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Fellowships v.s. TA-ing

  1. Oct 3, 2012 #1
    Has anyone here had experience with fellowships, particularly from the DOE?

    I'm wondering whether or not they're worth doing. I understand they allow you to focus completely on research/courses, but they always come with some strings attached and typically require you to renew each year.

    For example, I'm looking at a DOE fellowship that provides a 36K stipend + full tuition and travel expenses, but requires you to renew each year (and potentially your renewal could be denied and you're left without funding), requires you to focus on research of interest to the DOE, and requires a yearly practicum of a three month duration at a DOE lab.

    On the other hand, you could just TA at your grad school of choice, which I understand is a pain in the ***, but at least your funding is guaranteed and you can work close with your adviser year-round, and you don't have to deal with the hassle of traveling so much, and worrying about pleasing some outside organization.

    Any opinions? I kind of doubt I'd get the particular fellowship I'm looking at anyways, but I can spare myself the agony of deciding to apply or not if I can convince myself its either a great or terrible idea.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2012 #2


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    If for some reason your funding didn't get renewed, I would be very surprised indeed if your department did not offer you a TAship.

    The thing about having a fellowship is that it's not just money you get - you get, for lack of a better word, "prestige" as well. Not everyone gets a fellowship, so if you do, you can put that and other awards on your CV/resume and it can help you stand out, or at least be on the same level as other people with fellowships. Pretty much every other physics grad student will teach, so you won't have any advantage there unless you're a super-fantastic teacher (with awards to show for it) and your primary interest after grad school is a teaching position.

    As for your research being whatever is of interest to the DOE, the fact is that whatever you end up doing most of your work on is probably going to be determined by someone else. If you advisor gets a research grant that funds them to do work on topic X, they are going to have one of their students work on topic X, and that might be you, even if your primary interest is topic Y. You might think teaching will give you more freedom to work on whatever you want, and to some extent that may be true, but you will pay for that freedom with time. Teaching is a lot of work in itself. It's hard to get a lot of research done and be a decent teacher at the same time.
  4. Oct 3, 2012 #3
    Those are all good points, thanks for the reply. Would love to hear anyone else's opinion.
  5. Oct 3, 2012 #4


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    It would be completely outlandish if your graduate program did not support you at their typical level (TA/RA) if/when your fellowship expires. Now, this might be a (substantially) lower amount of money per year, but nevertheless they will extend to you the typical TA/RA offer.

    Fellowships are fantastic and give you a lot of flexibility, without having really any negatives at all. They don't even require that much time to apply for, maybe like 10 hours of work to throw together a good application. There is, essentially, no reason not to apply.
  6. Oct 3, 2012 #5
    I agree that there is definitely no reason not to apply. And renewal of the DOE fellowship is not that hard, at least from my experience. I would advise you to spend a bit more time in putting together a good application though, think about how your research plan relate to the fellowship objective and convince people why they should pay you rather than another candidate. This is a highly competitive fellowship with really good pay, and there are tons of qualify applicants fighting for it.
  7. Oct 3, 2012 #6
    Thanks for the advice, if I can get grad school apps done in a reasonable amount of time then I think I'll apply for the fellowship (deadline is in January).

    I think I fit the profile reasonably well, I'll have over a years worth of of research in the exact area they're targeting with the fellowship by the time I graduate. I don't know how competitive of an applicant I am, other than I have a few years of research in various areas and a very high GPA, but I don't feel the research I've done has been anything spectacular.
  8. Oct 4, 2012 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    First, you can't turn down a fellowship you don't apply for.

    Second, the usual reason for a fellowship not being renewed is "not making progress towards a PhD". In that case, you're in trouble with or without a fellowship.
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