How to Finance Your Graduate Education
There are several forms of financial support available to students pursuing doctoral study or a thesis masters degree in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The three most common forms of graduate student support in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics are teaching assistantships (TA’s), research assistantships (RA’s), and fellowships.
TA and RA positions are normally available for doctoral students but may also be offered to thesis master’s students at some academic institutions. Teaching assistantships are teaching positions usually available during the academic year that cover tuition and provide a stipend in exchange for the graduate student’s leading one or more discussion/recitation sections for a course and/or one or more laboratory sections of a course. Generally, beginning graduate students provide recitation and/or laboratory coverage for introductory courses in their discipline. Advanced graduate students may teach and/or assist in more advanced undergraduate classes and/or laboratories.
Research assistantships are research positions usually available for the full calendar year that cover tuition and provide a stipend in exchange for the graduate student’s full-time efforts on a grant-funded research project. RA’s are usually tied to a specific faculty member and research project. Their availability is dependent on a faculty member’s funding level, your research background and interests. Continued support on an RA is normally dependent on a student’s making satisfactory progress on the research project as determined by the faculty advisor and/or funding agency. Most first year Ph.D. students are supported on teaching assistantships. Once students have identified a research advisor, many students become research assistants in their advisor’s research groups.
A third method of support for graduate education is through scholarships and/or fellowships. Generally, these are highly competitive and often provide support for one year or more of advanced study. Examples of fellowship programs in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematical disciplines include the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship program, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG) program, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science To Achieve Results (STAR) and Graduate Research Opportunity (GRO) programs. You can find links to more fellowship opportunities under the Programs Section on this website. The advantage of obtaining fellowship support is that as a graduate student this will provide you with greater flexibility and freedom in selecting both a faculty research advisor and a research project.