Graduate assistantships allow students to gain valuable professional experience in their chosen field while helping faculty and staff with research or other tasks. Most often, assistants work up to 20 hours each week during fall and spring semesters in positions related to their degree program; additionally, they receive a stipend and tuition waiver for the semester during which they were appointed. Most grad programs will provide information regarding available assistantship opportunities either as part of their graduate application process, or directly after being accepted into one.
Colleges often maintain a listing of assistantship opportunities on their websites, which could range from washing test tubes in a laboratory to recording students’ grades for English 101 classes. Responsibilities usually relate to ongoing research or teaching projects of faculty members; however, some programs such as National Science Foundation Fellowship provide students more freedom than TAs can for exploring individual interests and following their own paths.
Finding more administrative-type graduate assistantships requires the same perseverance and skillset required of any job application, according to Maggi Bienvenu, a graduate admissions counselor at Northwestern University. Building your name recognition can help, along with developing relationships that vouch for your skills and potential, according to Bienvenu. Most GA positions will be posted on your school’s employment website but it might also help if you seek out faculty whose research or classes resonate with you directly.
Apply for grants or scholarships that will assist with paying grad school costs, usually on the basis of financial need or merit; these scholarships require being an outstanding student who shows their enthusiasm about their topic of choice.
Some TAs are employed by athletic departments, aiding with everything from coaching and training sessions to keeping stats. This is an excellent opportunity for students interested in careers in sports to gain hands-on experience; others may assist with fundraising, marketing or alumni outreach activities at their school of attendance.
No matter what work GAs perform, all must find ways to balance the demands of their job with their studies and social obligations. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” states Kantrowitz who advises her mentees to ensure they leave enough time in their schedules for homework, classes and socializing.
As soon as students decide to accept GA positions, it’s essential that they communicate their expectations clearly to supervisors. Supervisors usually set start and end dates that the GA should know about in order to set their schedule effectively. Furthermore, it may be worthwhile asking if their supervisor would be open to working around any scheduling conflicts they might face.