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oliver at ssc dot wisc dot edu

Pamela Oliver
Sociology Dept
1180 Observatory Dr. Madison, Wisconsin



Professor Pamela Oliver

Department of Sociology


Getting Funding & Making a Decision

The purpose of this memo is to explain how funding works at Wisconsin and to suggest how to approach the problem of deciding whether we are the best program for you. Unlike many other programs, we do not tie admission to a funding offer, but most of our students are nevertheless funded for most of their graduate careers. Many students who have not received a "funding offer" will nevertheless find funding to support their graduate education at Wisconsin. Your chances of getting funding are not a matter of the averages or percentages here, but are related to your own background, interests and skills. This is a long memo, but I have tried to pull together answers to common questions. There are three sections: (I) Defining funding and guaranteed funding; (II) Why consider coming without a funding guarantee; (III) How to go about finding a funding position.

I. Funding and guaranteed funding

The large majority of our students are funded through most of their graduate study, but only a minority have a funding guarantee. When I refer to "funding" I mean a position that includes a waiver of tuition plus a stipend for living expenses. That is, when you have funding, you do not pay tuition and you also receive a paycheck each month. Four types of positions provide funding: fellowship, teaching assistant, project assistant, research assistant. Except for fellows, you owe work to your supervisor when you have an assistantship. When I refer to "guaranteed funding," I mean you are assured that you will be funded one way or the other for four or five years, but you still need to take initiative in finding the particular position you will fill after the first year.

Three groups of students may be offered a guarantee of funding from Wisconsin: (1) Winners of University Fellowships. These have already been determined and the winners notified for 2003. (2) Those who qualify for special programs for minority or educationally disadvantaged students who are citizens or permanent residents of the US. These students have also been notified for 2003. (I'd like to note that admission decisions are made without regard to ethnicity or disadvantage, and the students who are eligible for these programs are as well qualified as other admitted students.) (3) Students with an interest in a particular area may be offered a guarantee backed by research grants in that area. This is most likely to occur through the Center for Demography and Ecology and the Center for the Demography of Health and Aging, or the Rural Sociology department. If you have been offered a guarantee and have questions about it, please contact me.

Even if we have not offered you a funding "guarantee" you may still find funding at Wisconsin. Funding for the first year can be difficult to obtain, although in recent years, over half of the entering class had obtained funding even though they did not have a "guarantee." After the first year, over 90% of our students have obtained funding in recent years.

Out of state tuition is not set yet for the fall of 2003. This year's graduate tuition for out-of-state students was $22,150, and this is expected to increase by as much as 20% for next year. Tuition for Wisconsin residents was $6900 this year and is also expected to increase for next year. It is almost impossible to become an in-state resident for tuition purposes if you were not already living here (or in Minnesota) before applying. The sociology department does not control residency status, and there are no scholarships available to graduate students that pay only tuition. Tuition rates are posted at http://registrar.wisc.edu/students/fees_tuition/tuition.php

II. Why consider coming to Wisconsin without a funding guarantee.

Many students we admit have been offered guaranteed funding offers at other institutions. If you feel the programs offering you guaranteed funding are as good for you as we would be, it would seem wrong of me to try to talk you into turning down that offer to take a chance here. However, if we really would be a better program for you and your interests (or it is possible we might be), then I do urge you to find out more about us and your prospects here before just going for the money. The most exciting thing about our program is the people -- the faculty and your fellow graduate students. It is an exciting, lively place where people are doing cutting-edge research on an incredibly diverse array of important topics. The atmosphere is friendly and informal, and people in different areas really talk to each other. The intellectual growth you can experience here may well outweigh short-term financial disadvantages. But you have to weigh the costs, benefits, and risks yourself for your own particular situation. You should consider your own goals, your own financial resources, and the gap you perceive in the value to you of our program and those offering you funding. We cannot offer general counsel, you must make the decision that is best for you.

III. How funding works

Here is what you need to know about getting funding:

1) You need to be proactive. Funding not centrally assigned. You need to respond to ads and make contact with the faculty. Try to meet with people in your area when you visit. We all use email a lot. Students report that finding a position often involves an element of luck, or happening to have a skill needed for a particular project. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to hear of a position for which you would be suitable.

