Because of their potential to remit all tuition, graduate assistantships can be a very useful way to support one's graduate studies. Graduate assistantships include the following types of appointments:
- Teaching Assistantships (TA) are instructional positions that include duties such as lecturing, grading papers, supervising laboratories, and leading discussion sections.
- Project Assistantships (PA) involve project-related assignments. This work varies by department, and may or may not be related to a student's academic program.
- Research Assistantships (RA) provide students with opportunities to participate in faculty research programs. Often, a research assistantship can be structured to meet the requirements for the master's or doctoral thesis. Sometimes students and faculty write grant proposals to fund topics that they both wish to study; in these cases students incorporate their own funding support as research assistants into the budget of the proposals. Although all graduate students are eligible to hold graduate assistantships, preference is usually given to students who are pursuing individual (thesis) research.
Where to Find Teaching Assistantships
TA and PA positions are usually found by contacting programs, departments, and sometimes faculty directly. Some are advertised via departmental newsletters, web sites, and bulletin boards. A few are posted with the UW Student Job Center, through its online listing. Bookmark this web page and visit it frequently.
Historically, our students have been very successful in obtaining TA positions in the biological sciences (e.g., biocore, botany, and zoology), but other departments offer opportunities as well. The best time to apply is during the formal mid-semester recruitment. But if you've missed the formal application deadline, it's still a very good idea to submit an application or resume if a department is open to this idea. Regardless of when you apply, it is imperative that you check back with all potential employers on a regular basis, up through the first week of classes -- even if the positions are filled. Every year we have had students who landed a TA position in the final weeks before a new term began (when currently appointed TAs may be accepting other funding offers). So make this an essential part of your strategy. You may want to begin with our Tips for Finding a Teaching Assistantship.
RA positions are rarely advertised. Because they usually arise as a result of successful grant initiatives by the faculty, it's important to contact all faculty who are conducting research in areas that you might consider as possibilities for your own thesis research.
When to Apply
All graduate students--both continuing and new or incoming students--are encouraged to apply for all graduate assistantships that match their qualifications. It is not necessary to be on campus to pursue a potential assistantship. Any incoming student who is planning to enroll as a graduate student in an upcoming term is eligible to apply for UW-Madison graduate assistantships that will start in that particular term. Acceptance of an application for a graduate assistantship is not contingent upon the applicant's matriculation. Your ultimate appointment to a particular position is contingent upon your matriculation, but this does not mean that your application for an assistantship must be delayed until your matriculation. In short, do consider applying for any graduate assistantship for which you may be qualified, provided that the assistantship appointment will start within the same semester in which you plan to begin your graduate study at UW-Madison.
Graduate assistantships offer a number of significant benefits, particularly if the appointment meets the minimum criteria. Every assistantship provides a stipend. In addition to the stipend, a graduate assistantship appointment of 1/3 time or greater, when carried over a complete semester, also includes full tuition remission as well as benefits such as health insurance. (Please note that tuition remission does not include segregated fees; currently the cost of segregated fees is $445/semester for non-dissertators and $168/semester for most dissertators.) For complete details on UW-Madison tuition remission, eligibility factors, and benefits, check the Bursar's Tuition Remission Policy.
Many appointments are timed to begin at the same time as one of the academic terms. But it is not uncommon to find a graduate assistantship after classes have begun. In that case an appointment of 1/3 time (i.e., 33 1/3% appointment) would not be sufficient to obtain the tuition remission or the health insurance benefits. However, it is often possible to negotiate a higher appointment rate for the remainder of a semester in order to become eligible for those benefits. The rate that qualifies one for benefits (such as tuition remission) is that which would be necessary to produce the same number of hours of work that a 1/3 time appointment over the course of an entire semester would produce (roughly equivalent to 260 hours). This is explained in greater detail in the Bursar's Tuition Remission Policy for specific types of appointments.
Graduate assistantship appointments usually include a number of obligations including minimum or maximum enrollment requirements and training requirements.
If you obtain a graduate assistantship that is supported by the Nelson Institute, you must be enrolled full-time based on your appointment percentage. Please note the minimum enrollment requirements listed below to be considered full-time. Research credits do count toward the minimum enrollment requirements.
Fall or Spring Appointment:
- Teaching Assistant, 6 graduate credits for 33% to 49% appointment, 4 graduate credits for 50% or higher appointment; (3 cr for dissertators)
- Project Assistant, 6 graduate credits for 33% to 49% appointment, 4 graduate credits for 50% or higher appointment; (3 cr for dissertators)
- Research Assistant, 8 graduate credits; (3 cr for dissertators)
Summer Session Appointment:
- Teaching Assistant, no enrollment required
- Project Assistant, no enrollment required
- Research Assistant, 2 graduate credits in 8-week session; (3 cr for dissertators)
Students who are awarded assistantships in other departments should verify enrollment requirements with those departments; other employing departments may require different credit loads. Enrollment may also be required for other reasons such as visa conditions, on-campus housing rules, fellowship requirements, student-loan stipulations, or graduation. Check with the appropriate offices for specific enrollment requirements.
Teaching assistantship appointments may include an added obligation to attend one or more training sessions. Most employing departments require their TAs to attend training workshops during the week preceding the beginning of classes. The Nelson Institute requires all of its new, inexperienced TAs to attend one of the following workshop series:
- College of Letters and Science's TA Workshop for TAs at all levels
- College of Engineering New Educator's Orientation (NEO) for new TAs
- College of Engineering Teaching Improvement Program (TIP) for continuing TAs