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Guidelines on graduate student support

Offer of financial support

Students offered admission to graduate programs at the University of Waterloo shall be informed of the normal completion time for the program, the minimum total level of financial support that is promised, the period of time over which this support will be provided, and any special conditions concerning continuation of the support. In addition to the time limit as stated in the graduate calendar, completion time information shall include a realistic estimate of the number of terms normally required to complete the program. Suitable estimates can be obtained from Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs.

The minimum total level of financial support includes amounts received from internal scholarships and bursaries, teaching and research assistantships/studentships and lecturing duties. External scholarships received by the student will be included in calculating the minimum total level of financial support. The source of funds may vary over the period of graduate studies.

Most research assistantships (RAs) and research studentships (RSs) are funded from grants and contracts controlled by individual faculty members and are subject to regulations of the external granting agency. Teaching Assistantships (TAs) are usually provided from university operating funds, and are allocated by departments in return for specific services in support of their teaching programs. In accepting the offer of admission and financial support, a student agrees to perform the duties required for the support provided.

Each prospective graduate student will be provided with a document referencing the guidelines when a written offer of acceptance and financial support is made.

Continuation of financial support

Financial support will normally continue as promised if the student maintains full-time registration in the degree program and fulfils the necessary academic requirements. This includes maintaining a minimum 70% average in coursework (individual programs may have higher requirements), and passing PhD comprehensive examinations. Continued support in the form of awards and scholarships may require maintaining a higher average in coursework, according to the particular terms of reference (80% is the minimum for certain scholarships for example).

The student must also satisfactorily perform the particular duties required for the support. Performance is assessed by the supervisor for research assistants, and by the instructor, department chair or graduate officer for teaching assistants. A student whose performance as an RA/TA is judged to be unsatisfactory will normally receive written warning and suggestions for improvement. If the student's performance does not improve sufficiently within a reasonable time period, financial support may be reduced or discontinued. Written warning and an opportunity for improvement need not be given in cases of serious misconduct or serious neglect of duties.

It is recognized that difficulties may arise owing to inadequate transfer payments from the province, or to nonrenewal of external research grants and contracts. However, the university will make every effort to maintain financial support for continuing graduate students at the levels promised. Primary responsibility rests at the department and faculty levels, where decisions concerning admissions and offers of financial support are made. In emergency situations, request for assistance may be made through the faculty associate dean to the associate-vice president, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs or through the faculty dean to the provost.

Graduate student employment, duties and rates of pay 

Through the University, full-time students (Graduate Studies Academic Calendar) can accept on average ten hours of paid employment per week, which is the typical structure of TA and RA appointments. Students may pursue additional on-campus employment beyond 10 hours per week (but not exceeding 20 hours per week, on average, in each term) having met certain conditions and following the process specified by their Faculty.

Graduate students with full responsibility for teaching courses must be appointed as part-time lecturers and reported to Senate. The minimum rate for graduate students teaching courses is specified in a table of UWaterloo compensation rates that is updated annually.

Graduate teaching assistants are graduate students who do not have full responsibility for teaching courses, but who are appointed to carry out teaching-related duties, such as proctoring, marking, tutoring (including language tutoring), laboratory supervision, and occasional lecturing. Other duties may be assigned with the agreement of the instructor, the department chair or graduate officer, and the graduate student.

At the beginning of each term departments shall inform teaching assistants of their assignments and the nominal hours of work expected over the term. The nominal hours of work is an estimate of the time, including preparation, that would normally be required by a graduate student to carry out the assigned duties. It is the department's responsibility to ensure that adequate preparation time is allowed for; it is the graduate student's responsibility to be prepared.

It is the instructor's duty to meet with her/his TAs at the beginning of the term for advance discussion of the work expected, the methods to be used in evaluating the TA's work, and the scheduling of duties throughout the term. TA duties extend from the date lectures begin until the due date for course marks and may be distributed unevenly over the term. However, the maximum hours of work required in any one week should not normally exceed twice the nominal weekly hours. Anticipated excessive fluctuations shall be clearly identified at the time of course assignment. Graduate student employees shall identify to the employer any known academic obligations that may interfere with their duties. If unreasonable demands interfere with a student's own academic program, he/she should speak with the department chair. Except in emergencies, teaching assistants should receive at least one week's notice of special duties such as proctoring or lecturing.

The university sets TA rates which apply to all faculties. TA rates are reviewed annually; the approved change shall normally be applied to all TA rates effective May 1 of each year.

