The typical PhD graduate student is employed by the department, either as a teaching assistant (TA), a research assistant (RA), or via a first-year fellowship. As university employees, TAs, RAs and fellowship students are expected to perform their duties in a prompt and proper manner. A student funded by the department may not also have out- side employment without permission from the Computer Science Chair and the SEAS Graduate Dean. Full-time graduate students must also not unilaterally accept research internships without prior approval from their advisor and the Graduate Student Coordinator.
All full-time graduate students must sign up for 12 credit hours for both Fall and Spring semesters and, if financially supported during the summer, 6 credit hours during the summer semester (but see section 3.5.2 for more information for international students and section 3.4 for more information about Summer semesters). Students commonly augment standard courses with research and teaching hours (e.g., ESL courses, CS 6190, CS 7993, CS 7995, CS 8897, CS 8999 or CS 9999) to reach the 12 credit hour minimum.
1. Fellowship Responsibilities
PhD students are typically funded in their first two semesters by a departmental fellowship. During this time, students are expected to attend classes, complete any English as a Second Language (ESL) or Center for American English Language and Culture (CAELC) requirements, establish relationships with professors, and match with an advisor. To receive funding starting in the summer after the first year, PhD students must be supported by an advisor.
2. Teaching Assistant Responsibilities
TAs are important members of the department’s professional teaching staff. Each TA is assigned to assist in the educational goals of one or more course sections. This assignment is typically given by the CS staff early in the semester and is accompanied by an expected number of hours the TA will devote to each course. Because enrollments change over time, the assignments of TA hours and classes may also change to reflect changing needs.
TAs should not be surprised if course assignments are changed after courses actually begin. TAs who have issues with their course assignments or hours should contact the CS staff.
PhD students are required to serve as TAs as a component of their degree. These TA duties are normally fulfilled by working 10 hours per week (i.e., half-time) during both semesters of the 2nd and 3rd year of studies.
Master’s students may enroll in CS 8897 and PhD students may enroll in CS 9897 if desired. A TA may sign up for 3 credit hours (using the specific section assigned to the instructor) for each 10 hour/week segment. Students assigned to TA multiple courses should split the amounts among those courses at their discretion, noting that it is not possible to sign up for fractional credit hours. Completion of the TA portion of the PhD requirement is signified by having accumulated 12 credit hours of CS 9897 (three credits of CS 9897 over four semesters).
Specific TA responsibilities for a particular course are assigned by the instructor. Common duties include grading, proctoring laboratory sections, holding office hours and help sessions, attending class, reading instructional materials, completing assignments, answering email or forum questions, and tutoring students in need of additional help. TAs may also contribute study questions or examination questions at the discretion of the instructor.
Additional duties directly related to a particular course may be assigned by an instructor. Students concerned that specific duties are inappropriate or off-topic may seek resolution through the instructor, their advisor, or the graduate ombudsman. A TA whose duties require significantly more or less time than their assigned weekly hours should inform the course instructor so that a more appropriate set of duties can be assigned.
Each TA is responsible for obtaining a proper understanding of the course material. TAs without a firm grasp of course concepts should obtain guidance from the instructor or request a change in course assignments from the CS staff when given the course assignment.
TAs are employees and representatives of the department and the university. As such, they should behave with professional courtesy and politeness in all their official communications and activities. This includes handling student questions in a polite, constructive, and accurate manner. Also, graduate teaching assistants are absolutely forbidden to engage in any romantic or sexual relations with any student for whom they serve as a TA.
The period of TA employment begins at the start of the semester and lasts until the final grades are submitted to the registrar. TAs should be reliable in all their duties. Non-emergency absences from scheduled duties within that time must be approved by the Graduate Program Director. As an example, TAs may not depart before final exams are graded and course grades are submitted without the approval of their instructor and the Graduate Program Director.
UVa maintains a teaching resource center with published information helpful in guiding TA interactions with students. These publications are online at http://trc.virginia.edu/Publications/.
3. Research Assistant Responsibilities
Students receiving research funding are called research assistants. Each RA is assigned to a particular advisor and is given a number of hours each week to devote to that advisor’s research program. The majority of a typical PhD student’s academic tenure is spent as an RA.
