Graduate Assistantships

Most graduate students in the astronomy program are supported by graduate assistantships. Some students start as Teaching Assistants (TAs) in their first year and then become Research Assistants (RAs) in subsequent years, while others are RAs for their entire time in our program.

Astronomy graduate assistantships are half-time, and students are expected to work an average of 20 hours per week during the academic year. This is a point of university policy — assistantships are provided so students can support themselves while furthering their education, and a student working more than 20 hours per week generally does not have enough time to study. Students may work full time when classes are not in session; see the discussion of summer salary for details.

TAs hold 9-month appointments, while RAs hold 11-month appointments. Nonetheless, both receive their pay in 24 installments over a 12-month period.

Graduate assistants are technically not employees and do not accumulate vacation or sick leave. A TA gets three months of vacation during the summer, while an RA gets one month of vacation per year, to be scheduled in consultation with their supervisor.

Teaching assistantships

Teaching assistants help teach the basic undergraduate astronomy classes. The work involved depends on the type of class. TAs for lecture classes grade homework, quizzes and exams, and hold office hours to help undergraduates; they may occasionally teach classes and undertake other teaching-related duties. TAs for lab classes help during evening observing trips in addition to grading and holding office hours.

TAs are paid on a nine-month basis. This means that they are expected to work about 20 hours a week during the period from the “faculty duty date” in mid-August until the spring semester ends the following May; they have no duties during the summer. Teaching Assistantships are handled via the Department of Physics and Astronomy in Watanabe Hall rather than via the Institute for Astronomy.

Research assistantships

Research assistants help IfA astronomers with their research programs. Their work may involve observing, data reduction, instrument construction or library research; some senior students are able to link their dissertation research with that performed as a research assistant.

RAs are paid on an eleven-month basis. This means they are expected to work 20 hours per week, with one month’s free time per year (usually in the summer). Research Assistantships usually derive from NASA or NSF grants to individual faculty members and are handled via the administrative office of the Institute for Astronomy.


IfA graduate assistants are paid at step 14 on the pay schedule approved by the Board of Regents. Per annum, RAs work 11 months while TAs work 9 months, so the basic annual incomes for RAs and TAs are different. However, TAs are allowed one additional month of full time work during the summer, so annual incomes with summer “overload” are very comparable.

Stipends are subject to federal and state income tax, and these are deducted automatically before payments are made. Students participating in state health plans will have additional deductions.

Research AssistantTeaching Assistant
Basic stipend$28,026$23,028
Summer overload$5,095$10,234.67
Total stipend$33,121.64$33,262.67

Tuition waivers

In addition to their stipends, graduate assistants receive a full tuition waiver and are liable only for miscellaneous fees. A student who holds an assistantship for only part of a semester loses the tuition waiver if he/she works less than 12 weeks out of the semester. Students who do not hold assistantships or any other kind of tuition waiver are liable for graduate tuition.

Other benefits and conditions

Students need to maintain a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 (B average) in order to hold a graduate assistantship.

  • Graduate assistants are entitled to join the state employee health plan.
  • If travel necessitates absence from campus during the appointment period, written clearance must be obtained from the department or unit of hire. The request must include the planned itinerary with dates, the manner in which any assigned duties will be performed, and any provisions made for missed coursework.
  • Students cannot hold an assistantship after the end of the semester in which they receive their degree.
  • More information is available in the graduate division webpages, or from the graduate chair or the Institute for Astronomy personnel officer.