Research Policy Handbook


Visiting Student Researchers

Policy Authority

Vice Provost for Graduate Education

Policy Contact

Now in Policy Details

Defines the policy and procedures for the sponsorship and appointment of a Visiting Student Researcher (VSR). Defines a VSR as a student who is currently enrolled in a graduate degree program at another university who is visiting Stanford for the purpose of conducting research under the supervision of a Stanford faculty member. VSRs are appointed at Stanford as non-matriculated graduate students.

1. Background

There are a limited number of instances when it would be to the benefit of Stanford faculty to permit graduate students currently enrolled at other universities to engage in research at Stanford using Stanford research facilities. These might include students at other universities who are engaged in research in a field of interest to a Stanford faculty member or a student who is doing a laboratory rotation as part of a larger research study or grant. Such students are known as Visiting Student Researchers (VSRs) and are appointed as nonmatriculated graduate students.

When agreeing to sponsor a VSR, faculty must be mindful of the need to place primary emphasis on providing research opportunities to regularly matriculated Stanford students. In addition, students sponsored as VSRs must be qualified to conduct research at a level comparable to that of other Stanford graduate students and the research must be of benefit to Stanford as well as the visitor.

Any Stanford faculty member in any department at Stanford may sponsor a VSR. The sponsoring faculty member and the department chair must sign the letter of invitation and thus assume responsibility for the VSR. The faculty director of an interdisciplinary program or research center or institute that is sponsoring a VSR may sign instead of a department chair. In most instances, faculty members who have appointments in centers or institutes under the Vice Provost and Dean of Research in addition to a department affiliation should sponsor a VSR within their department, since department staff have experience with student enrollments and financials.

As current graduate students, VSRs are distinct from Visiting Scholars, whose qualifications state that a person must hold a Ph.D. (or its equivalent from a country other than the United States) or be a recognized expert in the field to be appointed Visiting Scholar.

2. VSR Sponsorship: Faculty and Department Responsibilities

Sponsorship of a VSR is initiated by the faculty sponsor using the Letter of Invitation for Visiting Student Researchers provided by the Office of the Registrar. The letter template may be modified but must include the information listed on the Inside Student Services website. The letter of invitation must include a description of the research the VSR will conduct and must be signed by both the faculty sponsor and the department chair.

Once the student receives the signed letter of invitation, they must submit the required application materials listed in the invitation letter to their sponsoring department. The department is responsible for submitting completed application materials at least 45 days before the anticipated VSR appointment start date, following the process described on the Inside Student Services website.

By approving the VSR invitation, the faculty sponsor and department chair ensure that resources to support the VSR, including faculty time, are not being diverted from Stanford students who are matriculated into degree programs. These faculty also assume the responsibility for oversight of the VSR’s research and conduct throughout their appointment at Stanford.

The department is responsible for answering any questions the VSR applicant may have about fees, visas, ID, cards, housing, or other issues related to the VSR appointment. The department is also required to notify Graduate Admissions in a timely manner if the VSR does not attend or leaves prior to the appointment end date to ensure fees do not accumulate. The department is also responsible for ensuring that funds used to cover VSR costs (including monthly VSR fee, health insurance, campus health service fee, and/or stipend) are allowable charges.

3. VSR Appointment and Fees

Any visiting graduate student who will be participating in research at Stanford for 31 or more days must be appointed into non matriculated student status as a VSR. Any visiting graduate student participating in research at Stanford for 30 days or less is not required to be appointed as a VSR, but has the option of an appointment into this status if the visiting graduate student requires the rights and privileges as outlined in Section 5. VSR Responsibilities and Rights. VSRs will be enrolled by Graduate Admissions in the category: "Non-Matriculated Graduate Students - Visiting Student Researchers" (VSR). VSRs are at Stanford to conduct research and are not allowed to enroll in or audit classes.

If a department chooses to sponsor a SUnet ID for a VSR before the VSR appointment has been approved and processed by the Office of the Registrar, the department should submit the EmplID number to Graduate Admissions with the completed VSR application to avoid delays caused by duplicate ID numbers.