2) If you are not bringing some sort of fellowship, what you are trying to find is an appointment in one of three categories: teaching assistant (TA), project assistant (PA), research assistant (RA). These three appointment classifications carry with them full payment of your tuition plus a stipend. Stipends vary with the type of appointment, the term (9 month or 12 month) and the percentage appointment (ranging from 33%, 15 hours a week, to 50%, 20 hours a week). Stipend rates for most categories for 2003-4 are still being negotiated, you can see the 2002-3 rates at http://www.grad.wisc.edu/admin/admissions/fees.html .Some "project assistants" do clerical or administrative work, but the majority work on research projects. The "research assistant" category is for people doing work related to their own thesis or dissertation and is legally not a job, while the project and teaching assistants are covered by a union and a collective bargaining agreement. Full-time students in any of these positions are generally exempt from the Social Security tax but do pay income tax.

3) In sociology, the majority of our students work on research projects; only 25% are TAs. Faculty selecting RA's and PA's look for people who have the skills they need for the project and a genuine interest in the research. Quantitative researchers are more likely to get research grants than qualitative researchers, and students with quantitative statistical skills generally find it easier to get a research position than those without statistical skills. The demography centers have much more funding than other parts of the sociology program, but there are funding opportunities scattered across other areas.

4) There are many other jobs available on and off campus, but they do not provide tuition remission, so the job title matters. (Some university jobs might be convertible to assistantships.) Madison's unemployment rate is low, and it has been relatively easy for someone with good English and a work permit to find a job, if you are not worrying about tuition remission.

5) There will be much more funding available between May and September than is available now. People get word about research grants in the spring and summer. Every year, many students who take the risk of accepting admission without funding successfully find funding before classes begin. I have been encouraging faculty who might have a position available to announce it even before they know whether it will actually be available, but not everyone is doing this. Check the "funding" section in the sociology department web page for descriptions of research projects that might hire people ( www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/grad/funding.html ) We forward all job announcements we receive to an email listserv for incoming students.

6) Teaching assistant positions for the fall are posted in late April, after admission decisions are made. When they are posted, we send an announcement through an email listserv to all incoming students. You should respond by following the directions for applying. Note that some other units hire sociology students as teaching assistants, especially the inter-disciplinary units, so you may wish to explore the web pages of the programs you might be qualified to teach in. Continuing students generally have priority in most programs. Students with funding guarantees backed by the Sociology Department have first priority for sociology TA's. The Sociology Department does NOT generally expect to appoint any first-year students as TA's, but it is OK to apply anyway, just in case something opens up.

7) Many sociology graduate students obtain research positions in other departments; ads for these are listed at http://www.jobcenter.wisc.edu/ - you want the category titled "graduate assistant." It also makes sense to contact the faculty in any other department, program, or research with related interests. Our students often find positions in Women's Studies, the various area studies programs (e.g. South Asian or European Studies), the Public Affairs programs, and a wide variety of medical, educational, development, environmental, etc. research programs on campus. Language or technical skills may qualify you for a particular position.

8) Assistantships are given on the basis of merit and fit, not on the basis of need. You will not hurt your chances of getting a position if you indicate your willingness to attend without certain funding. In applying for a position that has been advertised, you should stress your interest in it and your qualifications, not your financial need. It makes a lot of sense to ask for more information about a project to find out what it involves and what the project is about, so that you can more reasonably think about how interested you are in it and whether your skills match the job. Look for information from the person's publications or working papers; many big projects have web sites. Or ask the person if they can give you more information so you can decide whether it is appropriate for you to apply.

9) You should find out about the research projects going on in your areas, and whether they interest you. Even if they are not hiring now, this will tell you whether you are excited by and interested in the kind of research going on. It makes sense to interview with faculty in your area, whether or not they have money to support a graduate student. People who are favorably impressed by a student may well recommend him/her to other people.


10) There are no scholarship programs for graduate students that pay tuition. US citizens or permanent residents are eligible for loans and work study; you apply for these through the university's financial aid office, not through the sociology department.

11) If you have an external fellowship from an organization outside the University of Wisconsin, you should inquire to find out whether that fellowship pays UW tuition. If it does not, you will need to inquire whether the UW will waive tuition. In most cases it will not, although there are particular programs that are exceptions. Do NOT assume that your tuition is covered by an outside fellowship. Make sure you verify exactly what the situation is.



Questions or Comments? Email Oliver -at- ssc -dot- wisc -dot- edu. Last updated December 25, 2004 © University of Wisconsin.