Graduate Study Manual


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6.1 Assistantships

A graduate student on regular status is eligible to compete for appointment as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) or Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). Detailed descriptions follow. All incoming and continuing students must apply by December 31 if they want to be considered for assistantships for the following academic year. Other assistantship offers may be made to meet the needs of the department. The ECE Graduate Advising Office in conjunction with the Graduate Recruiting Committee decide on the GTA offers and the faculty make GRA offers. Graduate students who are interested in working as GRAs are advised to directly contact faculty members whose areas of research match theirs. The Graduate Committee makes assistantship decisions for new students based on GPA, test scores (e.g., GRE), the reputation of the institution the student is coming from, and the needs of the department. For continuing students, the Committee looks at GPA, number of hours completed, area of expertise, U.S. versus non-U.S. status and M.S. versus Ph.D. status. Faculty also look at these factors, with area of expertise being the most important.

Students supported on an assistantship have their in-state tuition fees paid for them, either by the Department or by the contract they are being funded from. Students earning at least $4,000 in an academic year, on an assistantship, are eligible for the U.F. Differential Scholarship that pays the out-of-state tuition. Comprehensive Fees are paid be the student each semester.

Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA)

Graduate Teaching Assistants assist faculty in the department in teaching lower division courses, including laboratory teaching assignments, or in providing other appropriate professional assistance. First year GTAs with no prior experience will not be assigned full responsibility for a lecture course.

Graduate Research Assistant (GRA)

Graduate Research Assistants are graduate students conducting academically significant research under the direction of a regular faculty member, who is generally a principal investigator on an external grant or contract.

Work Assignments and Course Loads

Assistantship students are expected to be available for performance of their duties the entire period of the assistantship. In fall semester of each year, incoming students must attend the departmental orientation, generally held one week prior to the first day of class. Assistantships require a work commitment of 20 hours each week. The duties of a GRA are determined by the Principal Investigator in charge of the research project, and the actual number of hours worked may vary, though an average of 20 hours each week is expected in direct support of the research project. Research Assistants are expected to work during normal university vacation periods, except for holidays.

The duties of GTAs are assigned by the ECE Assistant Department Head for Undergraduate Education. Students' class schedules requested at Registration are required to make the GTA assignments. GTAs generally have contact with undergraduate students and may assist with lecture courses and/or teach laboratory courses under the direction of a faculty member or be assigned to grade papers or other support work for a faculty member.

GTAs and GRAs must take at least 12 but not more than 18 credit hours per semester. Note that all students working on a thesis degree or PhD should add research hours by the add deadline to bring their credit load total to 12 hours per semester. Students will be held accountable only for research hours shown on the plan of study. Other students should register for 12 hours if possible.

Continuing an Assistantship

The continuance or renewal of an assistantship is contingent on satisfactory academic progress, satisfactory performance of GTA or GRA duties, and professional and personal conduct of an exemplary nature. At the end of each semester, the faculty member directly supervising the student will evaluate the quality and quantity of work performed. The performance of GTAs is reviewed by the ECE Assistant Department Head for Undergraduate Education each semester.

Students normally are expected to maintain a B average in order to hold an assistantship. However, some students occasionally run into temporary difficulties. The ECE Graduate Advising Office will usually terminate an assistantship if a student's GPA falls below 3.0 cumulative for more than one semester.

Duration of Assistantship Support

Graduate Teaching assistantships are made upon entrance into the the program and for an academic year. Very few GTA positions are available during the summer. However, M.S. students are strongly urged to seek out research support in the form of a GRA as early as possible. There are no limitations on the research funding except as stipulated by the principal investigator or the research contract. Once a student completes the M.S. degree, however, he or she cannot be supported on a GRA until admitted into the Ph.D. program or into another M.S. program on campus.

Ph.D. students have a major commitment to research. As such, it is customary for a Ph.D. student to hold a GRA. Departmental support (in the form of a GTA) for Ph.D. students is offered to new students and continuing students competitively on a funds-available basis. Students holding a GTA are generally expected to obtain GRA support before becoming a Ph.D. candidate (see Section 2.1). Financial support questions for Ph.D. students should be coordinated through their ECE Graduate Counselor.

