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Graduate Funding Information
MIT physics graduate students receive support from a variety of sources: fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. A number of students come to MIT with external fellowships. The Department of Physics encourages prospective students to explore all sources of aid available outside MIT. United States citizens may be eligible for fellowships from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship Program, the Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowships for Minorities, the Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program, and others. Students must apply for these national fellowships, which are awarded on a competitive basis. International students may be eligible for fellowships through their home countries.
Internally, the department offers Research Assistantships (RA), Teaching Assistantships (TA), and fellowships. All forms of support include tuition, stipend, and student health insurance.
Graduate assistantships are full-time positions. Students so appointed are expected to spend full time on education and assigned duties and may not engage in any other activity for compensation without the specific approval of the Department Head. Students receive academic credit for research work and/or teaching credit in addition to course work each term.
In general, the Physics Department encourages students to become involved with research as early as possible. The best way to determine whether or not a field is for you is to try it out, and the MIT pattern of early research experience makes this possible. Many students have some ideas about possible areas of interest. For these students, the Department tries to arrange a research assistantship, either with a particular group or in a general area. For students who wish to explore a variety of alternatives before choosing a research specialty, we try to provide flexibility by awarding a teaching assistantship.
An RA supports a student doing research in a specific research group. The funds for RAs usually come from federal, foundation, or industrial support awarded to a faculty member or to a laboratory. The majority of physics graduate students are RAs. RA appointments are generally for the academic year, plus the summer. The amount of time a student spends on specific RA duties depends on the amount of course work necessary and on the requirements of the specific group in which he or she is working. For new graduate students taking classes and preparing for the general examination, research duties normally require 20 hours per week or less. Duties include working on special problems and/or helping senior graduate students. After two to three years, research becomes full time and generally leads to a thesis topic.
TAs are graduate students who assist with teaching-related activities. TA duties may include teaching recitation sections, assisting faculty members in grading, or supervising an undergraduate laboratory. Many students find that teaching provides invaluable experience in career preparation. A graduate student in physics may be a TA at any point of his or her study, but the number of TA positions are limited. This work is done in addition to any research or class work the student is doing and requires up to about 20 hours per week. TAs are given preferentially to incoming students, although some TAs are assigned to advanced graduate students with good teaching skills. TA appointments cover only the nine months of the academic year. Although the Department cannot guarantee summer employment for TAs, most are able to find summer RAs in the various physics department research groups or to obtain externships.
The department also has a small number of fellowships. These fellowships generally provide support during the earlier part of graduate study.
Almost all of our financial support is awarded to applicants who enter in September. We do accept applications for February admission. However, since these are considered after financial commitments for the year have been made, the likelihood of financial aid is much less than for September admission.
Students normally join a research group and are supported by an RA after the first year. In some cases, this may be delayed one or two semesters. Students who desire TA support after the first year must apply with the Graduate Appointments Coordinator.
The current stipend rates for RAs and TAs are available in Academic Programs, 4-315. For both RAs and TAs, full tuition is paid over and above the stipend. If loss of support is due to termination of a research contract, the Department will provide support for one additional term and will make every effort to provide an alternative form of continuing support.