Working with Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Policies and Procedures

PIs serve as intellectual and professional mentors to graduate students, helping them to make meaningful contributions to our scientific enterprise and thereby also helping them to be competitive for employment. 

To fulfill these responsibilities, it is important to understand the academic and nonacademic policies pertinent to graduate students.

Graduate Financial Support: General Funding Guidelines and Definitions

Graduate Student Support

Primary responsibility for delivering graduate education at Stanford rests with the faculty and staff in the degree programs administered in academic departments and schools. The Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education (VPGE) sets and disseminates relevant policy, and provides support for program development.

Each department establishes its own academic degree requirements and defines the curriculum, admits students directly to the approved program, delivers the curriculum, advises and monitors student progress, and awards degrees. More information can be found here:

How Are Graduate Students Supported?

Graduate students at Stanford receive funding from a variety of sources. Funds may come from the academic school or department in the form of Fellowships, research Assistantships or teaching Assistantships. VPGE also administers a number of competitive Fellowship programs (e.g., the Stanford Graduate Fellowship is a competitive program that offers support upon admission to promising academic candidates). Additionally, Stanford students are very successful in applying for outside support (e.g., NSF Graduate Fellowship, NASA Graduate Research Fellowship, and many others), which they can obtain prior to admission or during their years of study. It is also possible for students to additionally be compensated, with Advisor approval, for additional hourly work; however, this option should be carefully considered so as not to detract from the student’s academic progress, and to ensure compliance with University and federal regulations.

What is a Research or Teaching Assistantship?

A Research or Teaching Assistantship is a form of graduate student employment. These appointments provide a salary payment, benefits and tuition allowance. To be appointed to an Assistantship role, the student must be matriculated at Stanford and must be enrolled in each quarter in which the Assistantship is active. Additionally, in order to qualify for the appointment, the research or teaching service performed must be related to the student’s academic program. While these are the most-used Assistantship appointments at Stanford, there are other variations available for particular situations.

Research Assistantship

A Research Assistant (RA) works on a research project under the supervision of the academic faculty advisor, in conjunction with the student’s own degree goals. Most typically, during the academic year, an RA would be appointed at the maximum-allowed 50% time. This appointment provides a salary payment at a rate set by the academic department or school, as well as covers the cost of tuition. It is possible during the summer to be appointed as an RA at a higher level of effort. 

Teaching or Course Assistantship

A Teaching Assistant (TA) or Course Assistant (CA) is appointed to support a faculty member in teaching a course. Depending on the appointment title, duties may range from helping in the preparation of course materials to overseeing lab sections to holding regular office hours. The appointment percentage level varies in these positions (at minimum 10%).  It is possible to combine RA and TA appointments in a single quarter, depending on teaching needs and other factors. Note that many departments will set a minimum number of TA quarter appointments for each student to complete as part of the overall degree requirement standard.

How Is an Assistantship Compensated? 

Assistantships pay a salary to the student as compensation for services provided either in a teaching or research role. RAs and TAs receive a Stanford paycheck twice each month and are subject to withholding of employment taxes with the exception of Social Security and Voluntary Disability Insurance.

Tuition Allowance (TAL) is the tuition component of the Assistantship compensation package. The cost of TAL is shared between University general funds (or Medical School funds, in the case of assistantships funded by that school) and the school, department, and/or sponsored project funds providing the assistantship.

View TAL Tables

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What Is a Graduate Fellowship?

A Graduate fellowship is a form of graduate student support that typically covers tuition as well as providing a living allowance. A Fellowship is awarded on a merit basis to assist a student in the pursuit of a degree; as such, the student is not considered to be an employee, in terms of work obligations and their stipend is not considered salary. Fellowships may be awarded by the department, school, VPGE, or from an outside source.

A full Fellowship is defined as one that provides the same amount of support as a 50% FTE Assistantship, at the minimum salary level established by Stanford University and providing the equivalent level of tuition support. Students on full Fellowships may hold a concurrent research or teaching Assistantship appointment up to a maximum of 25%. 

A named Fellowship is an award of financial support defined programmatically and identified in terms of the source of funding (e.g., Stanford Graduate Fellowships, Lieberman Fellowships, and other named school or departmental Fellowships). Named Fellowships are only available to matriculated Stanford graduate students. Within Stanford, in addition to named fellowships that may be available at the department or school level, VPGE administers a number of special awards.