Changing Between a GRA and a GTA

Students may switch from a GTA position to a GRA position if they find a suitable research project and arrangements are made with the Principal Investigator in charge of that research project. This switch is only permitted one week prior to the employment date.

A student holding a GRA position, however, cannot be automatically switched to a GTA position. A formal request must be made to the ECE Graduate Counselor during the semester preceding the semester in which the change is to be effective. In addition, the student should request that the Principal Investigator write a letter to the Graduate Counselor explaining the circumstances of the GRA termination and an assessment of the student's potential as a GTA. The final disposition of this matter depends on the availability of departmental funds, and the student's relative ranking among others who qualify for such funds at the time. This procedure applies to M.S. and Ph.D. students.

6.2 Fellowships/Scholarships/Awards

The ECE Department has several Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards available.

Bradley Fellowships

Bradley Fellowships are available each year to the outstanding U.S., Ph.D. applicants applying to the ECE Department. Fellowships are awarded in the amount of $25,000., plus the in-state and out-of-state tuition fees for three academic years. The minimum GPA for consideration is 3.8 and thus must be maintained for renewal of fellowship each semester.

The Bradley Fellowship is the most prestigious award available within the ECE Department

ECE Doctoral Department Head Fellowship

The ECE Doctoral Department Head Fellowships are awarded to outstanding Ph.D. applicants applying to the ECE Department. Fellowship awards are made for one academic year to include a monthly stipend, plus the in-state and out-of-state tuition fees. The minimum GPA for consideration is 3.8.

For the second and third year of studies, the faculty advisor of each student will fund these fellows through research grants to include a monthly stipend, plus the in-state and out-of-state tuition fees.

Health Insurance Premium Compensation

Virginia Tech offers a health insurance plan for graduate students appointed on a GTA or GRA. The program provides funding for a portion of the cost of health insurance for full-time graduate students receiving a full or partial assistantship. Please contact the Student Medical Insurance Office for detailed information about the University's health insurance plan, coverage, costs, effective dates and other relevant information.

Student Services Building
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Phone: 1-888-234-0298 (toll free) or 540-231-6226, or 540-231-6303
Fax: 540-231-6237

Purchasing this plan is optional for U.S. citizens and permanent residents. International students are required to purchase insurance coverage for the duration of their stay.

Outstanding International Graduate Student Award

This award is sponsored by the Center for Power Engineering at Virginia Tech. The competition is open to all international students in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The amount of the award is $1,000 and is based on the student's academic and research performance. This is awarded in the spring of each year.

Graduate Teaching Assistant Award

This award recognizes outstanding contributions to the Department's instructional program by a Graduate Teaching Assistant. The winner is selected based on student evaluations of teaching and faculty recommendations. The winner receives a $100 cash prize and a certificate. The winner is also usually nominated for the University GTA award.

William A. Blackwell Award

This award is presented annually to the ECE graduate student who is judged to have made the best research presentation during the year. The award is named in honor or Dr. William A. Blackwell who was a faculty member in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1966 until his retirement in 1988, serving as Department Head from 1966 to 1981. Students are nominated by faculty, usually based on a presentation at one of the research area seminars within the Department. The winner receives a cash prize between $200 and $300 and a certificate.

The Rappaport Wireless Communication Scholarship

This endowed scholarship, established by Theodore S. Rappaport, a member of the faculty, and his wife, Brenda M. V. Rappaport, provides support to seniors or graduate students who are interested in pursuing a career or graduate studies in the wireless communication field. Applications are solicited during the spring semester. The Department's Awards Committee selects the winner. The dollar amount awarded each year may vary, but it is typically between $500 and $600.

(For a listing of outside fellowships available, see the Graduate Funding Opportunities)

6.3 Student Loans

Loans to students who are not otherwise supported are available through the University's Financial Aid Office in Burruss Hall.

6.4 The Graduate Coop Program

Similar to the undergraduate coop program, employment opportunities for on-campus graduate students at extended-campus locations are available through the Graduate Coop Program. A minimum of one and a maximum of three semesters' work is required. Further information is available from the Graduate Coop Office in Sandy Hall.  Ph.D students must pass the Ph.D qualifying exam prior to applying fro COOP.

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This page last modified on January 14, 2005