Can I receive an assistantship for my fifth year from a department other than my own department?

Date: February 2017



I’m a third year social science student, currently receiving a fellowship from my country for doctoral study. I have four years of funding, but I expect that I’ll need five years to complete my degree. I have talked to my DGS but he told me that he’s unable to guarantee funding for me in my fifth year. I also have talked to my advisor but he does not have funding either. This really worries me so I really hope you can help me out.

Can I receive an assistantship for my fifth year from a department other than my own department?

Thanks a lot,


Dear Worried,

Before a Ph.D. applicant is offered admission to a Cornell graduate field a tentative multi-year funding plan is developed. Funding sources vary widely by discipline and even within certain fields, and the funding offer needs to anticipate what resources will be available four, five, or even six years in the future. In fields where students are supported on sponsored funds (external grants that are secured by faculty) it can be especially hard to predict future funding in this very competitive grant environment.

You had four years of guaranteed fellowship support from your home government so, while your funding plan did not include a commitment of support from Cornell, the duration of your support was comparable to many other students. You state that your field is unable to promise you an assistantship next year. There are several options available to you, and to all students who exceed their original funding commitment or plan.

A good first step may be to explore whether there are teaching assistantships available in other related departments. For example, you may be well-positioned to serve as a TA for other social science courses based on your prior coursework or research. I recommend that you check with minor members of your special committee, the DGS or GFA of these departments, or the instructors of courses that you are interested in TAing for. Fall TA assignments may be planned during the spring, but opportunities continue to arise even through late summer as course sections are added.

You may also wish to explore whether there are fellowship opportunities available to you. Partial fellowships may be eligible for top-off by the Graduate School so the award would be comparable to the standard assistantship rate, plus full tuition and health insurance. Details can be found on the external fellowships page.

Some advanced Ph.D. students request a leave of absence or in absentia status to complete their writing away from the Cornell campus. This option isn’t workable for everyone, but if you have limited need for on-campus services you may find this to be a viable solution. No tuition is charged while students are on a leave of absence, and the in absentia tuition is only $200 per semester, but students must be physically away from the campus during this time. If you’d like to explore either of these options please stop by the Graduate School’s Student Service office in 143 Caldwell Hall any day between 8:00 and 4:30 and someone will be happy to assist you.


Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration