The following information applies to university funded graduate assistantships. Departments and programs awarding graduate assistantships funded from sources external to the university may have different stipulations in the length of time a graduate assistantship can be held and the dollar amount of the stipend; however, externally funded assistantships must adhere to all other university regulations governing assistantships. Externally funded graduate assistantships must include a tuition waiver.
Assistantships serve to facilitate graduate students in the prompt and successful completion of an advanced degree program and to provide work experience in a setting under the supervision of a faculty or administrative mentor. A full time Graduate Assistant (GA) will work on average 20 hours per week (equivalent to a half-time employee); therefore, they should not be scheduled for more than 20 hours of work per week (see Work Assignments below). GA positions are not to be used to mimic real-world working hours upon employment in the field of the graduate degree; internships and practica should be used in these situations.
Graduate students interested in applying for a graduate assistantship must apply with the department or unit to which they wish to be employed.
Applicants accepted into a graduate degree program may apply for a GA. However, a student must be a full-time graduate student, regularly admitted to a graduate degree program, and in good academic standing to fill an assistantship position. Graduate assistantships may be offered but cannot be awarded until an applicant is admitted into a specific graduate program and the Graduate School. Full time status must be maintained through an entire semester when holding a graduate assistantship. For GAs a full time course load for the fall and spring semesters is nine (9) graduate credit hours and six (6) credit hours over the summer term. Full time awards require an enrollment in at least six (6) graduate credit hours (except when enrolled in fewer hours of an approved full time equivalent course, see elsewhere in this publication). The full time course load may not be composed of undergraduate courses unless the course is a program prerequisite. A full-time (20 hours per week) graduate assistant may register for up to 12 hours in the fall and spring semester and 6 hours over the summer term; anything over this amount is an overload and requires approval of the dean of the Graduate School.
GAs are eligible to receive an assistantship for a finite number of consecutive months starting from the first month of service. The length of time a student can hold a GA position in months is seven-ninths of the total number of hours required to earn the degree. Therefore, a student in a 36 hour program would be eligible to hold an assistantship for 28 months (counted as consecutive months). A student in a 72 hour doctorate degree program could hold an assistantship for 56 consecutive months.
A student must demonstrate satisfactory progress in the academic program to retain an assistantship. Failure to do so may result in a termination of the assistantship. Unsatisfactory progress is defined as the failure to maintain a cumulative 3.00 or higher GPA in graduate courses attempted in the specific program at UTC; a grade of U, D, or F in any course; more than two grades below a B; failure of the comprehensive/preliminary examination; an unsatisfactory evaluation of a thesis or dissertation; failure of a research defense; or any other failure of a required component pertaining to the GA’s academic requirements. Any, or a combination of these, constitutes sufficient basis for termination of a student’s graduate assistantship at the discretion of the hiring department and the Graduate School. Individual programs have the right to establish their own criteria; however, the preceding definition must be the minimum standard for continuing in graduate programs and holding graduate assistantships.
A GA will be dismissed from holding the position for failure to complete work assignments satisfactorily or complete work assignments in a timely manner.
GAs that resign their position during a semester will not be eligible to hold a GA position thereafter. In addition, the GA will be required to re-pay the tuition waiver. Questions regarding how to handle issues involved with GA resignations should be addressed to the dean of the Graduate School.
There are four types of assistantships: research, teaching or instructional, professional services and administrative.
- Graduate Research Assistants perform duties in support of University research, which may or may not relate to the students’ thesis/dissertation. GRAs are specific awards; the student assists with a range of duties, including library research, preparation of reports, field studies, and laboratory research. This opportunity provides an excellent means for students to learn new techniques and methods as well as expand their knowledge by association with research-oriented responsibilities, whether employed within the student’s academic discipline or in another department.
- Graduate Teaching Assistants work under the direct supervision of graduate faculty members and are assigned duties related directly to instruction, such as assisting in the preparation of lectures, leading discussion sections, conducting laboratory exercises, grading papers, and keeping class records. Advanced graduate students who have completed 18 graduate credit hours in his or her teaching discipline may be given primary responsibility for teaching an undergraduate course, including student assessment and assignment of final grades. GTAs may not be assigned primary responsibilities for teaching and student assessment in courses approved for graduate credit. Departments utilizing GTAs must provide orientation and training for students who will have any type of instructional or teaching assignment noted above. All graduate students planning to serve as GTAs must participate in a departmental orientation and training program before functioning in the GTA role. A student whose native language is not English must present a mock lecture to a group of three faculty (specifically, a faculty member, the graduate coordinator and the department head from the department where the course to be provided resides). A decision to allow the student to provide instruction must be unanimous and based on the quality of the spoken English in the mock lecture.
- The Professional Services Assistant is a graduate student who performs jobs or tasks directly related to their graduate training program or discipline. GPSAs could be hired in academic and non-academic units where specific technical duties related to the student’s graduate degree program would be utilized. For example, an English major working in University Public Relations copy editing or writing or a MAcc student working in an office on campus requiring accounting or auditing skills.
- Graduate Administrative Assistants aid faculty and staff members with administrative functions, and GSA appointments are available in academic and non-academic units. Duties vary, depending on administrative needs of the unit making the award. Such work may be clerical, computer-based, and/or editorial in nature. To allow maximum professional development, the student should be given the opportunity to apply his/her academic skills to the assigned tasks and develop new administrative skills.
All graduate assistantship positions should have a job description describing the duties and other job-related responsibilities.
