I am applying for a post which asks me

you ever part of government entity like federal/state/local government entities including publicly funded universities.

I was a research assistant with fellowship in a department under the state university.

So is this an Yes?

There is question here: Are professors at a public university in the U.S. considered to be "employed by the U.S. government"?

but it concerns federal employees. Mine includes any level of government entities. Hence the question.

  • 1
    Was your employer on your paystubs the university or a private foundation?
    – user133933
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:35
  • 1
    university paystubs Feb 28, 2021 at 21:46
  • It may help if you say a little bit more about the place where you're currently applying. This seems like a question that is unlikely to be worth overthinking, but it depends slightly on the asker.
    – user137975
    Nov 30, 2021 at 21:23

3 Answers 3


I would assume that it is generally unlikely that students or research assistants at most US (state or private) universities would be US government employees (this could be very complex in the case of state governments and different from state to state). Competitively recruited US federal jobs typically have US citizenship requirements (Executive Order 11935 from 1976). The research positions you mention are most often open to international candidates, and hiring internationally would be difficult if citizenship requirements were involved.

  • The question specifically asks about both State and Federal level employment!
    – user137975
    Nov 30, 2021 at 23:42
  • And this answer chooses to make a point about the US government employment case. Highlighting that this concerns only government employment with bold face font.
    – Rolf
    Nov 30, 2021 at 23:59

It likely depends on the source of the funds. If you were paid by the department at a State university, then the likelihood is that it is a Yes. But if you were paid through a grant then the answer might be no, but might depend on some things.

I suspect you should ask the department, or, alternatively, answer Yes, but qualify it somehow/somewhere with the actual arrangement.

But, as Paul Garrett notes in a comment, things vary by state.

  • 2
    This must vary from state to state. In Minnesota, faculty, TA's, RA's, and some other classes of workers are definitely not state employees. Some classes of workers are (with different access to pension plans and other benefits). I do not know much further... Feb 28, 2021 at 22:08
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    In Minnesota, at least, there legal and administrative distinctions between "being an employee of state universities" and "being a state employee" are significant and genuine, if only by statute. Here, state employees can make certain claims, including benefits and pension stuff, which other people cannot. I think at some point in the past faculty and students were cut off from this... "Being an employee of" and so on seems not to be a transitive relation... even while "being a subordinate of" may be? Feb 28, 2021 at 23:17
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    In NY state university employees are state employees with different collective bargaining. This doesn't always apply to research staff.
    – user133933
    Feb 28, 2021 at 23:34
  • 1
    I've never heard of a distinction in labor status between grants/"department" funds. Mar 1, 2021 at 1:03
  • 2
    If a US professor at a university wins an early career award from the department of energy and uses these funds to hire university postdocs, this will generally not make the postdocs government employees, even though the funding comes from a US government agency. How the funding is routed is generally important, and it is likely that the funds for the jobs mentioned by the OP are routed through the university.
    – Rolf
    Nov 30, 2021 at 22:59

Let me suggest a quick flowchart for this question.

(1) Were you employed by a public University?

It's a bit hard to provide a comprehensive list of indicators for this. I've had both an employee and non-employee appointment as a graduate student at the same state University, so all I can say is that in my experience you should have received several clear indicators about the context of your position. "Research assistant" is usually a title of employment in the US in my experience.

  • Did you sign appointment forms or letters when starting your position? If so, did those indicate you were an employee? Did they indicate that the position entailed specific responsibilities or who your supervisor was?
  • Did your paystubs indicate you were an employee?
  • Did the University withhold Federal income tax from your paychecks? If so you were probably an employee.
  • Did you receive a US Federal tax form from the University at the end of the tax year indicating you received "wages"?

(2) Assume you were employed by a University run by a State. What you should do depends on who is asking about your status.

a. If you are applying to a job that is not in the same State as where you were a Research Assistant at a public University, simply say "yes". There is virtually no situation where an out-of-state asker cares about fine distinctions.

b. If you are applying to a job that is in the same State as where you were a Research Assistant at a public University, you should investigate this State's definitions more carefully via web searches tailored to exactly that State. This is the only situation I can imagine where the asker may care about pedantic distinctions.

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