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Teaching and Research Assistantships

About Assistantships

Assistantships are provided as aids to completion of advanced degrees. As such, they should be related to the graduate student's disciplinary field and wherever possible tied to the student's program of study so as to contribute in a relevant manner to the student's professional development. To effectively make such a contribution, the supervisor of the assistantship necessarily serves in a mentoring role, which requires regular interaction, close communication, and feedback with the graduate assistant, including clear expectations for satisfactory fulfillment of the assistantship duties. Assistantships may require work in the classroom or the laboratory, in research, or in other areas on campus, with the opportunity for professional development further benefiting from and enriched by the scholarly environment of the University. As such, assistantships are limited to degree-seeking students enrolled in residence. Approximately 4,000 assistantships are awarded annually.

A prospective student should write directly to the person in charge of the intended graduate major program for information, and indicate on the graduate admission application an interest in receiving a graduate assistantship. The necessary application forms will then be sent by the graduate program. Appointments are made subject to the student’s receipt of a bachelor’s degree and admission to the Graduate School as a degree student. Clear evidence of superior ability and promise is required.

Although Penn State’s classes last fifteen weeks per semester, appointments of graduate assistants are for eighteen weeks of activities per semester. Thus the duties in an academic year appointment (thirty-six weeks) such as is normally provided for teaching assistants will begin on the Monday following the last day of summer session final exams and continue until the last day of spring semester final exams, less the period of time classes are suspended at Thanksgiving and during the winter and spring breaks. A 48-week appointment, such as is provided for many research assistants, consists of the 36-week period of the academic year plus twelve weeks for summer session activities.

Reappointment to an assistantship is based on availability of positions and the quality of the student’s performance. In most departments or major programs the number of years an appointment may be renewed is limited. Unsatisfactory academic performance in any semester or summer session is sufficient cause for termination of the appointment at the end of that period. Unsatisfactory performance of assistantship duties is also sufficient cause for termination.

Legislation passed by the University Faculty Senate in 1981 and 1989 requires that all newly appointed teaching assistants participate in a teaching assistant (TA) training program unless they can provide evidence of successful prior teaching experience and that all new international TAs take and pass a test of spoken English. Details of the procedures for meeting these requirements may be obtained by new graduate students during their departmental orientation or by contacting the Department of Applied Linguistics.

Non-degree students are not eligible for assistantships.

Appointments cover tuition and provide a monthly stipend. Appointments are made at one of several grades in consideration of experience and qualification of the individual. Assistantships are of three types:

  • QUARTER-TIME—The student normally schedules 9 to 14 credits per semester (5 to 7 per six-week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that, on the average, occupy approximately ten hours per week.
  • HALF-TIME—The student normally schedules 9 to 12 credits per semester (4 to 6 per six-week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that, on the average, occupy approximately twenty hours per week.
  • THREE-QUARTER–TIME—The student normally schedules 6 to 8 credits per semester (3 to 4 per six week summer session*), receives a stipend plus a grant-in-aid of resident education tuition, and performs tasks that, on the average, occupy approximately thirty hours per week.

A graduate assistant may accept concurrent employment outside the University only with permission from the assistantship department head and the assistant’s graduate academic program chair.

Graduate assistants must be enrolled at Penn State as graduate students. More specifically, because assistantships are provided as aids to completion of advanced degrees, assistants must be degree seeking and are expected to enroll for credit loads each semester that fall within the limits indicated in the table below. Maximum limits on permissible credit loads are indicated in order to assure that the student can give appropriate attention both to academic progress and assistantship responsibilities. These considerations give rise to the table of permissible credit loads below.

 

Permissible credit loads per level of assistantship
Level of Assistantship Minimum Credits Per Semester Maximum Credits Per Semester Minimum* Credits Per 6-week Summer Session Maximum Credits Per 6-week Summer Session
Quarter-time 9 14 5 7
Half-time 9 12 4 6
Three-quarter–time 6 8 3 4

 

*Credits taken during the Maymester and/or over both 6-week summer sessions must total a minimum of 9 (quarter- and half-time assistants) or 6 (three-quarter-time assistants) and cannot exceed a maximum of 8 (three-quarter-time assistants), 12 (half-time assistants), or 14 (quarter-time assistants).

To provide for some flexibility, moderate exceptions to the specified limits may be made in particular cases. The credit limits specified above may only be increased or decreased in exceptional cases for a specific semester or summer session by permission of the assistantship supervisor, the student’s academic adviser, and the dean of the Graduate School (requests should be submitted for the dean’s approval via the Office of Graduate Enrollment Services). The Graduate School expects that an exception made in one semester or summer session will be compensated for by a suitably modified credit load in the subsequent semester or summer session, so that, on the average, normal progress is maintained at a rate falling within the limits above. Failure to do so may jeopardize the student’s academic status. Maintenance of the established credit loads and responsibility for consequences of a graduate student’s change of course load rest with the student and adviser. The course load is a factor in determining whether a graduate student is classified as a full-time or part-time student; has met residence requirements; and is eligible to hold a fellowship, traineeship, assistantship, or departmental or program appointment.

Applicants should write or call the person in charge of their graduate program for information and should indicate on their graduate admissions form that they are interested in an assistantship.

Full-Time Academic Status

Students holding fellowships, traineeships, or other awards based on academic excellence are required to carry 9 or more credits each semester (fall and spring). For awards that require full-time summer registration, students should register for a minimum cumulative total of nine credits (over all summer sessions), or SUBJ 601 (in the case of post-comprehensive doctoral candidates) over the summer. A graduate assistant whose semester or summer session credit load meets, or exceeds the minimum requirements in the above credit table and whose assistantship duties are directly related to his or her degree objectives, is considered by the Graduate School to be engaged in full-time academic work for that semester or summer session. A post-comprehensive doctoral candidate who is registered for SUBJ 601 also is so considered.

Part-Time Academic Status

A student who in any semester or summer session is registered for study but who does not meet the criteria for full-time status is considered to be engaged in part-time academic work for that semester. This includes students registered for SUBJ 611.

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