RAs and advisors are colleagues in research and the employer-employee relationship is rarely visible as they work together to expand the frontiers of knowledge. However, there are elements of a research program that may not appeal to the RA but still need to be completed. While an RA is often officially a 20-hour position, success in graduate school and in industrial or academic research often requires more than 20 hours per week of effort. In general, an RA is expected to work as directed by his or her research advisor. However, a student who is concerned that specific duties are inappropriate or off-topic may seek resolution with the research advisor, the Graduate Ombudsman, or the Graduate Program Director.
4. Summer Support
Summer support is available for many students, particularly those working on dissertations. In addition, the faculty believe that it is often beneficial for graduate students to gain direct experience with government or industrial research through summer internships. Graduate-level summer internships often lead to a publication, provide external committee members (see sections 6.3.1 and 6.4.1), and help in the student’s evaluation of possible careers. Research advisors, the SEAS Center for Engineering Career Development, and the UVA Career Center can help find suitable summer employment.
Self-funded professional master’s students typically do not sign up for courses over the summer. Summer internships are encouraged to gain even more experience with the commercial applications of knowledge.
Doctoral students who do not receive internships are typically supported over the summer as research assistants. Graduate students who receive financial aid in the form of Graduate Research or Graduate Teaching Assistantships, or Fellowships, must register as full-time students (12 credits in Fall and Spring; 6 credits in summer).
5. International Students
International students should contact the International Studies Office (ISO) when considering an internship. For example, students on an F-1 Visa may be required to complete the Curricular Practical Training form. The current CS department policy regarding CPT and course credit is:
International students who take the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) engage in an internship at a company, typically during the summer. When returning in the following Fall semester, they take one credit hour of CS 6890 (Industrial Applications) with their academic or research advisor. The general requirement of the CS 6890 course is to report on (1) when, where, and with whom the internship was served, (2) what was learned and what new insights were gained, and (3) how the internship experience is expected to assist future academic or employment. The details and specific requirements of the course are under the control of the advisor. Sign up for the CS 6890 section associated with your advisor.
Students who complete a CPT internship in the Fall or Spring (this is rare) may either take the course for credit that same semester or the subsequent semester.
5.2 Full-Time Status
Students on F-1 Visas are usually required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester (i.e., at least four three-credit courses) to qualify as full-time students and satisfy visa requirements.
Students pursuing a Ph.D., a project-based MCS, or an MS degree can take additional credit hours corresponding to their research to reach the 12 credit hour requirement. The full-time status requirement can also be met with undergraduate courses, independent study, ESL courses, and seminars.
Students pursuing a Master’s degree will generally take 13 credits the first semester (four three-credit academic courses plus CS 6190 for one credit), 12 credits the second semester (four three-credit academic courses), and 6 credits (two three-credit academic courses) in the third and final semester. Coursework-based MCS students typically have no research project; therefore, such students might consider an independent study (CS 7993), but that requires a plan with a willing advisor worked out in advance; such independent studies are relatively rare and take time to arrange and thus should not be counted on at the last minute. Students pursuing a coursework-based MCS degree should follow the 13-12-6 plan.
There are some exceptions to the full-time status requirement:
- In the student’s final semester, full-time status is not required. If the student is on a visa, then the student must go to the International Studies Office, bearing an email or letter from the department or advisor that certifies that the student does not need a full-time course load to graduate; the ISO will then make a new I20 form with a reduced course load authorization (during one final semester only). The Graduate Student Coordinator can inspect your SIS academic requirements report and provide you with such written documentation.
- Master’s students’ part time request requirements: Master’s students may request a change to part time studies if they are not funded by the department and do not have visa restrictions that mandate full time student enrollment. To request part time status, complete the appropriate form and have it signed by your advisor and the Graduate Student Coordinator. Part time enrollment consists of 1–9 credits. After all approvals are received, the graduate registrar will code you as such in SIS, and you may enroll as a part-time student.
- In the case of illness or medical issues, with formal approval through ISO, the Dean’s Office, and a doctor’s note, full-time status is not required.
- In the case of certain academic issues, such as improper placement in a course of study, and with formal approval through ISO, full-time status is not required. This is very rare, since part of the application for the Visa was an indication that one would not have academic issues. Students should not count on this exception at all.
- In special cases, a first-semester student who is struggling with a new country, a new language, a new school, a new academic program and/or a new social culture may be approved for part-time status during the first semester. Talk to the Graduate Program Director.
- Minor Exception: A student with “AR1 Alien Registration”, a “green card” USA residency equivalent, can enroll part-time without going through the International Studies Office for verification or visa alteration.)
