Monday, February 23, 2009

  • Grad funding changes reduce taxes
  • High schoolers will test their brains
  • Other notes on back-to-class day
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

Grad funding changes reduce taxes

A series of changes over the past year — including two that took effect this winter term — should leave UW graduate students with more take-home pay than in the past, says the dean of graduate studies, Alan George.

One key change is the introduction of a minimum income rate for PhD students, while others involve the way income is calculated and its implications for federal and provincial income tax.

“A minimum level of support for doctoral students” was an objective of UW’s Sixth Decade plan, a memo from George’s office notes, “with a longer term objective of also establishing a minimum level for students in research-based masters programs.”

Graduate students who were admitted to UW starting January 1 of this year will be given an annual minimum of $19,000 in financial support, the memo says. “This commitment applies to the first three years of full-time enrollment in a doctoral program. Changes to this guaranteed level of support will be reviewed annually. Departments and schools may set higher guarantees.”

George said this week that most PhD students have already been receiving at least $19,000 a year, with “some” exceptions that mean academic departments or supervisors will have to find new funding. The total can include everything from teaching assistantships to UW scholarships and grants from external research agencies.

Earlier, in the spring term last year, a standard hourly pay rate for teaching assistantships was put into effect across the university. George’s memo points out that the TA rate in many parts of UW has been “artificially high because it is a combination of compensation for duties performed, together with a component that is a research award (scholarship). Given recent changes in the tax regulations that make scholarships and research awards tax-exempt, continuing this practice is prejudicial to students. With these considerations in mind, effective May 1, 2008, the TA rate will be $27 per hour, plus vacation pay. The rate will continue to be subject to annual adjustment via a recommendation by the Graduate Student Support Advisory Committee to the Provost.”

The memo adds that a teaching assistantship should involve 100 to 160 hours of work per term, the maximum being 10 hours a week for 16 weeks. “When a graduate student is essentially serving as the instructor for a course, he/she should be appointed as a sessional lecturer and paid at least the minimum sessional instructor stipend.”

More from the memo: “The part of the support previously provided through artificially high TA rates will remain within the Faculty budgets and be available to provide graduate student research awards. That funding will be adjusted annually consistent with the change in the TA rate. Faculties may choose to link a research award with each TA, so that the aggregate funding provided to a student via a TA will remain the same as in the past.” The after-tax amount that the student takes home will increase, the memo notes, because scholarships and “research awards” aren’t taxable, while TA payments are considered wages.

In addition to the funding described above, many grads receive support from grants and contracts that faculty members are awarded to support their research. Changes in the way these funds are treated have been made as well, as described in a later memo. Specifically, as of January 1, UW “will classify and process all payments to graduate students for research activity in two separate categories”: a “studentship”, not taxable, or a taxable “assistantship” that’s really a job.

“Graduate students do not constitute a typical labour pool,” George wrote. “They attend university in order to obtain a graduate degree. In order to be deemed to be full-time graduate students, their TA and other employment responsibilities must be limited to 10 hours per week. Beyond this, they are expected to be conducting research for their thesis and attending classes to fulfill the requirements for graduation.

“Normally, funding received from professorial research grants and contracts is provided to support the graduate student’s thesis research. Indeed, something would be seriously amiss if a significant amount of a student’s (non-course, non-TA) work were not aligned with completion of his/her thesis. The key point is that the role a faculty member plays with respect to his/her graduate student is normally that of mentor and advisor rather than employer.

“That said, an employer/employee relationship will occur in some circumstances. In order to make the distinction, when an employee/employer relationship exists between a faculty member and his/her student, the corresponding funding provided from a research grant or contract will be referred to as a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) and will be taxable. Otherwise, it will be referred to as a Graduate Research Studentship (GRS), and will be tax exempt.

“The student’s supervisor is in the best position to assess whether his/her relationship with the graduate student is that of employer and employee, or mentor and student.”

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High schoolers will test their brains

UW's kinesiology department will host the first local Brain Bee for high school students in Waterloo Region and surrounding areas on Saturday.

The contest raises awareness about neuroscience by challenging students to answer questions about the brain. Students who are registered in the contest will answer multiple choice questions anonymously by choosing their answer using clicker technology and compete for first and second place prizes.

The contest begins at 10 a.m. and takes place in the Sun Life Financial Auditorium, located in the Lyle S. Hallman Institute for Health Promotion. The event, open to students in grades 9 to 12, is one of the brain bees scheduled across Canada this winter. Winners qualify for the national Canadian Institutes of Health Research Brain Bee to be held May 29-30 at McMaster University in Hamilton. The Canadian champion will go on to compete in an international brain bee later this year.

