Even as students, Computer Scientists are in demand. During the 2018-2019 and 2019-20 academic year, 85-90% of our graduate students were on full-time support. Of approximately 250 graduate students at the Blacksburg campus during that period, we hired about 75 GTAs, and 100 GRAs. About 25 students were hired by other units on campus or in the CRC, and about 25 had outside funding from their government, company, fellowship, etc.
MS Thesis and PhD students who receive departmental support in their first year can normally expect to recieve continued support during the remainder of their course of study (typically 2 years for MS, 4 or 5 years for PhD), so long as their job performance and degree progress is good. Note that we no longer have an MS coursework-only option for non-PhD students. Our coursework-only degree for non-PhD students is the MEng. MEng students do not receive funding from our department.
There are several possible sources of funding with or near the University for qualified graduate students. Well over half of CS graduate students are typically funded through departmental fellowships, teaching, or research assistantships. Others were supported elsewhere within the University, or at the nearby Corporate Research Center. The vast majority of students seeking support will find it in one of the following ways:
Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA): The number of GTAs awarded in a given year is difficult to predict and is driven by undergraduate (not graduate) enrollments. A fraction of the GTAs (approximately one-third) are offered to new students. In 2019/20, stipends were about $2000-2200/month for nine months. Students on assistantships are exempt from tuition and a significant fraction of the costs for a University sponsored healthcare plan are covered. Note that cost of living in Blacksburg area is low compared to most major metropolitain areas in the US.
GTA applications are accepted twice a year, in November for spring semester and in March for the following academic year. Students entering the program in fall are given an opportunity to request a GTA at the departmental orientation meeting. Be aware, however, that the department will have already screened the incoming students and awarded a pool of assistantships at the time admission offers were made. Thus, incoming students for that semester not given an assistantship from this pool generally have lower priority over continuing students for the few remaining positions.
Continuing students must have a minimum GPA of B (3.0) to be eligible for a GTA position. Decisions regarding the award of GTA positions are made by the ADH and the Graduate Program Committee. Funding decisions are largely guided by a ranking formula. Students who do not receive initial awards are placed on a waiting list and will be informed of their quartile standing on that list. The list is re-ordered at the end of the semester when new grades and GTA evaluations become available.
Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA): Many faculty have active research programs that include funds for research assistants. Note that GRAs are most commonly awarded to students who have been in the Department for at least one semester. GRAs receive the same stipends, tuition exemption, and healthcare benefits as GTAs. Typically, GRA funding comes from grant support awarded to individual faculty members or research centers. For more information, see the various individual faculty and research center pages at this website.
Can grad students afford to live in Blacksburg on a grad assistantship? What might typical take-home pay look like for a graduate assistant after applicable deductions? What are housing costs like?
[Please note that the following was written in Spring 2021.] One major factor affecting the typical stipend take-home pay is whether you choose to have the comprehensive fees that students pay (those not covered by the assistantship) deducted from your paycheck. Also, while the University pays most of the health insurance premium, there is a portion that the student pays, which can also be deducted from the paycheck. If you do choose both of these automatic deductions (most students do), then the actual take-home pay, after all taxes and deductions, would typically be about $700 per pay period or about $1400 per month.
A major factor for any grad student at any school will be the cost of housing. For those attending the Blacksburg campus, you can find some typical housing costs at: https://www.rentdata.org/lookup?zip=24063. The CS Grad Council has provided some resources to new students on housing on their website. For those attending the National Capital Region campus, you can find information on housing options at: https://dc.offcampus.vt.edu/.
Some additional reference material on assistantship compensation, deductions, and insurance is provided below:
Graduate Assistantship Information from the Graduate School: We recommend reviewing the tab on “Compensation” and “Graduate Assistantship Stipends”
Student Medical Insurance: Click on the “Student Health Insurance Information” link for information on deductions
Other forms of funding
Virginia Tech Talent Graduate Scholarship: Available to Virginia Residents, provides $3000-$5000 per semester to Master's level students who are not on assistantship. See: https://vt.edu/innovationcampus/academic-programs/vt-talent-grad-scholarship.html.
