Policy Number: 502

Policy Suffix:

I. General Policy

As part of their recruitment to attend Rice University, graduate students may be appointed to graduate student-specific roles that come with competitive financial compensation. Each type of appointment comes with different compensation and service requirements, which are set by the school/department in compliance with University-wide standards and local, state, and federal laws. This policy provides the framework for the accurate assignment of graduate student appointments and provides comprehensive guidance related to graduate student appointments for students, faculty advisors, departments, schools, and central administration. This policy will be effective July 1, 2024.

II. Roles and Responsibilities

Faculty Advisors and/or Department Graduate Program Supervisors are responsible for alerting department administration to process student appointments and reappointments in a timely manner. Faculty advisors are generally responsible for managing and guiding graduate students’ work for the university. A faculty advisor will work with department staff throughout the academic year to ensure the student's effort is being recorded accurately and in a timely manner. Additionally, when graduate students are paid under sponsored research projects, it is the faculty advisor’s responsibility to ensure the work performed by the graduate student is in compliance with all relevant grant requirements and laws.

Graduate Students are responsible for completing all documentation and training necessary for their appointment within the required timeframe; this includes, but is not limited to, new employee training, annual recertification training, I-9 forms, and other tax forms. Additionally, the graduate student is responsible for working with their department and faculty advisor to ensure that they are properly registered in Rice’s internal systems and have the necessary access to resources and facilities required for their appointment. Additionally, it is the graduate student’s responsibility to keep their department and faculty advisor informed about any changes to their financial aid status and any new acquired, expired, or revoked financial aid (including external fellowships). The general announcement list of responsibilities is detailed here.

Departments are responsible for processing graduate student appointments, communicating the expectations of those appointments, and ensuring that graduate student appointments are appropriate based on the expectation of service/work to be performed (e.g., Fellow vs. Graduate Research Assistant vs. Graduate Teaching Assistant vs. Instructors). Departments are responsible for ensuring that student appointments are consistent with this policy, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) procedures, and relevant laws. This requirement includes ensuring that graduate students employed within the department (or by faculty within the department) complete all new employee documentation (e.g., I-9, tax forms, etc.) and training within the required time frame. Also, for external fellowships, departments must collect the award documentation and provide a copy to GPS. Departments notify students of appointment changes, payment changes, hours of work expected (if they have multiple jobs), and tax implications, if applicable. Departments must certify that students are not doing anything disallowed while funded by grants (e.g., if the student teaches, this activity must comply with the funding agency’s rules). Departments are responsible for managing accurate and timely labor distributions for all student assignments and submitting those to payroll. The labor distribution guidelines, including the process for charging tuition remission for internal funding, provide guidance.

Schools are responsible for reviewing and approving each appointment and reappointment to ensure the student appointment is set based on work being performed and that fellowship appointments are not being used to avoid tuition remission. For internal funding sources, schools will also determine their local policies and practices related to tuition remission charges for RA/TA/Instructor assignments.

The Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) is responsible for all programs concerned with graduate students’ financial support, including tuition awards, fellowships, research and teaching assistantships, and graduate student instructors of record. As such, GPS is responsible for providing oversight and guidance for implementing the policy. Financial support to prospective students may be offered only by GPS or by those specifically authorized by the Dean of GPS (See Policy 501 – Graduate Student Governance).

The Dean of GPS will provide oversight and direction to ensure that graduate student appointments are processed according with the university policy. GPS will work with departments/schools in providing guidance and training on the appropriate assignment.

The Dean of GPS will set a yearly salary minimum and define competitive financial support in consultation with the Provost and other stakeholders.

The Office of Human Resources (HR) is responsible for ensuring compliance with university graduate student employment policies, practices, and guidelines and for recommending updates as needed. HR works with the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Office of General Counsel in addressing any concerns regarding compliance. All Human Capital Management (HCM) actions related to graduate student pay or position are subject to Human Resources review and approval.

The Controller/ Payroll Office is responsible for processing graduate student payments and any applicable withholding in accordance with the relevant payroll schedule, providing graduate students with IRS tax forms W-2 and 1042-S by IRS deadlines, processing all labor distributions to correct funding string and/or project based on information received, and processing all labor distribution for Tuition Remission allocation based on set guidelines and procedures.

