Fellowship versus RA

bibimbop
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Joined: Mon Nov 09, 2009 1:16 pm

Fellowship versus RA

Postby bibimbop » Thu Feb 25, 2010 7:15 am

Sorry in advance for the dumb question--

Can someone explain the practical difference between a fellowship and an RA? I'll be researching a bunch in grad school anyways, so why is an RA less desirable than a fellowship?

kroner
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby kroner » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:43 pm

In an RAship some lab or professor is hiring you to work for them and paying you out of their grant money. With a fellowship, you're getting paid by some outside source, so if you want to do research for someone, you don't cost them anything. That means you can pretty much decide to work for whoever you want, even if they wouldn't normally be able to afford another grad student.

meggo
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby meggo » Thu Feb 25, 2010 12:51 pm

Also, if you have a fellowship your first year, you might have to do classes only (instead of classes + teaching/research). So, you would be able to really focus on studying and do well in classes, and then find a research group starting your first summer.

rahuldatta
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby rahuldatta » Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:10 pm

@meggo

i believe you are a grad student at pennstate A&A...n trying for a transfer...
i have an admit from Pennstate A&A...i would like to know certain things about this school...n most importantly why you are considering a transfer? how in Pennstate A&A ?
since i am an int'l student, i dont have a scope to visit the univs prior to deciding...so suggestions from current students will be a great help to me

excuse me if i placed the question at the wrong place

rahuldatta
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby rahuldatta » Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:11 pm

and also i would like to know whether the candidacy/qualifier exams come after 1 year or 2 years in grad school? and when can we get a RA? i am being offerred a TA presently...and as a TA are you required to teach undergrad courses or you only do grading and lab assistant and such stuff

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notnaps
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby notnaps » Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:54 pm

meggo wrote:Also, if you have a fellowship your first year, you might have to do classes only (instead of classes + teaching/research). So, you would be able to really focus on studying and do well in classes, and then find a research group starting your first summer.


I was under the impression that you are expected to do research with a fellowship. The main advantage usually being that you don't have to worry about funding and also you tend to get a little more dough.

meggo
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby meggo » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:23 pm

notnaps wrote:
meggo wrote:Also, if you have a fellowship your first year, you might have to do classes only (instead of classes + teaching/research). So, you would be able to really focus on studying and do well in classes, and then find a research group starting your first summer.


I was under the impression that you are expected to do research with a fellowship. The main advantage usually being that you don't have to worry about funding and also you tend to get a little more dough.


Well, I said that simply because I know several people who got a full fellowship their first year (from the university, not something federal) who just spent all of their time on classes and didn't do any research until after their first year was over, and they were not *obligated* to do anything but classes.

They also definitely got paid more than my lowly TA self haha

rahuldatta
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby rahuldatta » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:24 pm

@notnaps

exactly...i also thought so

mobytish
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby mobytish » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:29 pm

Here's my two cents on these issues-
Fellowship vs. RA: In some schools, a fellowship allows you to neither do research nor serve as a teaching assistant. For example, Rochester Optics gives fellowships to all incoming students for their first year so they can focus on their studies. Lehigh typically gives TAs, but I was offered a fellowship; in the letter about it, they commented on how it would allow me to focus on my coursework. In some schools, this can also allow you time to do some "pro-bono" lab work or an extra lab rotation to gain experience, but this is not necessarily expected.

Teaching Assistantship: Based on what I've learned from the schools I looked into, a TA will never (at least at most places) teach an actual undergraduate course. Here's an example from Lehigh- first year grad students who are also TAs will "teach" a lab section which means they monitor the students and answer questions during the labs and they grade lab assignments. Second year, they will move to teach the recitation section of the intro courses. These are the sections where the huge intro undergrad course is split into smaller groups to work on homework problems. The TA is expected to teach the students how to do the homework problems. For the most part, the TA is given a lot of support on how to do this. I think the TA is also expected to grade the homeworks, but I'm not sure.

Candidacy Exams: This will depend on the school, but from what I've seen schools either have you take this after your first full year or after your first three semesters, with at least one additional chance to take it the next semester. You'll need to successfully pass it by the time you finish your first two years. I think Physics programs most commonly do the first test after three semesters (this does not include summer), but the program I'm going to in Chemical Physics (and I think Rochester Optics, too) do it after the summer of the first year.

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grae313
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby grae313 » Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:29 pm

Quals come at different times depending on the school. Some have a scheduled exam that everyone takes at once, others have an oral exam that you arrange to take when you are ready. However, you are usually expected to pass quals by the end of your first year and definitely not past the end of your second year.

I think the most important benefit to being on fellowship is you can do research for whoever you want, as kroner said. An RA is a specific contract to work with a specific professor, whereas a fellowship is freedom to do pretty much whatever you want.

rahuldatta, most graduate students begin with a TA. That means you are teaching classes and/or labs. mobytish is absolutely right in that you will not be teaching a full course and will mostly be helping the students with homework and stuff with a lot of support and direction from the head lecturer of the class. During this time you take classes and investigate the different research groups at your school, and most student try to arrange to work in a lab during their first summer. As soon as you find a professor you want to work with who agrees to fund you as a researcher in their lab, then you don't have to teach anymore because your pay check comes from that professor's grant money. It's just up to you to find a research group that will accept you as soon as possible. If you can't secure a research position, you TA for your money and try to get into a research lab for the next semester.

Ryalnos
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Re: Fellowship versus RA

Postby Ryalnos » Fri Feb 26, 2010 12:26 pm

I believe fellowships usually do not obligate you to do research (I'm not sure about external fellowships like those offered by the NSF). However, the PhD is centered around research and it may be a bit wasteful to 'just take classes' the first year. A fellowship offers wonderful flexibility in exploring research opportunities, so you may as well take advantage of it.




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