"The brain bee is an exciting opportunity for high school students to learn about the brain and the importance of brain research," says kinesiology professor Aimee Nelson, who is coordinating the local contest with help from graduate students and psychology professor Jonathan Fugelsang. "It brings the students to campus to meet researchers who are doing brain research and will hopefully attract young minds to the field of neuroscience."

Indeed, Nelson will lead a neuroscience lab demonstration for contest participants and their friends and family. Nelson’s research is about human motor control of the hand in patients with movement disorders.

To prepare for the test, students will download and study Brain Facts, a publication made available by the Society for Neuroscience. Brain Facts covers topics such as memory, sleep, intelligence, emotion, perception, stress, aging, brain-imaging, neurology, neurotransmitters, genetics and brain disease.

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Other notes on back-to-class day

“Everything is a go” for the introduction of the WatIAM system this morning, says Connie van Oostveen of information systems and technology. She reported last night that “The implementation team had some hiccups through the weekend, particularly around database performance and data issues. Peter Cui, our DBA, helped us with some database tuning, our Unix folks also took a look behind the scenes, and the weekend's performance issues were resolved. The data issues we also resolved, for the most part through some data cleansing processes. Sean Mason and I have been working around the clock this weekend (and a few days here and there leading up to go-live). Thank goodness for email, MSN, Remote Desktop and SSH!” She adds that “WatIAM won't be perfect. With all the hard, hard work that has been put into this go-live and your continuing contributions and support, we will have accomplished what we set out to do in this release of WatIAM — provide a solid foundation, based on UWdir, on which to build and grow.” She expressed thanks not only to Mason, her colleague in the information systems section of IST, but to “all the talent that we were able to draw on over the last few months and notably to the Unix and Windows teams.” Bulk e-mail messages will go out to students today encouraging them to log into the user interface and set their authentication questions. “All employees are encouraged to do the same. If you are experiencing difficulties with the system, please contact the CHIP or helpdesk@”

The university senate will hold its monthly meeting starting at 4:30 today in Needles Hall room 3001. The provost will report on budget matters, the president will give his customary "environmental scan", there will be a briefing on enrolment plans, and the graduate council is presenting a proposal for a new Master of Health Informatics "professional" master's degree program. The full agenda is posted online.

If you go to the undergraduate calendar web site, the "live calendar" that you'll see is the newly published one for the 2009-10 academic year. "If you need access to the 2008-09 undergraduate calendar," says a note from Carmen Roecker of the registrar's office, "then you will have to select that calendar from the List of Calendars link on the top of the left menu." The 2009-10 document became the default on the web site on Thursday, just in time for some heavy demand this week, as it's the season for arts students to consider declaring a major. "Between February 23 and March 6 the Arts Undergraduate Office and the major departments will be holding information sessions to help," a note from the faculty of arts advises. Details are online. In case anybody else is wondering, as I was: no, the undergraduate calendar is no longer published in print form.

"This is the last week," we're reminded, "for ticket sales for UW's annual International Women's Day Dinner, to be held Thursday, March 5, at the University Club, beginning at 5 p.m. for a reception, and 6 p.m. for dinner. Tickets for the event are $32 from the Humanities box office, 519-888-4908, and are on sale until 5 p.m. this Friday. The dinner is organized by volunteers from staff and faculty; this year's theme is 'Celebrating Women's Journeys, from there to here.' Keynote speaker is Yan Li, adjunct assistant professor at Renison University College and director of the Confucius Institute. Li, born in China, is also a novelist; her most recent English-language work, Lily in the Snow, is scheduled for publication this fall. Also on the program is guitarist, singer, and composer Aimée Lyn Villapando, a student in her final term in honours drama and business and a don in Village I. The three-course menu for the March 5 dinner will have an Asian theme, with a choice of a chicken or vegetarian entrée."

A few notes about food today: Buy any Kellogg's or Piller's item in either of the residence cafeterias this week, "and get your chance to win breakfast in bed catered for you and 5 friends". • The Leave the Pack Behind stop-smoking promotion will be serving hot chocolate outside South Campus Hall (near the Graduate House) from 9:30 to 11:30 this morning. • The Graduate student Association is running a culinary series (reservations online) that continues tonight at the Grad House: "Rose will teach grad students how to cut up a whole chicken."


