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Dissertation Research Assistantship

Full-time Ph.D. and research master's students may be awarded assistantships, which fall into four general categories: Teaching Assistant (TA), Research Assistant (RA), Graduate Assistant (GA), and Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). These awards are administered by fields and departments. 

Assistantships are an arrangement in which financial support is given to a graduate student who engages in teaching and/or research in furtherance of the university’s academic mission, as well as his or her graduate education. 

Students on full assistantships receive the following:

  • a stipend,
  • a full tuition fellowship, and
  • Cornell individual student health insurance.

Some fields may supplement the stipend and/or make summer appointments.

See also: University Policy on Assistantships


Assistantships are awarded by departments, fields, and Principal Investigators. There is no separate application for assistantships. Assignment is usually in your major field or a closely-related one.

Teaching assistants (TAs): 

A teaching assistant is an academic appointment in support of the teaching of a course. Teaching assistants may assist in teaching a section of a course, lead discussions, and/or lead laboratory sections. Teaching assistants average no more than 15 hours per week for the base stipend as established by the Board of Trustees.   

Special information for incoming International students: 

International students who come from countries where English is not the first language and who will TA in their first semester at Cornell are required to participate in the Center for Teaching Innovation's International Teaching Assistant (ITAP) summer program. 

The ITAP summer program supports first-time international teaching assistants in preparing for the variety of instructional roles they may undertake while at Cornell. The program offers a high level of individual guidance, small group sessions, and activities designed to help students familiarize themselves with Cornell’s campus and culture.

Through participation in this program, students have the opportunity to develop their oral communication and/or pedagogical skills, and to critically examine the impact of culture on teaching and learning.

The following groups of students are considered automatically exempt from the ITAP summer program:

  • Citizens and permanent residents of countries whose first language is English. This exemption does not extend to regions of such countries where the official language is not English. Thus, among the automatically exempt are students from English-speaking Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK. Among those not exempt automatically are students from the Indian subcontinent, Singapore, the Anglophone Caribbean, Anglophone Africa, Francophone Canada, and Puerto Rico.
  • Current Cornell students who have already been exempted by the ITAP staff based on an ITAP language interview.
  • Students who have successfully completed ALS 5780 and have not been required to enroll in further language classes.
  • Students who have completed at least three years of undergraduate and/or graduate study at an institution where the official language of instruction is English. Such students are exempt from the ITAP summer program but are still required to participate in an ITAP language assessment and may be required to enroll in language classes before they can assume a TA assignment. Please see the International Teaching Assistant Program webpage for upcoming assessment dates.

The Director of Graduate Studies may petition the Dean of the Graduate School for individual student exemptions. Requests for exemption must include the signatures of the DGS and the department chair of the TAship. Students with grounds for individual exemption include:

  • Students who do not get their visas in time to participate in the program.
  • Students who have to miss part of the program due to an emergency or other hardship.

Requests for individual exemptions from the summer program must be received by the Dean of the Graduate School no later than July 1. Students who receive individual exemptions from the summer program are not exempt from ITAP screening and may be required to enroll in language classes.

For additional information about ITAP, please contact your field or the Center for Teaching Innovation.

See also: Employment for F-1 Students

Support and resources for TAs: 

The Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI) offers a central place where teaching assistants can go for insight and assistance with their teaching responsibilities, including programs and workshops for teaching assistants with all levels of experience. 

Graduate research assistantships (GRAs):

A GRA is an academic appointment focused on thesis or other degree-related research of a type that is required from all candidates for the degree. The research project for a GRA directly supports the student’s thesis or dissertation. Because a student devotes considerable time to thesis or dissertation research, the time spent in connected with the project.  

Research assistantships (RAs):

A RA is an academic appointment for research that is not directly thesis-related, 15 to 20 hours per week, averaging no more than 15 hours per week.  For example, a RA appointment might include data analysis on a faculty research project not directly related to the student’s dissertation topic. As with other assistantships, there is no separate application. Students are appointed by departments, fields, or individual faculty.

Graduate assistantships (GAs):

A GA is an academic appointment requiring 15 to 20 hours a week, averaging no more than 15 hours per week for the base stipend as established by the Board of Trustees. For example, a GA appointment might include assisting a faculty member in developing and coordinating an academic conference. 

A Research Assistant is a member of a research group in a Laboratory or Project. The position offers a close association with members of the Faculty and is a very effective arrangement for graduate study. Work on the thesis project is normally part of the Research Assistant’s assignment and most students welcome the opportunity to participate on a research project that frequently influences their choice of thesis topic.

A Research Assistant may register for up to 27 units of scheduled classroom and laboratory work; this limit is strictly observed for all Research Assistants. Exceptions are granted by the Committee on Graduate Students only in exceptional circumstances. In this Department, this usually means two 12-unit graduate subjects. For those who are not Research Assistants, academic credit may be received for participation in the research program by registering for subject 6.960 and/or for thesis.

Full-time Research Assistants receive a monthly stipend and their tuition is paid. Tuition will be prorated for part-time Research Assistants according to Department policy. Stipend rates which will become effective 6/1/13 will be $2,435 per month (SM level) and $2,664 per month (PhD level). Research Assistants will find the cost of an individual health insurance plan fully covered during the tenure of their appointment.

The U.S. government requires all graduate students hired for research, teaching, etc., to sign, under penalty of perjury, an "Employment Eligibility Verification" (I-9 Form). You must produce specified documents, which verify your identity and authorization to work and present them to the Graduate Office. Your appointment cannot be completed until the signed I-9 Form and the appropriate documents have been processed in the Student Financial Services Office, Room 11-120. In order to avoid delays in receiving your first month's salary, please complete the form immediately, or in the case of new graduate students, as soon as you arrive on campus.

Federal and State tax will be withheld from your pay. Tuition is not taxable.

Research Assistants appointed for a twelve-month period are entitled to two weeks of vacation with pay. This may be taken concurrently with the regular academic vacation periods or at another time provided the Assistant continues regular work during these school vacation periods. Vacations must be arranged with the Assistant's research supervisor. Vacation time is not cumulative and should be taken prior to the termination date of the Assistantship appointment.

Research Assistants will be asked to sign a form entitled "Invention and Copyright Agreement for M.I.T. Academic Staff and Students engaged in Sponsored Research or Using Special Facilities", when they start their employment with their project or Laboratory. The agreement is self-explanatory.

A Research Assistant's assigned duties together with the allowed classroom registration will normally demand full-time attention. As a result, students holding this appointment are discouraged from accepting additional employment. In rare cases where additional income is needed, the Research Assistant must obtain the approval of his/her research supervisor and the EECS Graduate Office. If the amount of additional compensation exceeds 10% of the Assistant’s stipend, then approval of the Dean for Graduate Education is also required. For details on the Department's policy on other employment see memorandum 3903.

If a student wins a fellowship or award that exceeds $2,700 tenable for the same nine-month academic year as the Research or Teaching Assistantship, then the compensation and time commitment will be reduced in accordance with Department policy for supplementing fellowships. For more information on supplementation, see Peggy Carney in the Graduate Office, 38-444 or check the Graduate Office homepage.

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