Graduate research assistantships and research studentships are usually paid from research grants and contracts for assistance with particular research projects. Students holding research studentships receive support to work on their own thesis research; in such circumstances requirements as to maximum hours of work do not apply. For students holding research assistantships, however, when payment is for assistance with research not closely related to the student's thesis research, the average number of hours worked per week must not exceed ten (including TA hours, if applicable); the rate of pay should represent fair value for the services rendered.

A graduate student who is promised support from a research grant or contract for a period of two or more terms should normally continue to work on that research project over the guaranteed period. When graduate research assistants are paid from research grants or contracts awarded to faculty members, questions may arise as to the ownership of the intellectual property resulting from the research. Rights of ownership are covered by Copyright Law and by University regulations (see the Graduate Studies Academic Calendar, Waterloo Policy 73 on Intellectual Property Rights, and Waterloo Policy 64 on Use of Proprietary Computer Software).

RA and TA health, safety and environment training and responsibilities

It is the department's responsibility to ensure that adequate training is provided to all graduate students, regardless of whether they are employed as teaching or research assistants. Graduate students should not start TA or RA duties until they have undergone the department's training program.

Effective January 2009, all TAs are required to complete an online health, safety and environment orientation training program (~1.5 hours) developed and offered by the Safety Office either as a stand-alone module or as part of a faculty’s TA training. The program will contain core health, safety and environment information, including: legislative rights; duties and responsibilities; applicable Univerity of Waterloo policies, procedures and guidelines; emergency procedures (fire and injury/illness); personal safety and security; hazardous materials -- Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) offered as either awareness training (employees who have little contact with hazardous materials) or competency training (employees who have regular contact with hazardous materials). This training program is intended to complement department and/or faculty-specific WHMIS hazardous material training. It is not a substitute.

Dispute resolutions and appeals: employment

The relationship between a teaching assistant and his/her instructor and a research assistant and his/her supervisor is based on collegiality and mutual respect. As it is in the best interests of all parties to address concerns informally and in a timely manner, a TA/RA is encouraged to communicate with his/her instructor/supervisor when a question arises about a decision or action affecting him/her. This communication can be either in person or in writing and must be done within one month of the decision/action. 

  • If the supervisor/instructor requires it, the TA/RA shall put the communication in writing. 
  • The instructor/supervisor shall respond within 10 working days of receipt of the communication. 
  • If the TA/RA is satisfied with the response, the matter is at an end. 
  • If a TA/RA is not satisfied with the result, he/she may seek a resolution by taking the issue to the department graduate officer/associate chair within 10 working days of the instructor’s/supervisor’s response. 
  • If a TA/RA is not satisfied with the result, he/she may take the matter to the associate vice-president, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, who will consult with the relevant associate dean, graduate studies within the faculty, within 10 working days of the graduate officer’s/associate chair’s response. The decision of the associate vice-president, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs is final.
  • The TA/RA and instructor/supervisor are each entitled to be accompanied by a University of Waterloo colleague of his/her choosing as a support person at any meeting.
  • Graduate officers/associate chairs and the associate vice-president, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs are expected to report to the Graduate Operations Committee and the Graduate Student Relations Committee the sanitized details of any issues with which they have dealt. The purpose of this is to identify recurring or systemic problems with a view to resolving them. Reports should occur regularly, ideally at the end of each term.
  • Note: Sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse of supervisory authority are covered by Waterloo Policy 33, Ethical Behaviour.

Committees dealing with graduate student support

Financial support for graduate students falls under the jurisdiction of three committees:

Graduate Student Relations Committee (see Waterloo Policy 1) - deals with all matters pertaining to the initiation and review of policies governing conditions of graduate student employment;

Graduate Student Support Advisory Committee - makes recommendations to the provost concerning annual changes in the rates of pay for graduate teaching assistants (TAs). This committee, formed annually, consists of three graduate students appointed by the Board of Directors of the Graduate Student Association (GSA); three faculty members (two of whom are associate deans) from the Senate Graduate and Research Council and one faculty dean appointed by the provost; and the associate provost, academic affairs, who chairs the committee.

Graduate Student Minimum Support Guarantee Committee - co-chaired by the president of the GSA and the associate vice-president, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs provides advice on the minimum guarantee level. The committee also includes two associate deans, appointed by the provost, and two additional members of the GSA Executive. The director of Institutional Analysis and Planning, and the director, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs are advisory to the committee.

Approved by Senate April 15, 1991 Revised July 1999

Minor revisions approved by Senate Graduate and Research Council, March 13, 1998.

*Last updated June 2011