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Link of the day


When and where

Canadian Cancer Society “Relay for Life” information booth 10:00 to 2:00, Student Life Centre.

English professor Steve Bennett, “Who and/or What Was Truly Celebrated? Robert Hunter’s Elegy for Jerry (Garcia),” 12:00 noon, Kitchener Public Library main branch.

Joint Health and Safety Committee 1:30, Commissary building room 112D.

Career workshops today: “Career Interest Assessment” 2:30, Tatham Centre room 1112; “Successfully Negotiating Job Offers” 4:30, TC 1208. Details.

Soirée Ciné: “La tête de Maman” (2007) 18h00, St. Jerome’s University salle 3027.

Canadian Computing Competition organized by UW for high school students, Tuesday. Details.

Freedom to Read Book Sale at UW bookstore, South Campus Hall, February 24 and 25, 9:30 to 4:30.

Tax information session for international students Tuesday 10:00 to 12:00 or 2:00 to 4:00, Davis Centre room 1302.

Employee Assistance Program presents “Seven Strategies for Highly Healthy Eating” Tuesday 12:00, Davis Centre room 1304.

Feng Shui and Ways to Help Your Finances, sponsored by UW Recreation Committee, Tuesday 12:00 noon, Math and Computer room 5136.

Exchange program information session for electrical and computer engineering students Tuesday 12:30, Rod Coutts Hall room 307.

Imprint Publications annual general meeting Tuesday 2:00, Student Life Centre multipurpose room.

Senate finance committee Tuesday 2:30 p.m., and March 12, 11 a.m. Details.

Career workshop: “Success on the Job” Tuesday 3:30, Tatham Centre room 1208. Details.

Pancake Tuesday dinner at Mudie’s cafeteria, Village I, Tuesday 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. Mardi Gras beads in REVelation cafeteria, Ron Eydt Village, 4:30 to 8:00.

Black History Month lecture: Waterloo Public Interest Research Group presents Dana Weiner, WLU, “Conflicting Visions of Equality: The US Anti-Slavery Movement”, Tuesday 5:30 p.m., Biology I room 221.

UAE campus event for potential students and others in the United Arab Emirates, Tuesday 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., InterContinental Hotel, Dubai. Details.

Live and Learn Lecture: Gerd Hauck, drama and speech communication, “Convergent Telematic Theatre: A New Fad or the Future of Live Theatre”, Tuesday 7:00, Waterloo Public Library.

Drama thesis project: “High Life” by Lee MacDougall, directed by Monty Martin, February 24, 26 and 28, 8:00, Studio 180, Humanities building, tickets $10.

Garage sale fund-raiser for drama student trip to Italy, Wednesday 1:00 to 4:00, Theatre of the Arts. Drop off items for sale at Modern Languages loading dock Monday.

School of Computer Science information session on third-year and fourth-year courses, Wednesday 3:30, Davis Centre room 1302.

Pascal Lectures on Christianity and the University: Denis Alexander, University of Cambridge, “Rescuing Darwin” Wednesday, “Is Darwinism Incompatible with Purpose?” Thursday, both 8:00, Conrad Grebel UC great hall. Details.

Drop (penalty 1) period ends, February 27; last day to receive a WD grade for dropped courses.

CASA Fashion Show Friday 7:00, Humanities Theatre, proceeds to Canadian Cancer Society.

UW Directions, Aboriginal High School Enrichment Conference, March 3-7, St. Paul’s College. Details.

Faculty of Arts public lecture: Mary Simon, president of Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami, “Inuit and the Canadian Arctic: Sovereignty Begins at Home” March 3, 7:00, MacKirdy Hall, St. Paul’s College. Details.

March break open house for applicants and their families, March 17, 9:00 to 3:00. Details.

Second annual Staff Conference April 6-7, “2 More Full Days Just for You”, keynote speakers, workshops, “Your Passport to Health”, agenda to be published in mid-February, registration opens March 2.

One click away

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Universities going green 'as never before' (Globe)
Interview with English professor emeritus Warren Ober
Interview with 1972 English grad, now education scholar
Response to 'uncomfortable truths' from Globe columnist
Federal scholarships for business studies draw outrage
'Bridging Canada's two solitudes through research'
Europe's Bologna process and its effect on Canada
Why 'Gossip Girl' won't work when they get to college
Dalhousie prof 'vindicated', CAUT says
Students being advised to get more sleep
'Market meltdown hits Ontario's ivory towers' (Citizen)
Part-time college instructors vote on unionization

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