Graduate Assistantships


Programs of graduate study are designed to transform the individual from student to professional scholar or practitioner. Graduate assistantships2 are designed to provide intellectual guidance and financial support for promotion of the student's education. When a  graduate  assistantship is well  conceived and executed, it serves as an ideal instrument to help facilitate the desired transformation. The primary goal of an assistantship is, then, to facilitate progress toward the graduate degree. The graduate assistant is a student functioning in an apprenticeship role which contributes to the student's own professional development.

As a student, the graduate assistant is expected to perform well academically to retain the assistantship. He or she is to be trained, counseled, and evaluated regularly by a graduate faculty mentor so as to develop professional skills in teaching and/or research. The graduate assistant is expected to meet specific obligations in these areas as outlined in the letter of appointment. The contribution made by the graduate assistant supports the teaching and/or research mission of the university. The responsibilities of the graduate assistant may be greater than those required of other students, but the opportunities for professional development are also greater. Any work obligations of the assistant are incident to the assistant's education.


To be eligible for an assistantship, a student should be admitted to a graduate program as a full-time, degree-seeking student. The assistant must be enrolled during the period of the assistantship. He or she should have achieved, and should continue to maintain, good standing. Students found to have engaged in academic or nonacademic misconduct are ineligible for appointment and will have their appointments terminated.

Appointment Procedures

Appointment of graduate assistants should be made and monitored by the Program Director, Department Chair, and the Dean of the School where the appointment is made. Because the terms of individual awards may vary from department to department, and even within a single department, it is the responsibility of the Program Director and/or Department Chair to make the offer of appointment in an official letter. In cases where the funding is being provided from an entity outside the Department  (e.g., the Graduate School), the terms  of the assistantship will be communicated to the Program Director so that these terms can be spelled out in the official letter of appointment. In the case of the Graduate School Assistantship, regular and direct communication should occur between the Program Director and the Graduate School Dean regarding the student's progress. When teaching is involved, the prospective assistant may be required to demonstrate proficiency in spoken and written English before appointment.  Each graduate student who receives an assistantship must receive a letter of appointment, signed by the Program Director and/or Department Chair,that clearly spells out the terms of the assistantship.

These terms should include, but not be limited to, the following issues:

  • Title of appointment, time commitment, and length of appointment
  • Conditions and timing for reappointment
  • Stipend level and whether or not fees, health insurance, and tuition will be paid
  • Course load, if teaching is involved
  • Description of duties, if applicable
  • Expectation regarding whether or not the assistant may take on employment
  • Expectations regarding time commitments and responsibilities between terms
  • Name and position of supervisor How the student assistant is to be evaluated
  • Resources to be provided (e.g., equipment, supplies, office space, travel funds)
  • Deadline for acceptance of the assistantship offer

Term of the Assistantship

Each assistantship should be made for a maximum period of one year. Assistantships generally begin with the academic calendar year. Reappointment is possible but the terms of reappointment are variable, determined by policies of the program.

Responsibilities of the Graduate Assistant

A fundamental responsibility of the graduate assistant is to work closely with the faculty supervisor in carrying out research or teaching activities, while at the same time making good progress toward the completion of the degree program. If the student's assistantship responsibilities and academic program are properly coordinated, these responsibilities will be compatible. The assistant should articulate his or her goals early in the term of appointment and work with the supervisor to achieve them. The graduate assistant is obligated at all times to maintain high ethical standards in academic and nonacademic activities, and to report violations of these to the faculty supervisor. The graduate assistant should keep well informed of departmental, school, and institutional regulations, and follow them consistently. If problems arise in the assistantship assignments, the graduate assistant should seek help first from the faculty supervisor. If problems cannot be resolved, the student should consult the Program Director.

In general, graduate assistants are expected to be available in the periods between academic terms.  Graduate assistants are entitled to the following short-term leaves:

  • a minimum of 15 calendar days (one-half month) paid leave of absence (vacation) per calendar year,
  • 15 calendar days (one-half month) paid sick leave of absence per calendar year, and
  • parental leave of absence (with pay) of 30 consecutive days  per calendar year upon the birth or adoption of a child.  Either or both parents are eligible for parental leave.

These leaves (vacation, sick, parental) do not accrue. All leaves require notification of and approval by the mentor or graduate program director and may be extended, if necessary, with the permission of the graduate program director.  Program policies regarding leaves of absence must apply equitably to all full time students in good standing in the program.  With the agreement of the mentor and graduate program director, extended, unpaid, non-emergency absences from campus for periods up to a month may be approved.  Extended absences (without pay) for non-academic purposes should be limited. Students should consult the Graduate School Policies and Procedures concerning leaves of absence.  In emergencies, graduate assistants should inform their mentors or program directors as soon as possible about the need for a leave of absence.

No matter who gives you permission to take leave (be it vacation, holiday or other), you must notify the program office ( when you will be gone, if you want to be excused from Journal Club, Seminar, etc.


Graduate assistants should be assigned space and equipment sufficient to carry out their assignments effectively. Normally this would include a desk,  chair, file  space, a  mail box,  and office  and lab supplies,  where needed. Where possible, graduate assistants should be provided secretarial assistance or computer access when they are preparing materials related to their assignments.


Goals should be worked out with the faculty mentor early in the academic year. Each graduate assistant should receive a formal evaluation from his or her faculty supervisor once each year.  Excellence   should  be  noted  in  an  assistant's  record,  as   should inadequacies in performance. Ongoing informal evaluation should precede more formal measures. The results of formal evaluations will be entered into the assistant's departmental record, including evidence that the student has reviewed the evaluation.


Priority for reappointment is determined by the graduate program but should be given to those graduate assistants making good progress toward completion of the degree and performing well in their assistantship duties. Criteria for reappointment should be announced in advance of reapplication and should generally include:

  • maintenance of good standing and satisfactory progress toward  the degree
  • assessment of performance during the annual review
  • length of time on the assistantship
  • length of time in the degree program

 1 Prepared by the Advisory Committee to the Graduate Council. Questions concerning this document should be addressed to the Graduate School.

2 Note: Each graduate assistant should be provided with a copy of this document detailing the rights and responsibilities of the graduate assistant.

 Revised 3/01.

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