Computer Science Scholars and Pratt Fellowships: A limited number of exceptional applicants are admitted as CS Scholars or Pratt Fellows, which guarantees them multiple years of support. These positions may include summer support for research as well. University/College-level Fellowships: Our applicants are eligible to compete for University- and College-level fellowships including the Cunningham Fellowship, Dean's Fellowship, and PhD 2010 Fellowships. These fellowships typically include multiple-year support guarantees, summer research support, and possibly travel or discretionary funds. Some are only available to US citizens and permanent residents.
Minority Scholarships: Virginia Tech provides a number of scholarships for minority students who are US citizens. Contact the CS Department at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about applying to these programs.
Powell Graduate Fellowships: The Graduate School accepts nominations for Powell Graduate Fellowships. Eligibility requirements include: (1) Master’s and doctoral-level students who are long-term Virginia residents (attended high school in Virginia), (2) Must demonstrate financial need by submitting a FAFSA, (3) Students must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents entering their first year of graduate study. Funding includes: (1) $20,000 stipend, (2) In-state tuition for one year, and (3) Students must pay their own comprehensive fees. Two awards are granted each academic year. One nomination allowed per department. Please note that faculty are encouraged to nominate prospective students who add to the diversity of the department, such as students who are traditionally underrepresented in your field/discipline. This may include first generation, low income, racial/ethnic minorities, and women in STEM. If you are an incoming student to our program and you think that you could be eligible for this fellowship, contact Dr. Shaffer. These are normally due during the Spring semester for students starting the program in the following year. Link to nomination form: https://virginiatech.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5iJE76h93HWzdxb. For more information, contact Christian Matheis at email@example.com.
Other departments and local companies: Our graduate students are in demand to fill positions in other departments Graduate Research Assistants, or as programmers doing software development and system administration. Typically 10-20 of our students work as GRAs for other departments. There are also a number of software development companies in the Corporate Research Center (CRC) who have interest in hiring our students. Since such companies are located off-campus, these positions are typically not available to foreign nationals on student visas.
Graduate and Post-Doctoral Fellowship and Award Opportunities
This section contains a list of some long-running fellowship and award opportunities available for graduate students in computer science and related fields. Many fellowships/awards require nominations by the advisor, director of graduate studies, and/or the department head. If you would like to be nominated, consult your advisor first. Based on his/her feedback, contact the Grad Program Director, who will work with you, your advisor, and the department head to help prepare a nomination. Please submit a current CV (in PDF format) and a nominating letter from your advisor that states your qualifications for the award at least four weeks before the deadline. For limited submission opportunities, the department will conduct an internal selection to identify the department's nominees.
National Academies Research Associateship Programs
The National Research Council of the National Academies sponsors a number of awards for graduate, postdoctoral and senior researchers at federal laboratories. These awards provide generous stipends (starting at $30,000 for graduate students, $42,000 - $80,000 per year for recent Ph.D. recipients and higher for additional experience), and the opportunity to do independent research in some of the best-equipped and staffed laboratories in the country. Research opportunities are open to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and for some of the laboratories, foreign nationals. Applicants should begin a dialogue with prospective Advisers at the lab(s) as early as possible, before their anticipated application deadline. More information is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/pga/rap/. There will be four review cycles annually.
NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
The National Science Foundation aims to ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in the United States and to reinforce its diversity by offering approximately 1,654 graduate fellowships in this competition pending availability of funds. The Graduate Research Fellowship provides three years of support for graduate study leading to research-based master’s or doctoral degrees and is intended for students who are in the early stages of their graduate study. The Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) invests in graduate education for a cadre of diverse individuals who demonstrate their potential to successfully complete graduate degree programs in disciplines relevant to the mission of the National Science Foundation. Deadlines are typically in October.
National Physical Science Consortium Graduate Fellowships in the Physical Sciences
If you aspire to a graduate degree and career in the physical sciences, biochemistry, computer science, and related fields of science and engineering, you may be a potential NPSC Fellow. The National Physical Science Consortium is a partnership between government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education.
Since inception in 1989, NPSC has awarded 503 graduate fellowships. Of those fellows, 82% have been minority.
