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I contacted a professor about working on research with him. I met with him in person and he let me know he wanted to work with me, that he would be my research advisor, and if I applied to the department he would get funding for me. I applied to the university, got accepted into the program then filled out a TA application.

I was informed by my research advisor that I was selected as a TA and that I would receive my offer letter soon in the mail. It has been several months since I was told that and he checked on the delay and said that the TA offer letters were being held up in the provost's office for some reason. Classes start in August and I still haven't received my offer letter. Is this sort of thing common, or should I start to worry? My research advisor has guaranteed me I will be funded and I have nothing to worry about.

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    Rather than going through your advisor, you might want to talk directly to the person in the department who's responsible for TAs - often there's a faculty member with a title like "Vice Chair for Graduate Studies" and/or a staff member with a title like "Graduate Coordinator". They should be in a position to explain what's going on and reassure you. Jun 17 '14 at 16:42
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    The department may well be unable to expedite the letter; usually there are several layers of approval that have to be completed first, and/or budgets that have to be reviewed and approved. This can seem completely opaque from the outside, but the department almost certainly wants to get the offers out, and they will work behind the scenes to try to keep the process moving. In other words, the explanation you received about the provost's office is completely plausible. Jun 17 '14 at 17:15
  • I followed your collective advice and contacted the department. Apparently although TA positions had been selected as my professor had informed me, the department can not send out offer letters until late July when they have the majority of their undergraduates enrolled. Luckily for me, my research advisor got a research assistantship position for me so now I have my funding settled for the Fall. Thank you for your input.
    – bender
    Jun 27 '14 at 19:53
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It is important to get as much as you can in writing (in case advisors/department chairs change, or finances change), but, ultimately, even that is not really a panacea, as most written documents have weasel clauses (e.g. guaranteeing TA while you are "demonstrating sufficient progress" or "subject to available funding". Even many faculty offers have an option to cancel before the first day of the semester.).

Ultimately, it's really all about your advisor and the reputation of the department. Any respectable department, should stand behind a reasonable interpretation of their oral guarantees no matter what happens (i.e. fund you as a TA even if there is some shift in finances or availability that was not expected). Word spreads, especially among graduate students, and disrespectful behavior will be known among the students of the department.

To sum up: - Are you joining a respectable department? - Talk to graduate students in the department about whether this is common. - Have a backup plan just in case.

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You are in a tough position because 'offers' cannot be guaranteed until you have an official letter in hand. And, when letters are sent is really specific to a department and university. For example, when I was accepted to graduate school, the acceptance letter and funding were part of the same letter.

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