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Programs Opinions on Funding

  1. Apr 29, 2016 #1
    Greetings Physics Forums,

    I would like to propose a funding scenario; please tell me what you would do. You have been accepted to graduate school with six years of fellowships (3 through NSF, 3 through the school, though the latter are actually 9-month periods). As an entering first-year student, you have the option of either

    a) being a TA with most of the other incoming students, or
    b) using a year of the fellowships and just focusing on courses.

    Please consider the following points:
    1) I have TA'd fourteen courses as an undergraduate; most were labs, but a couple were recitations for things like numerical methods. I enjoy TAing and am pretty good at it (have won several awards), so I have no problem TAing.
    2) The stipend from the fellowship is ~$2k more than the teaching assistantship offered.
    3) The fellowship can be split into semesters; I can TA one semester and not the next, or vice versa.
    4) An average student in this program graduates in ~6 years.

    I have talked to the DGS, who encouraged me to take the TA position (while saying that the decision was entirely up to me), but I'm not sure if this is just because they need TAs. When I asked if I could be a TA while still accepting the fellowship, I did not hear back (maybe a stupid question).

    On one hand, I don't want to find out in 6 years that I need to stay a 7th, and need my research advisor to pay me with a research assistantship. On the other hand, I don't want to find out in 6 years that I have wasted a year of a fellowship by TAing my first year.

    Again, this decision isn't dire - either way will be fine. I'm just browsing for some opinions :) I need to make a decision in the next two weeks, so I won't have the opportunity to talk to many graduate students.

    Thanks for your input!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2016 #2


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    It sounds like you have lots of TA experience. And while there might be something to be said for TAing at a new school, I'm not sure that the experience justifies the time in. There's also the fact that if most other new grad students are TAs, doing it will build a sense of camaraderie with other incoming students, but there are other ways to do that that are less time consuming.

    For the extra $2k and time to concentrate on your studies, I'd go with the fellowship.
  4. Apr 29, 2016 #3
    I actually enjoyed TAing a lot. So while I had the funding that I didn't have to TA, I asked for (volunteer) TA duties anyway. Maybe the same can happen in your case?
  5. Apr 29, 2016 #4


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    You are actually not allowed to do a full TA on the NSF. You can only do up to 3/8s time during one semester (a full TA is 1/2 time). In my department we get paid on top of the fellowship if we teach the amount we are allowed from the fellowship. You should look into whether your department has a teaching requirement because that should be something you consider.

    Will you just be taking courses for you first year? Because if you are doing research as well, I would definitely take the fellowship.
  6. Apr 29, 2016 #5
    For the first year, I would not be on the NSF, but a diversity-type fellowship through the university. Also, there is no teaching requirement, and I will probably not be doing research the first year.
  7. Apr 29, 2016 #6


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    So you are deferring the NSF for three years? I'm not sure how that works but usually you are on the fellowship for five years and get paid for three of them. I'm not sure how the determined when you start though.

    If you have 6 years of guaranteed funding and don't have a teaching requirement, you are pretty much set. I think graduating in 6 years is very realistic, and in some fields 5 is also realistic. What is your subfields of interest?
  8. Apr 29, 2016 #7
    No, sorry - if I don't TA my first year, I would do a year of school fellowship, then 3 years of NSF, then 2 years of school fellowship. Frankly I have no idea what subfield I'm interested in, but over the summer I will be working with a condensed matter group whose work I am very interested in.
  9. May 4, 2016 #8
    Thanks for all of your opinions. I've decided to get funded via fellowship for at least my first semester and not TA just to gauge my base "sanity loss" before adding things on top of it.
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