Miscellaneous Graduate Information

This page contains various information of use to current and prospective grad students. Click on the following links to jump to their location on the page:



The Teaching and Research Assistant salary scales are set annually by the department. This occurs during the budget process (typically during April/May) and goes into effect July 1. There are 3 steps in the scale:

  1. New student with no prior graduate experience
  2. Student with a year of prior experience (at UMD or elsewhere)
  3. Admitted to candidacy

Sources of Funding

For a breakdown of how many students receive RAs, TAs, and fellowships, see our funding statistics.

Teaching Assistants

Teaching Assistants are appointed on an academic year basis. They are paid in 22 installments. The time frame is set to be 22 equal pay periods and can vary year to year. Typically, pay starts in early to mid August and ends in early June.

Research Assistants

Most students working on their thesis research (and some students working on their second-year project) are appointed as Research Assistants and funded by their advisor. These are 12 month appointments and can be started and ended at any time during the year. They are again paid in a 3 step scale. (See the discussion on Salaries for details.) Many students opt for a summer Research Assistantship during their first two summers in the department. This is understood as covering the 3 summer months (June, July and August). This would normally be a 12 week appointment. However, because of the way that the University determines the pay for Teaching Assistants, there are only 8 weeks (4 pay periods) "open" during the summer. As a result the summer Research Assistantships are scaled to 1.5 times the regular rate. Thus, the individual is paid for 12 weeks but this is paid out in an eight week period.


Students awarded fellowships are paid through student financial aid. Funds are transferred to the student's University account and may be withdrawn from there. Previously lodged charges such as mandatory fees have first claim on these funds. Typically, fellowships are paid in 2 installments at the start of each regular semester. It is generally possible to combine a fellowship with a half-time or (in some cases) full-time Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant position.

NOTE: Some fellowships preclude this. If allowed and opted for, the assistantships are paid through payroll. Details are as given above.

NOTE: International students on fellowships are handled differently and such individuals should check with the payroll office for details.


Students on a Teaching or a Research Assistantship are entitled to join the same health insurance plan as the faculty and staff. Information is available through the benefits office. Students on a fellowship are not entitled to join the health insurance plan unless they have also opted for an assistantship. Tuition remission for up to 10 credits per semester is available for all students on a Teaching or Research Assistantship. Additional tuition remission is available over the summer if you have funding.

Funding Policy

TThe department provides full funding (with tuition waivers) for up to six years while students maintain adequate progress toward degree.

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Duties and Responsibilities

Full-time Teaching Assistants are expected to work approximately 20 hrs/wk. Most of the assignments are in ASTR 100 or 101. Because of uncertainty in schedules, it is difficult to make these assignments much before classes start. All students are expected to act as Teaching Assistants for their first year in graduate school. Release from this obligation must be requested and will be determined by departmental needs. (This does not apply to students on fellowships.)

Courses with TA positions
Name # Positions Duties
ASTR 100 3 Disc. sections, grading
ASTR 100 (*FC) 0.5 Disc. section, grading
ASTR 101 5 Disc. sections, labs, grading
ASTR 101 (*FC) 0.5-1 Disc. section, labs, grading
ASTR 120 1 Disc. sections, grading
ASTR 121 1-1.5 Disc. sections, labs, grading
ASTR 220 1 Disc. sections, grading
ASTR 230 1.5-2 Disc. sections, grading
ASTR 300 0.5 Grading
ASTR 310 1 Labs, grading, possible night labs
ASTR 315 1 Labs, grading
ASTR 320 0.5 Disc. sections, grading
ASTR 330 0.5 Grading
ASTR 340 0.5 Grading
ASTR 350 0.5 Grading
ASTR 380 0.5 Grading

*FC = Freshman Connection courses, offered in the evenings in the fall to students who will be formally admitted to UMD in the spring.

All persons holding a Teaching Assistantship are on payroll 10 months of the year. The typical time period covered is early August through early June. The formal requirement is that you are here and available for assignments during this period. At a minimum, a TA needs to be here a week before the start of the term in August (for the Fall semester) and January (for the Spring semester). You are also required to be here until final grades are determined. Because of the potential for grading issues to arise even after the final grades are turned in, it is important that you keep the instructor of the course informed of your contact information if you are leaving the area after the semester. Please keep in mind that the campus is closed for the week between Christmas and New Year's but open for the rest of the "winter break". The month of January is not formally a holiday period.

A Research Assistantship is also formally a 20 hour per week responsibility. However, for most students, this is part of thesis research. Clearly, it would be expected that the total effort put in by the student would far exceed the 20 hours per week.

All graduate students funded through the department are expected to assist in the Observatory Open House program. This usually involves helping at an open house once or twice per year.

There are also other duties in assisting with operations in the department or within the graduate student operations. The graduate students meet and make decisions on these assignments.

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Registration Information

The following are our standard registration guidelines, though alternatives are possible - check with Olivia and/or the Graduate Director. Note also the exceptions below if you are 1) an international student, 2) funded solely by a fellowship or a half TA/RA position, or 3) unfunded. Beware of taking more than 10 credits in a semester (including formal course audits) as you will need to pay tuition for additional credits. Similarly, taking more than 8 credits results in higher fees. If you are interested in taking an out-of-department class, be sure to consult with the Graduate Director first.

