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Beginning the Graduate Program

Upon arrival, new students should meet with the Graduate Program Advisor, who will help them plan their first year of graduate study. All students should check with the computer support group to open an individual account on the observatory's computer network. Most departmental memos are sent by e-mail, and most students and faculty use the computers for computations, word processing, etc. For office supplies such as pens, pencils, and pads of paper, see Michelle Cournoyer or Amanda Morris in the Departmental Office. For general advice be sure to ask the other graduate students.

Students normally register for classes by using the UAccess Student on-line computer registration system. Tuition and fees must generally be paid about one week before classes start. Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and Research Associates (RAs) do not have to pay out-of-state tuition, but you will have to pay Registration Fees (about $200). All students are encouraged to apply for fellowships and scholarships.

All graduate students who have teaching assistantships must have completed the GTA Training Programs administered by the Graduate College and Office of Instruction and Assessment. Only students who have attended the required two sessions will receive paychecks from the University. The sessions generally occur during the week before the first day of classes.

After the semester is well underway, it may be a good idea for the new student to assess how much time he/she is spending on various professional activities. We feel that the major, long-term emphasis here is on research, with lesser amounts of time devoted to one's own course work and teaching duties.

For a first-year student taking eight or so credit hours of courses, the situation is somewhat different, and the student might well be spending 50% of his/her work time on course work (both in class and out). That would leave 40% for research and 10% on miscellany such as attending colloquia, journal club, etc. Of course, this is just a rough guide, and exceptions will certainly be the rule here. It is not a requirement for first year graduate students to teach.

About grades in course work: Although one must maintain a 3.0 GPA, the real purpose of any course should be to foster the student's comprehension. Grades per se are secondary, but we realize that there is some correlation between grades and understanding. Certainly, a grade below "B" on a graduate course may indicate serious problems. Please note that all Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants must register for at least six units of graduate credit per semester. These can include Independent Research or Dissertation, when appropriate.

All students have an obligation to teach for a total of two semesters at some point in their graduate careers. The department recommends that students get involved in research as early as possible. As a result, most students choose to postpone their teaching until their third or fourth year. The department is quite flexible on this issue.

Students who wish to hold a research assistantship (RA) during their first semester must notify us by mid July that they plan to do an RA (or to do research using their NSF, NASA, Steward or Graduate College Fellowship, if they've been offered one).

Students who decided to do an RA their first semester (and who are not on a Fellowship) must tell us by mid-September who their advisor will be for that semester. If for some reason a student does not have an advisor at that point, he or she will be assigned one.

Sometimes a student will be unable to obtain a research assistantship with their first choice of advisor because that person does not have the time or funding resources. (Fellowship students can work with anyone as long as the advisor has the time.) In such cases, we can remind the students that they are encouraged to pursue several different research projects during their graduate careers, and that a faculty member who is initially unavailable may later become a collaborator or supervisor. In addition, there are ample opportunities for research projects as independent study projects (without salary) or with faculty, staff or postdocs who are not their research supervisors.

Research advisors can be chosen from the ranks of research or teaching faculty at Steward Observatory. Members of the faculty of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Planetary Sciences, Physics, Optical Science, and staff members at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory may also serve as student research advisors.

When the student has chosen a research advisor, he/she should check with the Graduate Program Advisor (currently Joshua Eisner) to see about selecting two or three more faculty members to serve with the research advisor on the student's mentoring committee. This committee meets every term and guides the student up to the prelim exam. After passing the exam, the student then forms a thesis committee, which may or may not include mentoring committee members. The thesis committee meets every term until completion of the Ph.D. and makes sure the student remains on track through his/her career at Steward.