Ours is a mentor-based program, and as a result students are admitted to work with a specific faculty member. These faculty members reflect the research interests and goals of the students. Typically, the faculty member provides financial and other types of support for the student. Students are expected to work in the faculty member’s lab approximately 20 hours per week from the time they begin the program. The 20 hours will be spent in one of two ways:

  1. Students work closely with a Principal Investigator on a research grant. As a result the student learns fundamentals of research methods and procedures in the real world, using a very “hands on” approach.
  2. Students also may be asked to provide the kinds of services typically performed by research assistants (e.g. data collection, data entry, preparation of IRB materials); these duties may vary widely and will not necessarily be adding to the student’s fund of knowledge about research procedures on an on-going basis. Nonetheless, the tasks being done are those that are necessary to support the research enterprise, and so familiarity and experience with them are prerequisites to having an independent research lab.

The work students do in the lab should progress, first towards the development of the student’s second year independent research project, and eventually towards the development of the student’s dissertation. The program expects that students will participate in other publications and presentations while in the program as well.

HOW THE 20 HOURS ARE SPENT

Faculty and students often ask how the required 20-hour per week research assistantship should be allotted (i.e., is entire time to be spent exclusively on the mentor’s research, or is it to be divided between the student’s research and the mentor’s?). There is a strong presumption that mentors and graduate students will have similar research interests, and that scheduling the time in the research lab will present only minimal problems. However, should it be needed, the following general policy should form the basis of any negotiations:

In exchange for their stipends, students are expected to provide 20 hours of service per week, performing lab tasks and activities at the direction of their mentors. The determination of what constitutes satisfactory performance as a half-time research assistant is at the discretion of the mentor/employer. Students are encouraged to consult their Guidance Committees to help negotiate any difficulties about scheduling their own research while still meeting this requirement. Both of the directors are also available should they be needed for this purpose. (Steering Committee meeting, 5/12/03)

Students who obtain their own funding (i.e., who apply for and are awarded a Cota Robles, San Diego Fellowship, NRSA (F31), NSF grant, Ford Foundation Fellowship, or other source of funding) may have more flexibility in how the 20 hours are used. However, this needs to be discussed at the time the funding is applied for, with final negotiations and approval when the funding is awarded. Usually by the time a student obtains his/her own funding, he/she has already been supported by the mentor for a year or two. Often this is during the time in the program when the student is taking a heavy course load and is less available than when they are more advanced. So typically students can expect to continue to provide at least a portion of the 20 hours per week even after they have obtained their own funding.

VACATION AND SICK TIME

Student requests for time off and sick time are typically negotiated between the student and his/her mentor. Sometimes, benefits and time off are governed by existing policies of the funding agencies involved. In addition, part-time employee benefits (including vacation and sick time) are governed by the agency that serves as the employer (e.g., VAMC, VMERF, UC San Diego, SDSU Research foundation). These issues should be discussed in advance so both the student and the mentor know and understand how much time will be allowed and what restrictions and authorizations there may be on its use. (Steering 5/12/03)