American Society for Engineering Education SMART Scholarship
The Science, Mathematics, And Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship-for-service Program fully funds undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide range of technical areas, including all fields of engineering, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Mathematics. This is a highly-selective, prestigious, national program that fully supports their education, including full tuition and a very generous stipend while they are in school. Summer internships at Labs are required. In return for fully funding their education, students are required work as a civilian employee at a Service (Army, Navy, Air Force) or DoD Agency (NSA, DIA, DARPA, etc.) laboratory for a period equal to the time the program paid for their school. Students must be U.S. Citizens, able to obtain a DoD Security Clearance, and be willing to work in a defense laboratory upon graduation. There will be approximately 300 new awards this year. More information about this and other fellowships associated with ASEE is available at https://www.asee.org/fellowship-programs/graduate.
National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG)
The fellowship program is sponsored by the Army Research Office, Office of Naval Research, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the DoD High Performance Computing Modernization Program This program is intended for U.S. citizens at or near the beginning of their graduate studies in science and/or engineering programs. The fellowships are for three year tenures. The stipends begin at $30,500 for first year fellows, $31,000 for second year fellows, and $31,500 for third year fellows. Full tuition and fees and a health insurance allowance are included as part of the program. The application cycle is from September to January. More information is available at http://ndseg.asee.org.
DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship
The Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (DOE CSGF) program provides outstanding benefits and opportunutues to students pursuing a PhD in scientific or engineering disciplines with an emphasis in high-performance computing. More information is available at https://www.krellinst.org/csgf/.
DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship
The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science (SC) has established the DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship(DOE SCGF) program to support outstanding students to pursue graduate training in basic research in areas of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computational sciences, and environmental sciences relevant to the Office of Science and to encourage the development of the next generation scientific and technical talent in the U.S. The Fellowship award provides partial tuition support, an annual stipend for living expenses, and a research stipend for full-time graduate study and thesis/dissertation research at a U.S. academic institution for three years.
Virginia Space Grant Consortium Graduate STEM Research Fellowship Program
>Graduate STEM Research Fellowships are $5,000 renewable awards (up to three years) of add-on graduate support for students enrolled at a Virginia Space Grant university pursuing any field of graduate study (Masters or Doctoral level) with NASA or aerospace relevance. More information is available at http://www.vsgc.odu.edu
IBM Ph.D. Fellowship Program
The IBM Ph.D. Fellowship program is an intensely competitive program which honors exceptional Ph.D. students in many academic disciplines and areas of study, for example: computer science and engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering, physical sciences (including chemistry, material science, and physics), mathematical sciences (including optimization), business sciences (including financial services, communication, and learning/knowledge ), and service sciences, management, and engineering. Additionally, IBM pays special attention to an array of focus areas of interest to IBM and fundamental to innovation. For details go to https://www.research.ibm.com/university/awards/phdfellowship.shtml.
Preference will be given to students who have had an IBM internship, or have closely collaborated with technical or services people from IBM, or have co-authored papers, or have faculty research advisors who are close IBM collaborators. IBM requests that a maximum of two nominations per department be submitted, in addition to any renewal nominations.
Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program
Microsoft Research is on the lookout for exceptional students in computer science, electrical engineering, and mathematics, as well as interdisciplinary studies, to apply for the two-year PhD fellowship program. The Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program has supported 122 fellows since the program was established in 2008, many of whom have gone on to work within the Microsoft Research organization. Others have gone on to perform pioneering research elsewhere within the technology industry or accept faculty appointments at leading universities. For more information, see https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/academic-program/phd-fellowship-program/.
L’Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science
The L’Oréal USA Fellowships for Women in Science program is a national awards program that annually recognizes and rewards five U.S.-based women researchers at the beginning of their scientific careers. Recipients each receive up to $60,000 that must be put towards their postdoctoral research. Launched in 2003 as the U.S. component of the L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science International Fellowship program, the U.S. Fellowships aim to raise awareness of the contribution of women to the sciences, and identify exceptional female researchers in the U.S. to serve as role models for younger generations. Candidates who would like to apply should visit https://www.aaas.org/page/l-or-al-usa-fellowships-women-science.
Department of DefenseSMART Scholarship Program
The Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program has been established by the Department of Defense (DoD) to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing technical degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at DoD laboratories. The SMART Scholarship Program is an opportunity for students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines to receive a full scholarship and be gainfully employed by the Department of Defense (DoD) upon degree completion. Applicants MUST be a US citizen, and MUST be pursuing a technical degree in one of their listed STEM disciplines. SMART will not fund any management or non-technical degrees. For more information, see http://www.smartscholarship.org/.