5.3 English Language Proficiency Assessments (Written and Oral)
The Center for American English Language and Culture (CAELC) administers the University of Virginia English Language Proficiency Exam (UVELPE) at the beginning of each semester. It also administers the SPEAK test each August, December and May.
- International PhD students whose native language is not English, and who will ultimately serve as TAs as a requirement of the PhD degree, must take the SPEAK test. International master’s students whose native language is not English, who might wish to becomes TAs at any time during their academic career, must take the SPEAK test. No student may serve as a TA until he or she has taken the SPEAK test, and the results of the test (i.e., the degree of English oral proficiency) will determine what roles the student may fulfill (e.g., leading a lab section, meeting with students one-on-one, grading homeworks and exams).
- All international graduate students must take the UVELPE test.
Results and recommendations are made available after the SPEAK and/or UVELPE tests have been completed. Official recommendations often include particular ESL classes based on individual assessments. As per CS department policy, these ESL recommendations are taken very seriously and students must comply with the ESL recommendations. If CAELC recommends more than one ESL course, the department will defer (but not waive) courses such that no more than one ESL course is required per semester.
6. Funding Adjustments
For those students who have been awarded financial aid, the following policy applies. Funding for master’s degree students, when available, is typically provided as a Master Teaching Assistant (MTA) award. An MTA appointment pays a specific dollar amount per hour worked, but provides no other benefits (i.e., no salary, tuition, or health insurance). However, PhD students, whether GTAs or GRAs, are paid increasing amounts according to the following three-step scale:
- Incoming students (regardless of previous degree)
- Passed Qualifying Examination (see chapter 5)
- Passed Dissertation Proposal Examination (see section 6.3).
7. Tuition and Course Costs
Ph.D. students are typically fully funded via fellowship in their first year and via assistantships (GTA, GRA) thereafter. Self-funded professional master’s students typically pay their own tuition.
For tuition purposes, the designation of a research class refers to CS 9999 (Dissertation Research), CS 9897 (Graduate Teaching Instruction), CS 8999 (Master’s Research), CS 8897 (Graduate Teaching Instruction), or CS 6890 (Industrial Applications). These are classes taken for a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory mark (rather than a letter grade) that represent research assistantship or teaching assistantship work. Because these courses are not letter-graded, they cannot be used as credit toward a degree.
All other classes are non-research classes. Importantly, CS 6993/7993 (Independent Study), CS 7995 (Supervised Project Research), CS 6190 (Perspectives) and CS 6501 (Special Topics) are all non-research classes (they can be taken for a letter grade). In addition, students are required to carry health insurance. The default health subsidy paid by the department for students on teaching or research assistantships was valued at $x, xxx annually for the 201x–201x year. Self-funded students are required to demonstrate insurance. Assistantship students may decline the insurance, but doing so does not return any money, it just drops the insurance. Thus this choice is not a good idea.
8. Part-Time Status
Students who wish to pursue a graduate degree in computer science on a part-time basis must be approved and meet all relevant requirements. This includes approval from the advisor and approval from the Graduate Program Director. Part-time status is rare for students in our graduate program (except for a student’s final semester).
Note that as per the SEAS Graduate Record, you must enroll in a minimum of one semester of full-time study to obtain a Master’s Degree. In addition, graduate teaching assistantships and fellowships are only available to full-time students.
Part-time tuition is calculated differently. See the Graduate Record for more information about part-time status.
9. Graduate Stipends
Computer Science Ph.D. graduate students supported by the department as Graduate Teaching Assistants or Graduate Research Assistants receive stipends. The computer science department uses three stipend levels based on student progress through Ph.D. degree milestones. As of August 2019, the milestone levels and stipend amounts are:
- Level 1 — A student who has not yet passed the qualifying examination (see chapter 5) is paid $XXX every two weeks.
- Level 2 — A student who has passed the qualifying examination but not the Ph.D. proposal (see Chapter 6.3) is paid $XXXX every two weeks.
- Level 3 — A student who has passed the Ph.D. proposal is paid $XXXX every two weeks.
Raises become effective in the term following the term in which the degree mile- stone is completed. For example, a student who passes the qualifying examination in Fall of 2019 would start receiving Level 2 rates in Spring of 2020.
Note that the Computer Engineering (CpE) program uses different stipend amounts but tries to match CS rates when possible.