  1. For the first year (fall and spring), register for two 3-credit courses, 695 (1 credit, if offered), 688B or 688C (1 credit, if offered), and 0-2 credits of 699 to bring your total credits to 8. If you are taking credits of 699 and you have research work planned with a specific professor, you will register under his/her section; otherwise, we will provide information about which faculty member to register with.
  2. For the second year (fall and spring), register for two 3-credit courses and 2 credits of 699. If you reach 30 total credits, which is the amount required for a master's degree, then any credits above 30 should be 898 instead of 699. For example, if you have 23 credits at the beginning of your 4th semester, then you should register for two regular courses (6 credits), 1 credit of 699, and 1 credit of 898.
  3. From your fifth semester until you advance to candidacy, register for 8 research credits if you are a full-time TA. Register for 5 research credits if you are both a half-TA and a half-RA. Register for 3 research credits if you are a full-time RA (with a few exceptions - we'll contact you if needed). The research credits will normally be ASTR 898, but if you haven't reached 30 total credits yet (as might happen in your fifth semester), then replace credits of 898 with credits of 699 until you reach 30 credits, as in Step 2.
  4. After you are admitted to candidacy, you will automatically be registered for 899 (6 credits per fall or spring semester) until you are all done! You need at least 12 credits of 899 for the Ph.D. degree.

More details are in the Graduate Catalog's Registration Policies.

For the summers, registration is generally optional unless you are graduating. The department encourages everyone else who is doing research to register for 1 credit of 699 or 898, or 6 credits (through Olivia) for 899. However, we do not enforce summer registration. At present, it does not make sense for most students as they would need to pay student fees.


International students must maintain full-time status during the fall and spring semesters. The guidelines above should normally take care of this; the most common exception would be for students in their third year who are still taking 600-level courses. If you have a full RA position and are still taking 600-level courses, then you must be enrolled in at least 4 credits. If you have a 1/2 TA or RA position and are taking 600-level courses, then you must be enrolled in at least 6 credits (but see next paragraph). If you are unfunded or funded by an external fellowship, and you are taking 600-level courses, then you must be enrolled in at least 8 credits. If you are interested in the details, here is the relevant formula for 'graduate units'. Note that the full-time restriction is lifted in your final term.

You also need to be a little careful when registering if your sole source of funding is a fellowship, a 1/2 TA position, or a 1/2 RA position, as these may or may not provide enough 'tuition remission' to cover your tuition costs. In general, fellows (other than NESSF and Fulbright) should register for as many credits as possible (up to 8), 1/2 TAs should register for 5 credits, and 1/2 RAs should register for 3 credits. Here is further tuition remission information for fellows and TAs/RAs (scroll down to Section V).

Finally, if you have no funding, consult with us, as we can help you to minimize your tuition by determining the minimum credits that you must register for.

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Academic Deadlines

Links to important academic dates and deadlines can be found below.

Note that you must be on payroll early in the semester to be eligible for tuition remission. The University will run a check late in the semester to determine that you are still on payroll. If you are not, the tuition remission will be canceled and you will be billed. These provisions largely affect either students enrolling for their first semester or students finishing their degree work. Also, you must register for classes prior to the first day of classes to avoid a late fee.

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Graduate Timeline and Ph.D. Completion

The Graduate School has information on the various stages of a graduate career:

The following list provides an overview of the M.S./Ph.D. stages with some department-specific information.

  1. Incoming students. There is a deadline for payroll forms to be completed in order to be paid on time. This varies from year to year but can be as early as July. Information about this is sent out to incoming students in June. Please note that you will receive full pay even if you are late in submitting the forms. However, the checks will come late.
    NOTE: There is a serious problem for international students. If you enter the US after the official start of the semester, it is not possible to pay you for the period between the start of the semester and the date you entered the US.
  2. Second Year: There are formal deadlines governing the selection of a topic for the second year research project, submission of drafts and final papers. The details can be found in the department's Graduate Handbook.
  3. Qualifier: This written exam is taken in the summer of the second year of graduate study. It is traditionally the Thursday and Friday prior to the week before the start of Fall classes.
  4. Admission to the PhD program: This is based on a student's performance in class work, the second year project and the qualifier. It is decided by the Teaching Faculty at a meeting which is typically in early to mid September.
  5. MS degree - You need to submit an Approved Program Form in order to obtain an MS degree. The deadlines are published on the Graduate School website. Typically they are mid-October for a Fall degree and mid-March for a Spring degree.
  6. Candidacy - This requires selecting a thesis advisor and developing a thesis topic which is defended before a committee. Once the thesis topic is defended, the student files an application for candidacy. Once this is approved, there is a pay raise. Per college regulations, you must advance to candidacy by the end of your 4th year unless a petition is signed by your adviser, the graduate director, the chair, and the dean.
  7. PhD - There are deadlines for approval of a thesis committee and for submission of the final thesis. These can be found on the Graduate School website. Please check in the department to be sure that all relevant materials have been filed.
    NOTE: You must submit Nomination for Membership forms for non-professorial committee members at least 2 months prior to your defense.
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