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Expectations for Graduate Education, Graduate students

Daniel Hindman, Associate Professor, Sustainable Biomaterials, Brooks Forest Products Center, strength testing of cross-laminated timber beams with graduate student Houri Sharifniay Dizboni and lab technician Rick Caudill

graduate student Houri Sharifniay Dizboni

Graduate students in all programs are expected to gain expertise in a particular area of study and, especially in Ph.D. programs, to expand the knowledge of that disciplinary field or to push disciplinary boundaries through interdisciplinary/collaborative research, by discovering and pursuing a topic of scholarly inquiry and research. As junior colleagues and professionals-in-training, graduate students will learn to impart disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge through appropriate forms of instruction and publication.

Progress Toward Degree

Graduate students are expected to:

  • Work within the guidelines provided by the department to select an appropriate advisor and committee members. Those selected should be free of conflicts of interest or coercive relationships among committee members and with the student that might preclude a committee member from evaluating student work by academic merit alone.
  • Devote an appropriate amount of time and energy toward achieving academic excellence and earning the advanced degree or certificate. A full-time assistantship amounts to an average of 20 hours of work per week, independent of time spent on courses or tasks related to research credits. (updated Fall 2014)
  • Take primary responsibility to inform themselves of and conduct themselves in accordance with the Graduate School’s policies and procedures, specific program requirements, and standards of performance established by faculty and articulated in departmental graduate student handbooks and their respective professional associations or organizations.  Students should locate and review their departmental graduate student handbook.
  • Take the initiative to ask questions that will promote their understanding of the academic requirements of their specific graduate program.   In addition, students should understand the assistantship requirements and seek to fulfill them satisfactorily.
  • Fulfill the requirements of their programs in a timely manner and participate in the annual progress review.  Each department or program may have different policies regarding time limits to degrees.
  • Take initiative to keep the advisor and committee informed about academic progress. Schedule committee meetings at least annually.
  • Inform the faculty advisor and the department graduate program coordinator of any leaves of absence that may be needed, as well as their date of departure and expected date of return. In order to maintain a healthy work-life balance, students should be able to take some scheduled time off; discuss the timing and length with your faculty advisor and assistantship supervisor. Note that international students have additional requirements for approved leaves of absence; consult the office of immigration services for details.
  • For international students, recognize that the immigration form specifies the normal length of the academic program (2 years for master's degree, 5 years for Ph.D.). Extensions to the immigration form may be requested based on academic reasons; consult with immigration services for more information.

Research and Ethics

It is expected that graduate students will:

  • Communicate regularly with faculty advisors and committee members, especially on matters related to research, academic progress, concerns, and problems within their graduate program.
  • Request clear guidelines of expectations from the supervising faculty member on the research activities, including timetables for deliverables.
  • Recognize that the faculty advisor and committee members are responsible for guiding graduate-student research but that students are responsible for conducting the independent research required for the graduate degree.
  • Recognize the time constraints and other demands imposed on faculty members and program staff.
  • Exercise honest and ethical behavior in all their academic pursuits, whether these undertakings pertain to study, course work, research, Cooperative Extension, engagement, or teaching, as outlined in the Graduate Honor Code, the “Ethics in Academe” page on the Graduate School’s website, and on the Office of Research Integrity website. Additional resources include the AAUP’s Statement on Professional Ethics, professional standards of the academic disciplines, and the Council of Graduate School’s Ethics and Scholarly Integrity website.
  • Contribute to the maintenance of an ethical environment by reporting any unethical actions they observe or are aware of to the Honor System.
  • Appropriately acknowledge the contributions of faculty and other members of the research team in all publications and conference presentations. Some contributions deserve co-authorship, some a mention in the acknowledgements section, some just a mention in the dissertation acknowledgements section; match the acknowledgement to the contribution.
  • Work with faculty to agree prior to submission of scholarly contributions (e.g., papers, abstracts of presentations) upon authorship positions or acknowledgements commensurate with levels of contributions to the work. Authorship should never be only honorary, but should reflect actual contribution to the work according to the standards of the profession.
  • Recognize that research results, with appropriate acknowledgement, may be incorporated into progress reports, summary documents, applications for continuation of funding, and similar documents authored by the faculty advisor, to the extent that the student’s research is related to the faculty advisor’s research program.
  • Work with faculty to understand and follow Institutional Review Board for Human Subjects (IRB) and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) guidelines and complete required Office of Research Compliance training when pursuing projects requiring human or animal subjects.
  • Know and follow the Virginia Tech intellectual-property policies (University Policy 13000, which supercedes Presidential Policy Memo # 121).
  • Avoid situations that can result in conflicts of interests. See the University's conflict of interest policies and procedures for more information.


Teaching and Training

Graduate students are expected to:

  • Seek and receive appropriate training and evaluation for instructional roles they are asked to undertake.
  • Pursue, to the extent possible, teaching and training opportunities that are relevant to their career expectations and that enhance teaching to diverse learners and populations.
  • Devote sufficient time and commitment to instructional duties to provide high quality education to their students.

Professional Development

It is expected that graduate students will:

  • Pursue professional training programs, seminars, and courses that will enhance their professional and personal growth and development and help them build a broad network of professional contacts. See the Graduate School’s website on Professional Development.
  • Seek out mentors and advisors to help them prepare for professional careers and responsibilities.
  • Contribute, to the extent possible, to the discourse of the scholarly discipline through presentations, publications, collaborative projects, and other means.

Assistantships and Financial Support

If appointed to a graduate assistantship (GA, GRA, or GTA), graduate students are expected to:

  • Request clear guidelines for the responsibilities of the graduate assistantship from the appropriate faculty or staff member.
  • Fulfill the responsibilities and requirements of the appointment as stated in the contractual agreement with the department and university.  Students on full-time assistantships are expected to work an average of 20 hours/week. The expected effort for GTA is 1 hour of instruction plus at least one hour of preparation time per credit (e.g., 3-credit course requires a minimum of 6 hours per week) Note, these hours are in addition to the hours required for coursework and individual thesis/dissertation research (updated Fall 2014).
  • Act in a professional manner in all aspects of their duties as graduate assistants.
  • Elect to decline tasks that are not related to or are in excess of their contractual obligations.  This includes work on assigned projects that, on average over the course of a semester, are in excess of the hours for which they are being paid (for details on definitions of graduate assistantships in terms of hours of effort, see Section 8 of the Faculty Handbook).
  • International students: adhere to the requirements of immigration regulations for F-1 and J-1 students, including limitations on employment, and consult immigration advisors at Cranwell International Center for advice.
  • Recognize that fellowships carry with them responsibilities that might be different than assistantships.  Fellowship recipients are responsible for learning about and complying with all requirements associated with their appointment.
  • Report any additional employment beyond the assistantship or fellowship to the Graduate School.



It is expected that graduate students will:

  • Abide by the student code of conduct, which applies to all students at Virginia Tech, as described in the Student Handbook.
  • Uphold, in their own classrooms, research groups, and laboratories, an ethos of collegiality and collaboration.
  • Behave consistently with the VT Principles of Community, as a citizen of the community who respects and celebrates diversity.
  • Contribute to the department and university community to the extent that each is able.
  • Contribute to the mission of Virginia Tech by providing high-quality teaching to undergraduate students, supporting the scholarly activities and fellow graduate students whenever possible, and upholding the public-service aspects of the university mission.