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Other Program Information

This page contains additional graduate program information about Academic Advisors, Assistantships, TA and RA assignments, Internships, Statute of Limitations, Leave of Absences and Withdrawals.

Academic Advisor

You will be assigned an academic advisor when you enter the Computer Science graduate program. Generally, if you work as an RA for a professor, he or she will be your advisor. If you are a TA, your advisor will be a professor with whom you share research interests. You should meet with your advisor at least once a semester (typically, more often) to review the previous semester in terms of goals, problems, progress, and so on; and to set new goals for the coming semester.

You may request a different academic advisor at any point. Similarly, your advisor might suggest that you should be assigned a different advisor. These requests should be made to the Graduate Program Director.

Assistantships

Unless you are self-supported as a graduate student, you will probably be funded on a fellowship, an assistantship, or a combination of the two. Assistantships are either Research Assistantships (RAs) or Teaching Assistantships (TAs).

Departmental assistantships awarded to entering students are usually for nine months unless otherwise specified. Renewal, if granted, will be on a semester by semester basis. It is hoped, but not guaranteed, that students initially supported by the department will continue to receive support throughout their academic program. (Historically, almost no students have been unsupported except by their own choice.) Renewal is contingent upon the availability of funds and upon satisfactory performance by the student in his/her assigned duties. In general, the major support for PhD candidates is expected to come from RAs on faculty research grants and contracts.

Assistantship Contracts

The terms of an assistantship contract are governed by the graduate student union (Graduate Employee Organization, or GEO) and are therefore out of our control. The following represents our informal understanding of the current rules, combined with typical practices within the Department. The GEO contract, however, is the final authority on these issues, not these pages. The contract is available from the GEO web site.

The normal workload of an RA consists of 20 hours during the academic year. The responsibilities of an RA are determined by the faculty member responsible for the research, but could include tasks such as programming, running experiments, carrying out literature surveys, and so on. For most students in our department, the distinction between being an RA and being a "graduate student doing your own research" is difficult to make, meaning that deciding whether you're working more than 20 hours is complex. If your RAship requires more than 20 hours on average and is detracting from a reasonable course load, you should talk with your research supervisor. If you are working fewer than 20 hours on average for your RAship, you should also talk with your advisor.

A TA is also expected to put in 20 hours per week on average. The responsibilities of a TA include preparing assignments, grading, running discussion sections, holding office hours, or delivering lectures. The actual responsibilities of a TA are directed by the faculty member teaching the assigned course. It is easier to separate a teaching assistantship from your own research or coursework, so you should know whether you are putting too much (or too little) time into a TA. Keep in mind that (1) TA work is not evenly distributed through the semester and (2) although the course itself meets for only about 14 weeks, the TAship runs a full 19 weeks.

The official rules for time off include vacation time, holidays, and personal time:

  • The University honors 13 paid holidays a year.
  • You officially earn 2 hours of vacation time per month, or roughly one day per semester.
  • You get 24 hours of personal time per semester, or roughly another three days per semester.

Vacation time and, when possible, personal time should be requested in advance and should preferably be taken in the January or Spring breaks. Alternate arrangements can be made with your advisor or TA supervisor if possible. For example, many RAs and their advisors are comfortable with a much less formal way of handling time off. If you feel that you are not getting sufficient vacation or personal time, you should talk with your advisor, supervisor, or the Graduate Program Director.

Changing between TA and RA

The department is assigned a fixed number of TA positions by the University each semester. We attempt to provide a TAship for every student who needs one, either because there is no appropriate RA or to satisfy the PhD teaching requirement. TA assignments usually happen in August for the fall semester and January for the spring.

If you accept a TA offer, you cannot withdraw and become an RA once the semester has started. In fact, you may not unilaterally withdraw from a TAship even before the semester starts. (Why not? Assigning TAs is a complex process of matching student abilities with teaching needs. Last minutes changes can create cascading changes and almost always result in an incredible amount of work by many people.) If you find that you want to switch out of your TAship into an RA offer, you should contact the GPD and Leeanne Leclerc. If it is possible to accommodate your request, they will do so. However, the closer to the start of the semester, the less likely it is that the request can be met.

The official rules pertaining to TAs who want to switch to being RAs are: "After June 30 or December 30 of each year, students who have accepted a TA offer for the Fall or Spring semester, respectively, may not withdraw from the appointment without the permission of the Graduate Program Director and the Chairperson. After August 20 or January 15, permission will not be granted.'' In practice, there's always a little shuffling in the first week of term, and you're most likely to get what you want if you notify the GPD and Leeanne Leclerc early.

Internships

Many students take an internship, usually in the summer but occasionally during the spring or fall semesters. An internship provides experience with a different group of researchers working on different problems. It can provide valuable networking as well as as practical training. Internship opportunities are advertised regularly by email and/or the sponsoring organization's web site. It is your responsibility to find possible internships if you are interested in one. (Most advisors are happy to help.)

For US citizens and permanent residents of the US, the process of taking an internship is straightforward.

If you hold a student visa, you will need approval to undertake an internship. The internship is treated as Curricular Practical Training and must be approved by the International Programs Office. Your specific limitations and requirements will depend on your visa. Check with the IPO for more information.

Statute of Limitations

When you are admitted to the MS, MS/PhD, or PhD program, the Graduate School assigns you a statute of limitations date. This date reflects the amount of time the Graduate School believes you need to complete your degree. It is initially three years for MS-only, six for the MS/PhD track, and four years for PhD-only.

If you take an approved leave of absence, your statue of limitations is automatically extended by the length of the leave.

If your progress toward your delay is taking longer than the Graduate School's initial estimate, it is possible to extend your statute of limitations. However, you cannot do that yourself. Instead, your advisor and the Graduate Program Director send a request to the Graduate School asking that the date be extended and explaining why the request is reasonable. The Graduate School frowns on more than two requests for an extension, however they are usually granted: your advisor is unlikely to request an extension if there is not a compelling reason.

If your statute of limitations expires, you are formally terminated from the program. It is possible to petition to be re-admitted though there are costs associated with doing so. Do not let your statute of limitations expire. The Department tracks your statue of limitations and works hard to ensure it does not expire accidentally, but the ultimate responsibility is yours.

Leave of Absence

Some students need to take a leave from the program for personal or professional reasons. If you wish or need to take a leave of absence, discuss the situation with your advisor who will ask the Graduate Program Director to request the leave from the Graduate School. The request will need a reason for the leave as well as its anticipated duration. Leaves of one semester or one full year are the most common. (If the reason for your leave cannot be comfortably discussed with your advisor, you should talk with the Graduate Program Director directly.)

For MS/PhD and PhD students, the Department discourages leaves of absence the semester that the portfolio is to be submitted. There are occasionally compelling reasons for a leave then, but a leave should not be used merely to delay the portfolio.

While you are on a leave of absence, you will be required to pay the University a continuous enrollment fee each semester to keep your record "alive". (In 2007 that fee was US$260 per semester.)

Withdrawing from the Program

Although we hope it does not happen, some students end up withdrawing from the program. The most common such situation is when a student in the MS/PhD track decides that PhD-style research is not a good match for his or her interests. However, some students end up withdrawing for other reasons and at other times.

If you need to change your degree program or withdraw from the program entirely, please contact the Graduate Program Director to discuss your situation.

Note that in some cases it may make more sense to take a leave of absence than to withdraw from the program.