Subject: Memo - GTA and GRA information and guidelines
From: "Soren P. Sorensen" <>
Date: 2/21/2012 7:34 AM
To: UT Physics Faculty <>


To                 Principal Investigators

                      Department of Physics and Astronomy


From             Soren Sorensen, Head


Date              February 21, 2012


Subject         GTA and GRA information and guidelines




We often get questions concerning GRA salaries and the transition of graduate students from Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) to Graduate Research Assistants (GRA).



The ideal GTA/GRA time sequence is:


1.      Full GTA: Ideally, a graduate student enters the department as a full GTA with a tuition fee waiver (currently we have 47 of these waivers). 


2.      GTA/GRA: As the student passes the Qualifying Exam for the Doctoral Program (typically in their second year) she will normally transition to half GTA and half GRA and still retain the fee waiver.  A graduate student can retain a tuition fee waiver as long as 50% or more of their effort (>= 10 hours of paid work) is as a GTA. The transition date will have to be either February 1 or August 1.


3.      Full GRA: The student will normally transition to full GRA once she has finished a substantial part of her course work. This will typically happen after 3 to 4 semesters. A GRA is paid fully from a research contract and the research contract is also responsible for the tuition and benefits, whereas the student is responsible for the various fees.


4.      This progression is the target. Individual and departmental circumstances will inevitably cause minor deviations.  However, too many major deviations will eventually upset the pipeline for admitting new graduate students and will have a detrimental effect on the graduate program. For this reason, all PIs should aim for the above ideal sequence.



Other information pertaining to the financial aspects of GTA / GRA positions


a)      GTA and GRA positions are both considered to be 20 hour per week (half time) positions. During the semesters students are not allowed to receive compensation for more than 20 hours of work. In particular, students that are full GRAs can not receive additional salary for GTA-type work done during the fall or spring semester.


b)      Students in 50% GTA / 50% GRA position will be paid for an equal amount of hours in both positions (10 hours each), but their salary as a GRA does not necessarily have to match the GTA salary. Example: A student might receive $9,000 annually for the 50% GTA position, but $11,000 annually for the 50% GRA position. When the student transitions to a full GRA position, her salary will be 2 x $11,000 = $22,000.


c)      The PI sets the GRA salary as long as the requested salary is reasonable, in line with similar positions in the department, and is supported by the research grant or contract budget.  The GRA salary has to be at least equal to the current GTA salary rate ($18,000 annually for students starting August 1, 2012).  Higher salaries for students are possible, if the grant budget will support them. GRA salaries 33% higher than the minimum salary will require department head approval.


d)     Basically, the salary rate set at the initial transition to a GRA position (full or half) will remain throughout the student’s GRA employment except for university wide salary increases. It is therefore important for the PI to carefully consider the GRA salary at this point in the student’s graduate career. However, GRA raises for increased responsibilities have been granted in the past on a case by case basis.  These raise requests require adequate documentation to get them through the approval system.


e)      Both GTA and GRA are eligible to work ‘extra service’ in the summer and the monthly payment for the ‘extra service’ hours does not have to equal their normal hourly rate.  It has to be reasonable, but it could be a lump sum, say $1,000 per month, instead of the normal hourly pay. This is a convenient method to provide for salary supplements for high performing students.


f)                If a student exceptionally has to revert back from a full or half GRA position to a half or full GTA position, the student will receive the prevailing GTA salary for the GTA part of her work.



Soren P. Sorensen   Department of Physics
Professor and Head  University of Tennessee
(865) 974-7805      Knoxville, TN 37996-1200