VSRs will be charged a monthly VSR fee comparable to Terminal Graduate Registration, set annually by Stanford’s Board of Trustees. VSRs will also be charged the quarterly Campus Health Services Fee, and, unless they document that they have comparable coverage with another carrier, they will be charged for Cardinal Care student health insurance. 

 VSRs must remain current in their payments to the University to maintain their VSR status. Persons who are delinquent in their payments will lose their status and, if applicable, their J-1 visa status will be terminated.

VSR appointments can be for one to twelve months and do not need to begin at the start of an academic quarter. An extension of an original appointment period by one to three months can be requested by the sponsoring faculty, with department chair approval, if the student is in good academic and financial standing with their home university and with Stanford. Graduate Admissions can approve up to a three-month extension. Any subsequent or longer extension requires a statement describing a compelling reason for the extension for review and approval of the Office of the Vice Provost of Graduate Education. 

Citizens of other countries who enter the United States for the purpose of being a VSRs at Stanford must have a DS-2019 (certification for J-1 visa status) issued by the Bechtel International Center prior to their arrival in this country. As part of the DS-2019 process, departments verify that international VSR have sufficient funds to pay required fees and to live in the U.S.  Departments retain the evidence of sufficient financial support in their records for at least three years following the end of the J visa program.  To maintain their visa, VSRs must have an active VSR appointment throughout the period of their residence at Stanford. The sponsoring department should contact the Bechtel International Center for further information. 

VSRs who have educational loans cannot be certified by Stanford for loan deferments because they are neither matriculated at Stanford nor are they carrying a full-time course load. VSRs should contact their home institution regarding eligibility for loan deferments.

4. Financial Support of VSRs

The host department is not required to provide financial support for the VSR. Funds designated for the support of matriculated Stanford students may not be used to support VSRs. VSRs are not eligible to receive research or teaching assistantships. They may not receive  stipends  from University scholarships or fellowships.

If the department chooses to pay the VSR fees or to provide a stipend for living expenses, payment must be made through the GFS system using unrestricted funds.  Additionally, VSRs may be employed on an hourly basis to perform work, including work on a sponsored project assuming that the work is appropriate to the project and funds are available.  Hourly job codes are available in the Human Resource Management system specifically for employment of VSRs. VSRs are not subject to working hours restrictions in place for matriculated students. More information about paying students hourly can be found in the university’s Administrative Guide.

When departments provide stipends or pay fees for VSRs, these payments are considered taxable income to the VSR. If the VSR is a non-US resident for tax purposes, and their home country does not have a tax treaty with the United States, Stanford is obligated to withhold or charge 14% federal tax on any of these payments.  

5. VSR Responsibilities and Rights

VSRs are subject to the rules and regulations required for all Stanford graduate students:

  • Intellectual property: VSRs are required to sign a Stanford Patent and Copyright Agreement (known as the SU-18). In special circumstances, VSRs may sign the SU-18A agreement instead of the SU-18. It is the sponsoring faculty’s responsibility to ensure compliance with this university policy.
  • The Honor Code and Fundamental Standard : VSRs who commit violations of Stanford’s academic conduct and behavioral standards are subject to termination of their Stanford appointment. The sponsoring department should inform Graduate Admissions if a VSR appointment is terminated early.
  • Required safety training: the faculty member who sponsors the VSR is responsible to assure that they receive any required training in order to be able to carry out their research at Stanford, including appropriate health and safety training, instruction in the protection of human subjects, or any other instruction required by the work that the student will do here.

VSRs are entitled to receive a student photo identification card. The card will permit entry and borrowing privileges from the library at the same level as other nonmatriculated students and use of recreational facilities. VSRs will also be eligible to open computer accounts. These services will only be available during the appointment period, provided the student remains in good academic and financial standing at their home institution and at Stanford.

VSRs are eligible for graduate on- or off-campus subsidized housing, on a space-available basis. VSRs have lower housing priority than students matriculated into a degree program and therefore are unlikely to get on- or off-campus subsidized housing. VSRs are not eligible for other services specified for graduate students enrolled in degree programs, such as the CalTrain Go Pass.