English Competency Test for International Students

The SPEAK test is a screening test for spoken English skills and is given to first time international TA’s. The purpose is to identify any potential difficulties TA’s may have in understanding spoken English or in being understood speaking English in the classroom. A score of 50 or above is required to pass the test. If students score lower they are not allowed to deliver verbal instruction to students but may do clerical or lab prep work as a T.A. Students who took the test previously and scored 45 but did not participate in Communication Instruction classes should take the test again. The English Communication Instruction class is offered by the Graduate School through the Center for Language, Speech and Hearing. The classes are offered throughout the year. At the end of each semester, students are reevaluated and those who do not meet the criteria are allowed to continue in the Communication Instruction classes for additional semesters. Progress reports for students enrolled in the classes are sent to the Graduate Program Director. The report will indicate each student’s current functional level and the SPEAK Test equivalent score.

It is recommended that students who anticipate becoming TA’s in the future take the test. Other international graduate students may also take the test and participate in small group Communication Instruction classes on a space-available basis. Priority for participation in the classes is given to currently funded TA’s or those with the greatest need.

Students are exempt from the test if they satisfy one of the following:

·TOEFL exemption at admission as appears on the SPIRE record for the student under FAQ.
·A score of 26 or higher on the Speaking section of the TOEFL iBT at the time of admission. The SPIRE record shows the speaking section score.
A score of 8.0 or higher on the Speaking section of the IELTS. These scores are not broken down in SPIRE but the speaking section score is available for Graduate Admissions.