How Is a Graduate Fellow Compensated? 

Fellowships typically provide a stipend, or a living allowance, to a student. They are processed through the Student Financial Services department and paid to graduate students at the beginning of each quarter. The TAL is processed as for Assistantship appointments.

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Graduate Hourly Employment

A graduate student may be employed and paid for work unrelated to the student's academic and professional training. Such employment is not considered an Assistantship appointment, and thus does not include a Tuition Allowance. Some departments have set rules as to how many hours a student may be employed in addition to being appointed as an RA or TA; thus, a student should consult with his/her Advisor before taking on additional hours of employment. Hourly employment for teaching or research services should not be used in lieu of a TA or RA appointment, where the work would otherwise qualify for Assistantship compensation.

How Is a Graduate Hourly Employee Compensated?

Hourly employment is processed through Payroll, not the Graduate Financial System (GFS). US students appointed to a 50% Assistantship, or holding a full Fellowship, are limited to an additional eight hours of hourly employment per week. Additional limits may apply to international students.

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Postdoctoral Scholars

A Stanford Postdoctoral Scholar is a trainee in residence at Stanford University pursuing advanced studies beyond the doctoral level in preparation for an independent career. Postdoctoral Scholars are appointed for a limited period of time and may participate on Stanford research projects and/or may be supported by external awards or fellowships. In all cases, their appointment at Stanford is for the purpose of advanced studies and training under the mentorship of a Stanford faculty member.

Postdoctoral Scholars are registered as non-matriculated, non-degree-seeking students with the University. The classification of scholars as students, among other things, allows deferment of student loans.

How Are Postdoctoral Scholars Compensated?

Postdoctoral Scholars at Stanford must be supported by Stanford grants and contracts, training grants, departmental or School fellowship funds, or external fellowship funds, or by a combination of these sources. Postdoctoral Scholars may not be self-supporting. Scholars are normally appointed at 100% time. If an appointment is to be made for a lesser percentage, it must be pre-approved by the Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Affairs. Clinical fellows will follow the PGY levels established by the department of Graduate Medical Education (GME) at the Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

All other Postdoctoral Scholars, regardless of their source of funding, must be paid at least the minimum level established annually by the Vice Provost and Dean of Research and the Vice Provost for Graduate Education. That level is determined by the cumulative years of research experience for that scholar. A school may also establish a higher minimum salary level for Postdoctoral Scholars paid within that school.

Scholars are full-time. Reduction in effort is only permitted in limited and temporary circumstances as described in University Policy, upon approval by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Postdoctoral Scholars are appointed on a full‐time basis in training positions under the mentorship of one or more faculty member, normally within three years of active research after the PhD.

The limit of an appointment is four years (total years of research past the PhD); possibility of extension to a fifth or a sixth may be granted by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. Years of training refer to all years of research after the PhD (i.e., at Stanford and elsewhere).  

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Mentoring Postdoctoral Scholars

Effective mentoring by faculty is critical to the success of postdoctoral scholars and to the career development of the faculty. Stanford is committed to providing a meaningful postdoctoral training experience.

Faculty and postdoctoral scholars are strongly encouraged to engage in regular meetings. While not a requirement, this process ensures that a dialog in areas other than regular scientific discussions between the postdoctoral scholar and his or her faculty mentor takes place, and it serves as an opportunity to discuss deficiencies in performance or adjustments in future plans or expectations. Mentoring is the core activity that a Stanford faculty member assumes when accepting a postdoctoral candidate for a position at Stanford. Various recommendations, tools, and resources are available to faculty members in order to facilitate an effective experience and manage performance and training.

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Resources on Postdoctoral Scholars

Several offices and people are available to assist Stanford faculty members in a variety of ways with administrative, educational, and policy matters regarding to postdoctoral scholars. The  Office of Postdoctoral Affairs is one of those offices—providing opportunities for faculty to come together in workshops on mentoring, participate in governance related to postdoctoral policies and guidelines, be informed of relevant programs and activities on a regular basis through the Faculty Mentor Quarterly Digest, recruit a diverse pool of trainees, and know where to turn for help when concerned about the well-being of a postdoctoral scholar.

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