Graduate Research Assistant Employment Requirements and Compensation

Policy number: 10.3

Policy section: Research

Revised Date: January 2, 2019


1. Definitions

Definitions of capitalized terms are set forth in Appendix A.

2. Policy Statement

  1. Compensation of graduate students is an allowable direct cost to Sponsored Projects as defined by federal laws, regulations, and policies. The amount that may be charged and treatment of the charges are subject to statutory and regulatory constraints including "consistent treatment" of graduate students. The competitive economics of attracting qualified graduate students further affects compensation. Federal laws, regulations, and policies allow Tuition Remission as a direct cost to Sponsored Projects employing graduate students.
  2. The University categorizes the compensation of graduate students according to the relationship between the purpose and type of work performed, the student's graduate program, and the amount of the work required. The compensation levels of Graduate Research Assistants may vary among disciplines; however, within the same discipline, equitable levels of compensation are maintained depending on experience and the work performed.
  3. The University provides Tuition Remission based on the qualifications of students as candidates for graduate degrees. For Graduate Research Assistants, Tuition Remission is applied in part as a direct cost by a special, averaged, fringe benefit rate to Sponsored Projects on which graduate students work. The University pays the cost of the remainder of the Tuition Remission. Each Graduate Research Assistant is responsible for the cost of tuition not remitted.

3. Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to supplement the University Policy on Graduate Student Employment and Other Graduate Aid, to establish guidelines for employing and compensating graduate students working on Sponsored Projects in compliance with federal laws, regulations, and policies.

4. Responsible Conduct of Research

  1. In addition to their rights and responsibilities as students and Graduate Research Assistants as described in the University Policy on Graduate Student Employment and Other Graduate Aid and other University Policies, Graduate Research Assistants are responsible for upholding the highest standards of research conduct and are required to abide by the same rules of scientific conduct that govern SMU faculty and staff members. Students are directed to University Policy 10.6, Standards for Addressing Research Misconduct, and University Policy 10.7, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Externally Sponsored Research.
  2. Graduate Research Assistants are required to complete training in Responsible Conduct of Research and other training mandated by the University, as set forth by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Information on required training and deadlines is available on the website of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and in the Research Handbook.

5. Intellectual Property

University Policy 10.16, Intellectual Property, applies to the inventions and other intellectual property created by Graduate Research Assistants. Faculty and staff members and Graduate Research Assistants are required to have written and signed agreements establishing the proportionality of contribution to the invention. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies manages these agreements. Graduate Research Assistants are advised that the terms of an Award may also affect ownership of intellectual property.

6. Retention of Records

Letters of appointment for Graduate Research Assistants are required by federal law and are part of the administrative records of the individual colleges, schools, departments, centers, institutes, or divisions. Letters of Appointment are subject to audit and must be retained for three years after expiration of the appointment and/or Sponsored Project, whichever is later.

7. Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines

  • The University Policy on Graduate Student Employment and Other Graduate Aid
  • University Policy 10.1, Sponsored Research and Activities
  • University Policy 10.6, Standards for Addressing Research Misconduct
  • University Policy 10.7, Financial Conflicts of Interest in Externally Sponsored Research
  • University Policy 10.16, Intellectual Property Policy
  • Research Handbook

Appendix A: Definitions

“Award” means a Grant, Contract, subcontract, subgrant or Cooperative Agreement that provides for Funding.

“Cooperative Agreement" means a legally enforceable agreement between the University and a Sponsor that provides Funding when substantial interaction between the Sponsor and the University is anticipated during the performance of the Sponsored Project.

“Funding” means financial support for a Sponsored Project, including money, property, services, or anything of value in lieu of money.

“Graduate Research Assistants” are appointed and paid to perform research under the direct supervision of a faculty member. This research experience is intended to complement the student's formal instruction, and may lead to a thesis, dissertation, or publication. Appointments are made for an academic year, for one semester, or for the summer. The preceding definition of “Graduate Research Assistants” is restricted to this policy and relates to graduate students working on Sponsored Projects. Other categories of student support are described in the University Policy on Graduate Student Employment and Other Graduate Aid.

“Grant" means a legally enforceable agreement between the University and a Sponsor that provides Funding when:

  1. the Sponsor has no expectation of delivery of a specific product or service other than a final written report;
  2. no substantial interaction between the Sponsor and the University during performance is anticipated; and
  3. the agreement contains general terms and conditions that stipulate a period of performance and minimal reporting requirements.

“Proposal” means the document submitted to a Sponsor requesting Funding for a Sponsored Project which includes, without limitation, (i) Financial Obligations, Regulatory Obligations, Reporting Obligations or Accounting Obligations, as described under “Sponsored Projects”, (ii) a Statement of Work and (iii) a budget.

“Research Handbook” means the document maintained by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies specifying current procedures and requirements for the proposal, acceptance, execution, and oversight of Sponsored Projects.

"Sponsor” means any external entity that provides Funding to the University. Sponsors may be (i) governmental agencies (for example, federal, state or local governments or their administrative organizations); (ii) nonprofit organizations (for example, universities, nonprofit corporations, foundations or associations); (iii) for profit organizations (for example, corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships and other business entities); or (iv) individuals.

"Sponsored Projects” means all projects, programs, research, training, public service and other activities that receive external Funding through Grants to the University or through Contracts or Cooperative Agreements between the University and a Sponsor, where one or more of the following obligations applies:

  1. Financial Obligation. The University is required to comply with conditions imposed when a Sponsor awards Funding for the performance of services or delivery of products described in a Statement of Work;
  2. Regulatory Obligation. The University is required to comply with Sponsor regulations.
  3. Reporting Obligation. The University is required to provide to the Sponsor technical performance reports or regulatory or administrative reports; or
  4. Accounting Obligation. The University is required to establish a separate accounting record of Sponsored Project expenditures to demonstrate allowability of costs, to maintain financial accountability, to make financial reports to the Sponsor, and to preserve appropriate records for audit.

“Statement of Work” means the component of a Proposal or an Award that describes the specific work to be undertaken and the products that will be produced by the Sponsored Project.

“Tuition Remission” provides a waiver of tuition for courses taken by graduate students and is granted based on the students’ qualifications as candidates for graduate degrees at the University. Tuition remission is an allowable direct cost on Awards under federal laws, regulations, and policies provided there is consistent treatment of students in a classification without regard to the source of funds used for direct compensation. The preceding definition of “Tuition Remission” is restricted to this policy and relates to graduate students working on Sponsored Projects. Other categories of student support are described in the University Policy on Graduate Student Employment and Other Graduate Aid.

“University Policies” means, for the purpose of this policy, all University Policies included in the University Policy Manual and all other procedures, guidelines, and requirements of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies and the Office of Grant and Contract Accounting included in the Research Handbook, and the procedures, guidelines, and requirements of all University colleges, schools, departments, centers, institutes, and divisions.


Revised: January 2, 2019

Adopted: January 15, 2015