This question deals with PhD programs which guarantee their students funding via teaching assistantships in the US.

In order to have more time for themselves (e.g., for PhD research, or for working a higher-paying part-time job), are PhD students normally allowed to decline teaching assistantships, as long as they're willing to forgo the department's stipend?

In addition to losing the stipend, are there other disadvantages to declining a TA position? (E.g., would tuition no longer be free?, could the department be frustrated?, etc.)

  • This question sounds its speciafically for one country like the US. Is this right and if yes, could you include the info?
    – user111388
    Mar 27, 2020 at 21:45
  • Yes, this question is for U.S. programs.
    – Doubt
    Mar 27, 2020 at 22:04
  • Do you plan a career in academia or industry? Or something else?
    – Buffy
    Mar 27, 2020 at 22:27

2 Answers 2


Turning down a teaching assistant position in your position is probably a very poor idea.

The renumeration for working as a TA normally covers both the a stipend and your graduate tuition. If you do not have some other form of support (research assistantship or fellowship), you will have to pay your own way entirely. This is normally financially prohibitive, although there are sometimes exceptions.

Moreover, some doctoral programs (such as my own) actually require that students spend a certain time working as TAs. The teaching is considered a part of their professional training. So even students who might have other ways of funding their entire graduate education may have to spend a certain amount of time teaching.

  • Have you heard of half/quarter-time TA-ing in order to forgo the stipend, but to keep the tuition coverage?
    – Doubt
    Mar 27, 2020 at 22:05
  • 1
    A TA is usually "half-time" AKA 20 hours per week. That's supposed to cover direct contact hours like a lab, a few office hours, and the grading/prep time.
    – mkennedy
    Mar 28, 2020 at 1:48

If not explicitly forbidden by other stipulations this can indeed be perfectly acceptable and in your interest.

However, my recommendation is to tread carefully. For example, doing so might be frowned upon by the department because they need TAs which can lose you significant goodwill. Or your supervisor disapproves because they think you are refusing an important opportunity to mature as a teacher and scientist. Thus you should definitely take into account whether there are any (local) drawbacks. If in doubt, talk to your supervisor! We on the internet cannot tell you what those are.

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