Frequently Asked Questions



How does the Research Assistantship work?

Students in the SwRI/UTSA program receive a Research Assistantship offer. This assistanship covers the tuition and fees for the academic year for a full-time graduate student, as well as a stipend paid out to the student. The stipend is disbursed on the first of every month for the previous month's work. If you start in the fall, your official start date is the start of the semester, and so your first payment will be in October. If you start in spring you will receive your first stipend in February. The Research Assistantship is annually renewed, and allows for research to begin in the first year of the program.

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What are some of the advantages of being in this joint program?

SwRI houses active and prolific researchers in space physics that are able to focus solely on research, unlike a pure academic setting where professors have large commitments to classes. SwRI offers a professional environment in which you can work side-by-side with experts in their field across disciplines to solve problems, key to development as a career-scientist.

We have the unique position of being allowed to grow in experience in instrumentation, a niche skill that can be effectively developed as a graduate student, which makes students from the program stand out from the increasingly competitive field. Every student will be encouraged and given opportunities to participate in instrumentation work at SwRI. Another important advantage is that we have access to SwRI resources (office space and supplies, labs, and awesome staff and researchers, to name a few), as well as to UTSA resources. The program provides for all of our research needs.

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How large is the joint SwRI/UTSA program?

A current list of graduate students in the program can be found here. The list of alumni that have graduated from the joint program since it started in 2005 can be found here.

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Does your program offer a Master's degree?

Yes, we have had a couple of alumni graduate with a M.S. in Physics. Sometimes this is better suited for your career path, such as if you want to go into industry. All Master's degrees in this program are thesis-option M.S. degrees.

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Will I need to be a teaching assistant?

One of the unique features of this program is working as a research assistant right away. Through the research assistantship offered by joint program, you have an adjoint faculty researcher at SwRI under which you will start a project when you first arrive. SwRI/UTSA students are generally not required to be teaching assistants throughout their time in the program.

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How do the written qualifiers work?

Students (Ph.D. and Thesis-Option Master's) who receive a minimum of 2 A's and 2 B's from the four core classes automatically pass the written qualifiers, and so do not have to take a separate exam. If you need to take the written qualifiers you will most likely do that at the start of your 2nd year or after your core classes (Quantum Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Statistical Mechanics, and Classical Mechanics) are completed. By passing the written qualifiers, students can then move on to preparing for oral qualifiers.

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Can I work on more than one project?

Yes. Most of us work on several projects during our time at SwRI. You may change projecs as you work towards your dissertation or you may combine projects in order to gain unique insight. This is handled on a case-by-case basis between the student and their advisor.

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Do you get to travel very often for research?

YES! All of us get the opportunity, and are encouraged, to travel. We travel to conferences and scientific meetings both domestic and abroad, with a few of us even invited to give talks at these meetings. We also attend summer schools around the nation such as the UCAR Heliophysics Summer School in Boulder, CO and the NASA Planetary Science Summer School in Pasadena, CA. Recent places we have traveled include Snowmass and Boulder, CO, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Alaska, Iceland, Sweden, Japan, and Greece. Travel for the program also can include instrumentation work at facilities across the country, such as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Travel expenses are generally covered by SwRI.

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Where do you work and take classes?

All of the graduate students in the joint SwRI/UTSA program have offices at SwRI. Research labs relevant to the program are also at SwRI. However, the core classes, weekly seminar, and several advanced electives will be taken at UTSA. When able, SwRI adjoint-taught classes will be offered on the SwRI campus.

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How close is UTSA to SwRI?

UTSA is about a 20-minute drive from SwRI. It is HIGHLY recommended for students coming into the program to have their own reliable mode of transportation. For those without a personal vehicle, there are bus routes that go between SwRI and UTSA, but they require 45 minutes to an hour each way. Because of the distance and highways between the UTSA and SwRI campus, the route is not biking-friendly. Carpooling, though, is another viable option.

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What if I have a family, or want to have a family, while in graduate school?

We have graduate students of all ages, and some are married and some have children. Although graduate school requires a lot of time, often it is possible to have a flexible schedule. UTSA has child services that are available, but space is limited. If during the program you consider using paid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act, consult the Human Resources department at UTSA for eligibility.

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Is insurance available to me?

Yes, through UTSA all students have the option of purchasing insurance through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas. Other insurance options for graduate students in the SwRI/UTSA program are available through the healthcare.gov website.

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Is the Research Assistantship stipend enough for living in San Antonio?

Yes, the stipend will be enough to cover living costs in San Antonio. The cost of living here is below the national average. Federal loans are also available to graduate students, if needed, through FAFSA. If you have specific questions about cost of living, or the Research Assistantship stipend, please feel free to email any of our graduate students.

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Can we have another job while we're in this program?

No. Under the conditions of the Research Assistantship, we are not allowed to seek other employment.

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What is there to do in San Antonio?

Along with the nationally-known attractions of the Alamo and the River Walk downtown, San Antonio is home to a SeaWorld and to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Some of the more local attractions include quite a collection of great restaurants and food trucks, several museums around the city, the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanical Gardens, and the revitalized north-end of the River Walk at Pearl. San Antonio is also home to the NBA San Antonio Spurs, and minor league teams in baseball and hockey. For any history buffs, there are beautiful missions and historic sites throughout the city that you can tour.

Because of San Antonio's diverse culture and history, you can usually find some festival or community event at any point throughout the year. Bigger events include Fiesta in the spring, and Oktoberfest and Wurstfest in the fall. Smaller-scale festivals range widely in type and include the Tamale Festival in December and the Institute of Texan Culture's Chinese New Year Festival. Farmer's markets can be found in various places in San Antonio throughout the week and local businesses near the historic King William neighborhood come together for First Friday's every month.

While it does reach high temperatures here in San Antonio, that stops no one from enjoying what the Texas Hill Country has to offer. Throughout the city, you can find large swaths of trails and parks geared towards running and biking, as well as dog parks for any furry friends. There are also several state parks around, including Government Canyon, Hamilton Pool, and Natural Bridge Caverns. When it gets too hot in the dead of summer, a great way to relax and stay cool is to "float" the Comal and Guadalupe Rivers. There are also multiple water parks nearby that serve as a great get-away on a hot summer day.

The city of Austin, along with being the capital of Texas, also offers a lot to do and see, from music, to sports, to art and dining. Austin is a little over an hour north of San Antonio.

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If I want more information, whom should I contact?

The current graduate students are available to answer any more specific questions. Contact information can be found on the Students page. If there are major concerns and questions not addressed here, please contact us.

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