Grad students at CALS receive world class education, made more affordable through assistantships

All across the state of Wisconsin, UW–Madison changes lives through its research contributions, commitment to public service and entrepreneurial activities. From February through June, the university will be highlighting the ways that UW–Madison changes lives for the better through the #uwchangeslives campaign. For the month of March, the campaign will focus on how the university provides students with an affordable, world class education.

At CALS, the vast majority of our 865 graduate students don’t pay tuition. Many of our graduate students cover their expenses working as Research Assistants (RAs) in faculty labs, in return for tuition and stipend. Funding for these graduate student positions commonly comes from peer-reviewed research grants awarded to individual faculty or through T32 institutional training grants. NIH ($22.3M), USDA ($14.2M), NSF ($5.6M) and DOE ($2.8M) are the largest funders of CALS’ principal investigators. The T32 training grants come from the NIH and other federal institutions, and most are multi-year grants. CALS is currently home to three of these competitively funded programs, which together are supporting 40 graduate students this year.

Many other graduate students work as Teaching Assistants (TA) or Project Assistants (PA) and earn tuition and stipends through those efforts.

It’s worth noting that CALS is unique in the way that we use our USDA Hatch and McIntire-Stennis formula funding to support graduate students’ education. While many universities pay faculty/staff salaries with these funds, CALS uses the vast majority to forward research by covering research and educational expenses of graduate students. At any given time, CALS actively supports between 120-130 graduate students in this way. The college uses an internal peer review process—overseen by the Research Advisory Committee—to award Hatch and McIntire-Stennis research grants to CALS labs supporting graduate students as they conduct their research projects.

Private donations also create graduate fellowships. The UW Foundation holds 152 different funds specifically designated to support graduate students in CALS. Their total combined value is more than $30 million in endowments and spendable gifts.

Throughout the month of March, CALS will be sharing good news about our efforts to ensure our students receive an affordable, world-class education on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We invite you to please join the conversation at #uwchangeslives and read more stories at

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