Accounting for academic and employment effort

Content last updated March 4, 2024

Policies for student academic and employment accounting

Purpose:

The Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP) established these policies for academic and employment accounting aim to create a common understanding of the expected time commitment for academic requirements and employment obligations of graduate students through a system that accounts for academic and employment hours separately through subject unit registration and RA/TA/IG appointments.

Principles:

For each hour of expected effort, a student should get academic credit or pay but not both. The sum of time commitments represented by academic units and by RA/TA/IG effort will thus equal the total hours of classroom subjects, research, and employment work expected on average during a typical week. The total hours of expected work may vary among students because of more or less overlap in content between academic research and employment research.

Overall time commitment

A student’s total weekly effort should equal the general expectation for average weekly academic and employment time commitments in their graduate program over a semester. These average weekly time commitments can be a range to reflect different levels of contribution to academic requirements that might be inherent to a particular RA appointment.  

For example, if the RA service requirements overlap entirely with the academic research requirements, a lower total average weekly commitment may be appropriate.  Alternatively, if there is no research overlap in the case of an RA, or the employment role sits entirely outside the academic research as in a TA, then either a greater overall time commitment is required by the student, or other academic subject registration should be limited. These expectations and norms should be defined and communicated by the individual academic programs.

(Please see the Appendix below for hypothetical student examples.)

Teaching for academic credit

Students who are fulfilling an academic teaching requirement, or who are electing to teach for academic credit, must register for the appropriate academic teaching subject in that semester. Teaching subject units should equal the average number of hours per week spent on teaching experience or training required by the degree program.

If a student is expected to satisfy an academic teaching requirement in a semester, or if they are electing to teach for academic credit, they should do so, rather than take TA/IG employment. Students cannot teach for credit and teach for pay for the same hours.

Departments and programs must denote their teaching requirement with an academic subject (e.g., 7.934 Teaching Experience in Biology). Departments that do not have an existing academic teaching subject may opt to use the generic “x.TAC” to denote “teaching for academic credit.”

Required academic teaching subjects should be represented accordingly in a degree chart, and the teaching experience or training requirement should be described in the degree program narrative, published in the MIT Bulletin.

Expectations for minimum academic performance for the teaching subject must be communicated clearly by the faculty advisor and graduate program handbook, and as specified in Graduate Policies and Procedures.

Students should receive fellowship awards or RA appointments, if applicable, (not TA/IG appointments) in semesters when they are fulfilling their program’s academic teaching experience or training requirement, even if the teaching that fulfills their degree program’s requirement is done outside of a student’s home department or program. 

A student’s total weekly effort should equal the general expectation for average weekly academic and employment time commitments in their graduate program over a semester (see “Overall time commitment” above). 

When students are teaching to fulfill an academic program requirement, or are electing to teach for academic credit, they should not be referred to as “Teaching Assistants” or “TAs” since this term describes an employment role. The suggested term for students fulfilling a degree requirement is “Teaching Trainee”; however, departments may use any term that is not “Teaching Assistant” or a term that abbreviates to “TA.”

Teaching as employment 

Students should be appointed as TAs when performing teaching-related services for employment and cannot register for an academic teaching subject for this work.

A student’s total weekly effort should equal the general expectation for average weekly academic and employment time commitments in their graduate program over a semester (see “Overall time commitment” above).

A 100 percent TA or IG appointment is equivalent to an average of 20 hours of TA/IG work per week over an appointment period. Appointments should be prorated based on the appropriate level of effort. If the expectation is less than 20 hours (for example, 15 hours per week) then the student in this example would be appointed as a 75% TA or IG.

When teaching assistantships require preparation prior to the start of the appointment period, the employing unit may provide a short-term teaching assistantship or student hourly appointment for the period when the prep work will be completed.

Research work as employment:

Students should be appointed as a Research Assistant (RA) when performing research-related services for employment. Research-related services are duties that the student must perform in order to be paid for an RA appointment. Students should only register for academic research subject units (such as x.THG) to account for hours devoted to research above and beyond their RA hours (see next section).

A student’s total weekly effort should equal the general expectation for average weekly academic and employment time commitments in their graduate program over a semester (see “Overall time commitment” above).

A 100% RA appointment is equivalent to an average of 20 hours of RA work per week. Appointments should be prorated based on the appropriate level of effort. If the expectation for this work is less than 20 hours (for example, 15 hours per week) then the student in this example would be appointed as a 75% RA.

Research for academic subjects:

Students should register for academic research subject units (such as a pre-thesis research subject, x.THG, or x.THM) to account for hours devoted to research above and beyond any RA employment hours. 

Satisfactory progress in research, thesis, and overall program milestones should be indicated by a grade for the pre-thesis research subject, or x.THG or x.THM, and minimum academic standards must be clearly communicated by the faculty advisor and program handbook, and as specified in Graduate Policies and Procedures.

When programs establish thresholds lower than 56 hours of academic and employment effort, they should do so in consultation with the International Students Office. Program policies must be standard for all employed students in the program. For example, a requirement that limits first year students to a maximum of 24 units (2 subjects) plus an RA/TA.

Note that for international students, the International Students Office defines “full course of study” for graduate students to maintain immigration status, as follows:
“Academic Departments verify full-time status for graduate students; generally 36 units per term or a combination of units and a full-time Research or Teaching Assistantship.”

Appendix: Hypothetical student examples

(source document)

Departments and programs are encouraged to create new tabs in the source document as an accounting exercise for their own student scenarios. 

Note: The charts below are examples and do not indicate Institute requirements.

Example 1:

This department expects students in their first year to focus on classes.  In subsequent years, the department expects students to have a total time commitment of about 56 hours per week. In this department, the student is working on their thesis for both their RA work hours and their academic research units.  In years when the student is expected to fulfill an academic teaching requirement or work as a TA, expectations for time spent on thesis (as an RA and/or academic thesis subject) go down.

Bar chart representing the hypothetical student's academic and employment accounting, explained above.

Example 2:

This student is on fellowship in their first and second years. When students are on fellowship, the program allows them to take as many academic subjects as they would like. Students in subsequent years are employed as RAs or TAs. Students in this program are only allowed to take a maximum of two regular course subjects when they are employed as an RA. There is almost complete overlap between their RA work and their thesis research.  Starting in the third year, the department tells students that they are generally expected to devote 36 hours per week to their thesis research (RA time + academic thesis subject). This program does not have a teaching requirement as part of the degree, and so the student does not take an academic teaching subject during their program; instead, this student has a paid TA appointment in Year 5.

Bar chart representing the hypothetical student's academic and employment accounting, explained above.