Common graduate school terms

Advisor: Sometimes referred to as a major professor, advisors are faculty members who mentor graduate students through the graduate school process. The advisor/advisee relationship is probably the most important relationship a student will have in graduate school.

Cost-of-living: The amount of money it takes to live in a particular geographic area. Cost-of-living indices look at the costs of taxes, housing, food, transportation, and other necessities. 

Dissertation: A document that presents a doctoral student's research. A dissertation must be judged by an examination committee to include original, independent, and significant contributions to the student's field.

Doctoral or PhD degree: An advanced degree designed to provide extensive expertise in a specialized field, often leading to careers as a professor or researcher. Students are required to generate new knowledge by conducting independent research. Depending on the program and whether or not a student completes a master's degree first, the PhD may generally take four to six years to complete.

Faculty: Teachers at a university, including professors, associate professors, and assistant professors.

Fellowship: Similar to scholarships, fellowships are merit-based financial awards that provide money (often called a stipend) for living and educational expenses. In general, fellowships allow students to pursue graduate study full-time. Recipients do not have to repay fellowships and often do not have to work in return for the award.

Funding: Financial support provided by academic institutions, government agencies, philanthropic foundations, and other organizations that help students pay for graduate study. Examples of funding include teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. More than 70% of Purdue University's full-time graduate students receive funding by or through the University.

Interdisciplinary: Refers to programs or projects that span more than one graduate program, or crosses disciplines. For instance, the Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science PhD program (PULSe) allows students to focus on specific areas of research without regard to departmental boundaries. PULSe is comprised of over 170 faculty from nine colleges, 27 departments, and 11 training groups.

Master's degree: A master's degree is designed to give students advanced knowledge of a specialized field. The program typically entails coursework and exams. Programs may require a written thesis, a final project or comprehensive exam, or an internship. Some "terminal master's" degrees, such as the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), are considered the highest degree obtainable in that field - there is not a PhD. Most master's students earn their degree in one to three years.

Professional degree: A degree designed to prepare a student for a particular profession. Students receiving a professional degree are often required to pass licensing exams in the state they want to work. Examples of professional degrees include medical degrees (MD), veterinary medical degrees (DVM), or law degrees (JD). 

Research assistant: A graduate student who usually receives health benefits, tuition remission, and a stipend (i.e., a paycheck) in exchange for working as a researcher in a professor's research program. Often, the professor a student works for is also his/her advisor. Research assistants are usually selected by a professor or group of collaborating professors.

Stipend: A paycheck or payment, usually received in exchange for working as a teaching or research assistant. Fellowships, which may not require work in return for an award, also offer stipends.

Teaching assistant: A graduate student who usually receives health benefits, tuition remission, and a stipend (i.e., a paycheck) in exchange for assisting a professor with a class. Sometimes teaching assistants do not "assist" a professor, but are in charge of their own class. Teaching assistants are usually selected by a student's academic department or college.

Thesis: A document that presents a master's or doctoral student's research. At the doctoral level, the thesis is often referred to as a dissertation. At the master's level, a thesis may be optional in some programs.