Financial Support for Graduate Students
Types of Financial Support
PhD students in Physics are fully funded in each year they are in the program and remain in good standing. Financial support provides for full tuition, a monthly living stipend, and 12 months of health insurance.
There are three sources of financial support:
Full-time registration for all PhD students, whether funded by fellowship or by a research or teaching assistantship, is 36 academic units. The normal course load for students with a full-time RA or TA who have not yet completed their qualifying exams is two academic subjects; students supported by a fellowship in the first year, before joining a research group, sometimes enroll in three subjects.
Students with an RA or TA are expected to spend full time on education and assigned duties, and may not engage in any other activity for compensation without the specific approval of the Department Head.
Annual and monthly stipend rates for RAs and TAs are determined each spring, and students are informed of the next year’s rates by the Academic Programs Office. While there are varying levels of stipend funding allowed by MIT, it is the policy of the Physics Department that all our students are provided the same stipend in any individual academic year.
If a student loses RA support because of termination of a research contract, the Department will provide support for one additional term (in the form of a TA) and will make every effort to help the student identify a new source of support.
The periods for graduate appointments are as follows:
- Fellows: Fall: 9/1 to 1/15; Spring: 1/16 to 5/31; Summer: 6/1 to 8/31
- RAs: Fall: 9/1 to 1/15; Spring: 1/16 to 5/31; Summer: 6/1 to 8/31
- TAs: Fall: 9/1 to 1/15; Spring: 1/16 to 5/31
The Physics Department provides internal fellowship funding to a number of the students admitted each year. The majority of these internal, donor-funded fellowships are for the first year in the program, covering twelve months; a small number of three- and five-year fellowships are also awarded. There is no application process for departmental fellowships; all admitted candidates are considered for them.
A student beginning PhD study with a fellowship has a great deal of flexibility in planning his or her graduate program and in seeking out a research group. Each fellowship recipient is responsible for finding a research group that will provide funding once the fellowship support has been used; students with multi-year fellowships are expected to have joined a research group by the beginning of the second year. Additional information on fellowships for graduate students in physics is available through the Office for Graduate Education.
Research Assistantships (RAs)
Research assistants receive full tuition, living stipend, and health insurance in exchange for conducting research on behalf of a faculty member. This faculty member also serves as the supervisor of the student’s individual research project that will become the PhD thesis.
RA work generally covers the full academic year, including summer. The amount of time spent on RA duties depends on the time needed for required course work as well as the requirements of the research group. For new graduate students taking classes and preparing for the general examination, research duties normally require 20 hours per week or less. After two to three years, research usually becomes full-time.
In addition to courses, students conducting research register each term for a research subject, providing academic credit for research work. The number of units varies from 12 to 36 according to the approximate time spent weekly on research. Research subjects include:
- Pre-Thesis Research (8.391, fall; 8.392, spring and summer): students who have not yet completed the General Examinations
- Thesis Research (8.THG); all students after passing the Oral Exam
Teaching Assistantships (TAs)
Teaching assistants receive full tuition, living stipend, and health insurance in exchange for supporting the Department’s teaching program. TA responsibilities can include grading homework and exams, tutoring, conducting office hours, or, less often, teaching sections of a course. TA work requires up to 20 hours per week in addition to research or class work the student is engaged in. TAs register for 12 units of Physics Teaching (8.399), which provides academic credit for their work.
Having a TA appointment can serve a variety of purposes:
- support departmental teaching needs
- encourage students who wish to hone their teaching skills
- help alleviate funding pressures on the faculty
- facilitate a student’s transition to a different research group
TA assignment process:
Students may request nomination as a TA, or they may be assigned a term as a TA by their research supervisor.
Each of the four divisions in the department has a standard guaranteed number of TA positions per term. Research supervisors submit names of students to be considered for TAs to the Division Head, who compiles the division’s list and provides it to the Academic Programs Office.
Students on the department’s TA list are asked to select their top choices among the subjects offered in the upcoming term, and every effort is made by the TA Faculty Coordinator to match student requests when possible. Teaching faculty may also request a specific student to be assigned to their course.
While TA appointments are typically made only after the first year, very occasionally a first-year graduate student will be supported by a nine-month (fall and spring) TA appointment. Students with a first-year TA normally join a research group and are supported by an RA beginning in their first summer.
Switching Research Groups
While many students continue from their first RA to a thesis in the same group, others elect to change research groups, for a variety of reasons. An RA who wishes to change groups or research direction should feel comfortable reaching out to talk to other professors about different opportunities.
However, students are responsible for notifying their current supervisor of their intention to leave a group, and they are expected to continue working in the research group as long as it is providing funding.
To facilitate a transition between research groups, each student is guaranteed one semester of transitional funding in the form of a TA.
Students who wish to discuss their interest in changing their research group are welcome to talk with Academic Administrator Catherine Modica or with Graduate Student Advocate Claude Canizares at any time.