Assistantships are another way of funding your graduate education and are available at many schools with graduate programs. Unlike scholarships, assistantships are more like a work-study program. Graduate assistantships are additional educational opportunities for graduate students while pursuing their graduate education. With assistantships, graduate students are offered free or reduced tuition in exchange for leading discussions in undergraduate classes, proctoring exams and grading, or assisting professors with important research.

As mentioned in my previous posts (part 1 and part 2 of my Free Money series), scholarships and fellowships are not the only ways of getting free money toward your higher education, my post today is going to cover all you need to know about assistantships.


Assistantships are available on a limited basis in most graduate programs at universities and colleges throughout the nation. These positions provide funds for many masters and doctoral students. Each department or program has its own requirements and expectations so prospective students should be sure to do their research before applying to such a position.

Assistantships are a form of financial aid given by the college or university to graduate students who engage in teaching and/or research and provide students with training and valuable professional experience in higher education work environments. It is important to note that assistantship duties should not interfere unduly with academic studies, but rather should contribute to students’ intellectual growth and degree goals. If you fell as if expectations of your assistantship are interfering with or conflicting with your studies, speak with your advisor or a department faculty member about your options.

Please keep in mind when reading the types of graduate appointments below that these opportunities usually require a letter of recommendation from at least one professor or other faculty member.

Graduate Assistant

A graduate assistant (GA) is an appointment in which a graduate student s given financial support, either with tuition remission and/or a stipend, for work in a teaching unit or academic unit that enhances his or her educational pursuits at their institution. The GA provides academic and administrative program support for units such as counseling and testing services, health and wellness services, and other student services offices.

Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants assist faculty with instructional responsibilities or serve as the principal instructor of one or more courses. Duties may include meeting with students; administering tests or exams; grading homework or exams; teaching recitation, laboratory, or discussion sessions; and teaching lecture courses. On average, a teaching assistant is required to work around twenty hours per week. Teaching assistants’ duties will vary depending on the school and discipline, but you can expect to be responsible for assisting professors with instructional responsibilities like teaching a section of a course or lead class discussions. Graduate teaching assistants should not be confused with teaching fellows, who are graduate students who serve as the main instructor for the course.

Research Assistant

A graduate research assistant (RA) is an academic appointment focused on thesis or other degree-related research. Research assistants have a great deal of responsibility. Research is critical to academic careers and they are trusted with faculty members’ research. The research project for a graduate research assistant directly supports the student’s thesis or dissertation because of the considerable amount of time devoted to the thesis or dissertation research.

Research assistants work in laboratories and other settings to assist faculty on research projects. Duties vary by discipline and program, but generally include data collection, entry, and analysis; attending conferences to present results; and training and supervising less experienced research personnel.  Duties of research assistants vary by discipline and lab but include all tasks needed to pursue research in a given area, such as:

·         data collection, entry, and analysis

·         reviewing the literature and other library work

·         writing reports

·         copying, filing, and collating

·         organizing and/or cleaning the lab or office

Please keep in mind that some students may find some of these items menial but these are the tasks that are required to run a lab and conduct research. Most RAs do a little bit of everything.

Pre-Professional Graduate Assistant

Pre-professional Graduate Assistants are appointed to positions in which their duties are directly related to their fields of study and in which they gain experience, practice, or guidance directly related to their career preparation. Pre-Professional Graduate Assistants are appointed to non-TA/non-RA assistantship positions, in which they primarily gain experience, practice, or guidance that is significantly connected to their fields of study and career preparation.

Graduate Technical Assistant

A graduate technical assistant (GTA) directs and manages the daily operation of computing laboratories which includes: developing lab rules, ensuring labs are properly staffed, as well as create and maintain lab schedules. Another major responsibility of a GTA is that often the professor will allow them to individually conduct interviews and hire lab assistants.


Duties and Evaluation of a Graduate Assistant

Before the beginning of each semester, the teaching or academic unit should produce a Duties and Evaluation Plan (DEP) for each GA. This document usually includes:

·         Precise research or instructional duties that the GA is to perform each week

·         An estimate of how many hours per week should be needed to complete the assigned duties 

·         A method of assessment by the supervising professor or faculty member for the assigned duties

The DEP should be signed by the GA and the supervising professor or administrator before the semester. It is also highly recommended the Department Chair or the graduate program director also agrees with the assigned duties and signs the DEP.

The DEP helps the department determine whether GAs perform their assigned duties to a satisfactory level and if they should continue that position. In rare cases, a DEP may need to be modified mid-semester because of unforeseen circumstances, such as cancelation of a class or additional funding for a laboratory. It is expected in these cases that the GA be assessed for their work up to that point on the old DEP and assessed on their work for the remainder of the semester with the new DEP.

One of the most common sources of funding is the graduate assistantship. Students should contact their department or graduate program to learn more about assistantship opportunities like the ones listed above. Be sure to check your institution’s website for other opportunities.


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