Columbia University

Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Student Appointments

Each academic term, a number of graduate students are appointed to part-time service in the University to assist in the instructional and research programs of their units and schools. They include teaching assistants, graduate research assistants, departmental research assistants, and preceptors. 


On the nomination of the deans and vice presidents, and with the concurrence of the Provost, the Secretary of the University appoints students to assist in the instructional and research programs of their departments and schools.
With certain exceptions for undergraduate and special students as described below, these students must be enrolled as degree candidates in a graduate program of the University other than Teachers College. While students at Teachers College may in unusual circumstances be offered teaching assignments, they are appointed as associates rather than as student officers of instruction.
Students may hold only one appointment as an officer of instruction or research at the same time and only in one of the ranks described in this chapter of the Handbook.
Most assignments as student officers of instruction and research are reserved for students enrolled in the University’s Ph.D. programs whose mission is to prepare their students to be educators and scholars. For these students, their instructional and research assignments are an integral part of their own educational training.
Doctoral students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who engage in teaching are appointed as teaching fellows, with the exception of those teaching Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities who are appointed as preceptors.
Other graduate students are appointed in one of the following three grades when they participate in the instructional programs of the University:
  • A preceptor offers part-time instruction under the supervision of an officer of higher rank. A preceptor must be a full-time candidate for a doctoral degree in the University who has completed the residence requirement for that degree. Appointments in this grade are made for not more than three consecutive years.
  • A teaching assistant directs drill, recitation, discussion, or laboratory sessions related to courses offered by an officer of higher rank, and engages in other similar activities. In addition to these duties, they may grade written work.
  • A reader is responsible for grading written course work under the direction and supervision of an officer of higher rank.
Full-time graduate students who participate in externally funded research are appointed as graduate research assistants when they are engaged in research that is directly related to their studies. Students enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences who participate in the research programs of the University but are not funded by external awards are appointed as research fellows or, in a limited number of situations, as GRA research fellows. In other parts of the University graduate students may also be appointed as departmental research assistants to provide assistance to a department or school in the conduct of research.
Undergraduates enrolled in Columbia College, the School of General Studies, and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science may be appointed as student officers but only in the grade of teaching assistant III and only with the prior permission of the dean of the school in which they are studying, the dean or vice president of the unit in which they will serve, and the Provost. Special students enrolled in a postbaccalaureate program are similarly eligible for appointment in this grade. These student officers assist officers of higher rank in the conduct of discussion or laboratory sessions or in the grading of written course work.
The policies governing the level of compensation of student officers of instruction and research vary among the different parts of the University. Student officers should consult with their dean’s office for information on their compensation and other terms of their appointment. They may also obtain information from the web sites of their schools.
Student officers may receive additional compensation as long as the total service they are rendering in the University does not interfere with their studies and does not approximate the workload of a full-time officer. Students who are nonresident aliens should check with the International Students and Scholars Office, or the Office of Immigration Affairs if they are at the Medical Center, to determine if the additional work is permitted by the terms of their visa. The payment of additional compensation to student officers requires the prior approval of the dean of the school within which they are studying, the department chair and/or dean of the unit in which they are providing the additional services, the dean or vice president of the unit within which they hold an appointment, and the Provost.
Student officers are not eligible to participate in the University’s benefits programs for officers, but they are entitled to health coverage according to the terms and conditions of the student health plan.