A graduate assistantship is a way for a graduate student to work for a university in his or her chosen field, generally while being paid a small stipend in combination with the bonus of free tuition. Graduate assistantships are quite competitive and will vary by university. For those students who excel in their field of study, however, they can be an excellent way to gain experience while continuing their education.
Work Requirements and Benefits
In a graduate assistantship program, most assistants are required to work about 20 hours per week. In return, they receive a small stipend that generally equates to the pay of an average part-time job, although this can vary from one universities to another or from one region to another. The graduate assistant's tuition, room and board generally will be paid in full as long as he or she maintains a specific grade point average (GPA).
Duties of a Graduate Assistant
When working as a graduate assistant, there are various duties that a person is expected to perform, depending on the type of graduate assistantship that he or she has received. As a teaching assistant (TA), he or she would be required to teach some low-level classes, grade assignments and work directly with students and professors. As a research assistant (RA), he or she would be required to perform and analyze research in a lab under the supervision of a professor.
In general, however, a graduate assistant can expect to work with various faculty members within a specific department, grade assignments, fill in as a class teacher when needed, run study groups or lab groups for students and maintain office hours in which to meet with and assist students. Although becoming a graduate assistant is a great deal of work on top of what is likely an already busy schedule, a graduate assistantship does provide a great deal of valuable experience. Many graduate assistants might go on to work as professors in their chosen department after they complete graduate school.
Becoming a graduate assistant typically requires undergoing an application process, maintaining at least a certain GPA and being interviewed face-to-face at least one time. Although most graduate assistants work in their own department — a math major usually will work in the math department, for example — this is not always the case. Sometimes, one department will require the skills of a student from another department, which can be a great way for the graduate assistant to get varying types of experience.
A good candidates for a graduate assistantship is someone who is motivated and who manages his or her time well. The workload will vary throughout the duration of the graduate assistantship, so it is important that he or she doesn't allow either his or her studies or his or her assistantship duties to suffer. Anyone who is interested in a graduate assistantship should research opportunities ahead of time and meet with people who have been graduate assistants to get a realistic expectation of the role.