About GRA, GTA & Fellowship Awards

I was awarded a GRA, will I be assigned to a group?

Experimental students who were awarded a GRA are expected to search out a research group that can support them. It is recommended that new admits begin this process prior to arrival, but many students are successful after they arrive on campus. Since GRAs are paid from individual research grants managed by a faculty member, it is very important that you notify the Physics Graduate Office the moment you secure a position so that your funding is charged to a specific research account. This is especially urgent if you secure a position in a research group outside of the Physics Department.  Please see the information under Physics Research Projects for faculty currently looking for research assistants.  If you need assistance finding a research group, please contact the Physics Graduate Office.

I was awarded a GRA but I'd rather teach, is this possible?

Depending upon availability of teaching assignments, it may be possible to change your award. Alternatively, students awarded a TA may elect to find a research group that can support them on a GRA.  Teaching assistants spend an average of 15 hours per week on TA duties during the nine month academic year.

I was awarded a Caltech Fellowship, when do I need to find an advisor?

Caltech Fellowship recipients are not required to find an advisor right away, however, all incoming graduate students are expected to find an advisor by the end of their first year of graduate study.  Caltech Fellowship recipients will be paid by a graduate research (GRA) or teaching (TA) assistantship in subsequent years.  Teaching assistants beyond the first year are currently supplemented by a small GRA from their advisor.

If I receive an NSF (US) Fellowship, how will this change my current award?

Students who are initially awarded a GRA or TA, and then receive an NSF Fellowship or other outside award during the admissions process prior to matriculation, will be sent a change of financial aid notice from the Dean of Graduate Studies canceling the previous assistantship award. If a current student receives an NSF fellowship awarded in subsequent years, it is very important that you notify the Physics Graduate Office right away.  It's best to start a new NSF award in the Fall which is consistent with the Caltech graduate payment system.  The new academic year awards begin on October 1st.

I was awarded a GRA or TA but have since received a fellowship from outside the US, who do I notify?

International students often apply for fellowships outside the US that are awarded during the application review process. It is extremely important that you notify the Physics Graduate Office and the Dean of Graduate Studies right away when you receive outside funding so we can modify our admission award to meet the terms and conditions of your fellowship. If a current student receives a fellowship from outside the US you should also notify the PGO right away.  NSERC Fellowship recipients are usually supplemented with either a GRA or GTA depending upon the amount of the award and current rate of exchange.

If I join a theory group, will I have a TA every year?

Some students who do their thesis research in theoretical physics are supported by a TA during their entire graduate career, while some are supported by a GRA in their later years. It is suggested that students discuss funding with their potential advisors. A new student may be given a grading assignment whereas an advanced student may actually teach a section or instruct a lab course. Some TAs do both for additional funds. Some students might be supported by a TA during the entire three terms of the nine month academic year, and after passing candidacy may be supported with a research assistantship during the summer depending upon the availability of funds. Other theoretical projects might be supported entirely with research funds.  TAs beyond the first year are currently supplemented by a small GRA from their advisor.

How can I get a Research Assistantship during my first summer?

Newly admitted physics gradute students wishing to begin research with an experimental group the summer before they begin their graduate studies should contact various faculty supporting research in which the student is interested. Oftentimes faculty members will contact experimentally inclined students during the recruiting process offering summer research assistantships. Many students find that beginning research early helps them acclimate to graduate school much more quickly and gives them a head start getting acquainted with the research possibilities available at Caltech. A summer research assistantship does not commit the student to further research once the appointment is up. If you plan to begin summer research earlier than September, please provide the physics department with your expected arrival date and the name of your faculty summer research supervisor.

How difficult is it to switch research groups during my first year if I find something else I would rather do?

It's not difficult at all. We require all new students to take two terms of Ph 242, which is a seminar course designed to acquaint new students with research opportunities. If a student is being supported with a GRA by an experimental group and wishes to change groups, the student should notify the advisor as soon as possible of that intent. The student should also notify the Physics Graduate Office as well so that the source of funding can be changed without interruption of paychecks.  Students switching to a research group outside of the physics department should notify the PGO right away with the name of the group administrative assistant contact as well as the advisor.