To utilize the four categories of assistantships, the following provisions should be observed.
Work assignments for each type of assistantship should be as specific as possible and should be developed to reflect both the needs of the department and each graduate assistant’s obligation to make satisfactory progress in his/her program. Therefore, to the extent possible an assignment should appropriately reflect teaching hours, office hours, hours to be spent performing research or other specified tasks. Such specifications should be provided in writing at the time the offer is made.
In situations where the work assignment cannot be specifically described or must be changed from an initial assignment, the graduate assistant should clearly be informed before agreeing to, or continuing in, the assignment.
An important part of each graduate assistant’s work assignment is the fostering of professional development. Such development plus variations in departmental needs may result in differences in number of hours per week for carrying out assignments.
Thus, weekly work assignments, when specified, are done so in terms of averages. For a part time appointment, the graduate assistant’s normal work time should not exceed 10 hours per week. For a full time appointment, the average number of hours should not exceed 20 hours per week. Appointments exceeding 50% must have prior approval of the Dean of the Graduate School, excluding summer term. The normal number of hours for conducting an assignment should be mutually understood by the graduate assistant and immediate supervisor. For percentage efforts not covered by those appointments above, the normal work time per week will be prorated.
Regulations specifically addressing the 18-hour requirement are excerpted from Section 4.8.4 of the SACS publication, Criteria for Accreditation, (Atlanta, 1996, p. 50) and read as follows:
[Graduate teaching assistants] who have primary responsibility for teaching a course for credit and/or for assigning final grades for such a course, and whose professional and scholarly preparation does not satisfy the provisions of Section 4.8.2 [which relate to exceptions] must have earned at least 18 graduate semester hours in their teaching discipline, be under the direct supervision of a faculty member experienced in the teaching discipline, receive regular in-service training, and be evaluated regularly.
The above requirements do not apply to graduate teaching assistants engaged in assignments such as assisting in laboratory sessions, teaching physical education activities, attending or helping prepare lectures, grading papers, keeping class records, and conducting discussion groups.
Certifying graduate students for teaching roles is done through the academic college and Academic Affairs.
Graduate school applicants can be offered a graduate assistantship; however, an applicant cannot be awarded a graduate assistantship until they are admitted to a specific graduate degree program and the Graduate School. Students wishing to apply for graduate assistantships must correspond directly with the college, department, school, or unit offering the assistantship. Students are free to apply for assistantships in any department, not only in the department to which they are admitted. Once a department has decided who they wish to hire, they must inform the Graduate Office for approval to hire. Once approval to hire is provided by the Graduate School, the hiring department may offer the GA position to the student. A scanned copy of the offer letter with the student’s signature signifying acceptance must be provided in electronic format to the Graduate School office.
GAs are expected to be hired and working within three class days of the beginning of a semester.
GAs are provided a salary on a regular periodic basis as compensation for the service provided each term of the appointment and provided a waiver of tuition and associated maintenance fees. Full-time awards for the 2011-2012 academic year include a $2,750 stipend and full tuition waiver (9 hrs) per semester for the fall and spring semesters. Graduate assistantships awarded in the summer would have a prorated stipend and tuition waiver. In the 2011-2012 academic year, the total value of a full-time assistantship for in-state residents is slightly more than $16,000 and $26,000 for out-of-state residents. Students will be responsible for additional course fees beyond those fees that are customarily included in courses, for example, online courses offered through New College or coded as X2.
The minimum stipend amount is set by the university and must be adhered to for university-funded and externally funded GA positions. Only when an external funding source has in writing a stipend amount lower than the university amount will the lesser amount be allowed. Stipend amounts from external sources can be established at a higher dollar amount as long as reasonable and aligned with market and competition.
GAs hired in the summer must register for the 12 week summer term or in each 6 week term.
All GAs must receive both a tuition waiver and salary stipend. The tuition waiver can only be processed if the GA is properly admitted and registered. The waiver is initiated by the GA’s employing department. Specifically, the hiring department must include the required information for the student on the Banner Graduate Assistantship form. If the tuition waiver has not been applied to a student’s account, the student. i.e., GA, is responsible for notifying his/her employing department as soon as he/she is made aware of the outstanding balance. A GA’s salary paperwork is initiated when the student returns the offer letter accepting the assistantship. A scanned copy of the offer letter with the student’s signature signifying acceptance must be provided in electronic format to the Graduate School office.
The University of Tennessee adheres to the following Resolution by the Council of Graduate Schools.
“Acceptance of an offer of financial support (such as a graduate scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, or assistantship) for the next academic year by a prospective or enrolled graduate student completes an agreement that both student and graduate school expect to honor. In that context, the conditions affecting such offers and their acceptance must be defined carefully and understood by all parties.”
Students are under no obligation to respond to offers of financial support prior to April 15; earlier deadlines for acceptance of such offers violate the intent of this Resolution. In those instances in which a student accepts an offer before April 15, and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may submit in writing a resignation of the appointment at any time through April 15. However, an acceptance given or left in force after April 15 commits the student not to accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made. Similarly, an offer by an institution after April 15 is conditional on presentation by the student of the written release from any previously accepted offer. It is further agreed by the institutions and organizations subscribing to the above Resolution that a copy of this Resolution should accompany every scholarship, fellowship, traineeship, and assistantship offer.
The Graduate School Office does not maintain a list of available assistantships and does not award graduate assistantships directly to students, but does post assistantship announcements when requested.