Graduate assistantships (GAs) are the ideal path to earn and learn at the same time. You work for a predetermined number of hours every week in exchange for a waiver on some or all of your tuition and a possible monthly stipend. What more, GAs are an attractive addition to your resume, as aptly described on University of Louisiana’s website.*
Graduate assistantships are professional positions. The experience you’ll get looks great on a resume and holding such a position will give you that professional experience that employers (or doctoral programs) are looking for. For master’s students applying to doctoral programs, an assistantship on your resume is a feather in your cap and demonstrates that you have experience, that your master’s program recognized you as the best of the best. In many research fields, if you didn’t have an assistantship, those PhD programs you’re applying to may wonder why. And if you’re planning a career in academia, an assistantship is essential for getting the teaching and research lab experience you need.
Graduate assistantships (GA) can come in two forms that are most common: research assistantship and teaching assistantship.
In simple terms, research assistants (RA) assist professors on hardcore research, whereas teaching assistants (TA) assist in preparing class materials and grading (and sometimes teaching).*
Sometimes you will also come across other types of assistantships. I was a course assistant at Columbia where the responsibility entailed grading assignments, and at times assisting the professor with classes. Understandably, it also paid less since it required fewer hours. The bottom line is, look for assistantships in all forms.
Universities are generally vocal about GA openings and send out the application to all students to fill in. However, if that’s not the case for you (or even if it is), proactively reach out to your graduate program coordinator and ask about the process to follow.
Since these are coveted roles that pay handsomely, you will see fierce competition from other students.
The best way to stand out is to begin early.
If you’re looking to be an RA, you need to directly approach the professor who can be your potential supervisor. We don’t have personal experience approaching professors for an RA position, but at the very least we can recommend that you don’t use a generic email template and bcc ten professors at once.*