III. Definitions

Graduate Fellowships:

  1. External Fellowships – These are graduate fellowships that are controlled and awarded by an entity external to Rice University. External fellowships may have additional work or service requirements attached to them, and it is the graduate student’s responsibility to ensure that their department and faculty advisor are made aware of the fellowship and its requirements in a timely manner.
  2. Internal Fellowships – These are graduate fellowships that are a form of appointment provided to full-time enrolled graduate students pursuing a doctoral or other terminal degree and are paid from institutional funding. Those who receive such fellowships are known as "Graduate Fellows" or "Fellows." These fellowships are managed and awarded by Rice University or its subunits. Fellowships typically offer financial support without the expectation of service or work in return. These appointments do not constitute employment with Rice University.

Graduate Student Instructors of Record or Instructors – A graduate student employed to teach and manage instructional tasks for a specific course(s). These positions are typically hired and processed by the department.

Graduate Research Assistant or RA – A graduate student employed to engage in academic studies, research, or scholarly activities on behalf of Rice University. These positions are typically directly hired by faculty advisors, but the department still manages the onboarding and processing of these positions.

Graduate Teaching Assistant or TA – A graduate student employed to provide teaching and/or instructional duties in support of a course(s). These duties generally include assisting the instructor of record for the course with grading, teaching, and other instructional tasks. These positions are typically hired and processed by the department.

IV. Elaboration of Policy

A. Graduate Student Appointments

The University requires graduate student appointments to be assigned and processed accurately and in a timely manner as described in this policy. Each school and department is expected to work with its students and faculty advisors/principal investigators (PIs) to ensure the correct appointment type is being assigned. The students’ appointments should be based on whether there is an expectation of service in return for payment; the appointment should not be determined by the funding source. (See Policy 305 - Tuition Remission).

While students may hold more than one appointment simultaneously, a student is generally not permitted to hold a combination of fellowship appointments with RA, TA, and/or Instructor appointments. However, if a student receives a fellowship that provides partial support, an exception can be granted. Other exceptions to this policy must be submitted to the GPS and will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

It is not uncommon for graduate students to hold different types of appointments throughout their academic journey. However, once a student has been assigned to a research advisor and there is an expectation of service, their appointment should not revert to a graduate fellowship unless the student receives a competitive external fellowship award (i.e., NSF GRFP, NIH, NRSA), or internal fellowship award (including, but not limited to, a university, school or department fellowship). Without such competitive fellowship awards, the student's appointment should remain in the capacity of a research assistant or other relevant appointment type.

It is expected that all appointments be processed promptly to ensure correct pay and taxation occurs; retroactive changes from RA/TA/Instructor to Fellow or Fellow to RA/TA/Instructor will not be allowed. If external funding is delayed or not issued by the sponsor, departments/schools are expected to follow the Advance Spending Guidance. Changes between RA, TA, Instructor, and/or a combination of these appointment types are allowed. In these cases, these changes should be managed using the labor distribution process in a timely manner (see Policy 311 – Salary Support Through Sponsored Projects).

B. Graduate Student Compensation

Rice University is committed to compensating and/or awarding competitive pay (a salary) to graduate students for work performed and offering merit-based financial support (such as internal or external fellowships) in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations. While each department and/or graduate program determines its yearly payment rate, Rice establishes a yearly minimum amount encompassing various appointment types, such as Fellowships, Research Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships, and Graduate Instructor of Record (or combinations of each).

If a student receives an incentive payment (e.g., a one-time bonus for exemplary work, an incentive for winning an external award), it is paid in alignment with the student’s primary position type. For example, if a student's primary position is a graduate fellow, any supplemental pay or incentive should be processed as an additional fellowship payment, regardless of the funding source. Similarly, if the student's primary appointment type is RA/TA/Instructor, any supplementary pay or incentive should be categorized accordingly. This approach ensures consistent pay and taxation for students, avoiding any situations where multiple categories or discrepancies may arise.

Department administrators are responsible for reviewing, with the PI, the effort, salary, and labor charges, as recorded in accounting reports and on applicable forms, on a regular basis and submitting timely documents to make changes or corrections if needed. Only when specifically required by external funding sources and approved by the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (or the designee) may a student be paid as both an RA/TA/Instructor and a fellow over overlapping payroll cycles.

V. Guidelines, Procedures and Forms

Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website: Additional information about processing graduate student appointments, including training instructions, and links to federal requirements and other related policies

Graduate Student Responsibilities

Advance Spending Guidance

GPS Labor Distribution Guidelines (TBD)

VI. Cross References or Related Policies

Policy 305: Tuition Remission
Policy 311: Salary Support Through Sponsored Projects
Policy 501: Graduate Student Governance

VII. Responsible Official and Key Offices to Contact Regarding the Policy and its Implementation

Responsible Official: Provost, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Other Key Officials/Offices: Deans, Chairs, HR, Payroll


Reginald DesRoches, President