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What Does it Mean to be a Graduate Assistant?

UL Grad School -- 01/11/2021

If you’re new to the graduate school experience, you may not yet be familiar with the phrase “graduate assistantship.”

Let this blog be your guide! We’ll explain what a graduate assistantship involves, how to find one, and why you should prioritize applying for a position — the sooner the better.

Find a graduate assistantship when you apply for graduate programs.

What is a Graduate Assistantship?

A graduate assistantship is a salaried student employment opportunity for graduate students. Graduate assistants work a set number of hours per week and, in return, receive a tuition waiver and, oftentimes, a monthly living stipend.

UL Lafayette offers three types of graduate assistantship positions: graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), graduate research assistants (GRAs), and graduate assistants (GAs) who offer administrative support that advances their professional and/or academic development.

Each assistantship has its own unique tasks, and duties are assigned by the department or faculty member who hires the position. The responsibilities can range from assisting professors with grading and teaching, teaching courses independently, conducting research with faculty, or even performing professional tasks in an on-campus office, lab, clinic, or facility.

How to Find a Graduate Assistantship Position

There are a huge variety of graduate assistant positions available at UL Lafayette.

The keys to finding the one that fits you the best are:

  • doing your research,
  • communicating effectively, and
  • networking.

If you’re looking for teaching experience, your first task is to contact the graduate coordinator for your program. Graduate coordinators review all the assistantship applications for their department and determine which applicants are most qualified to be offered a position. If you want a research position, start by learning more about your program’s areas of research and the work of specific faculty members. In addition to contacting your graduate coordinator, you should inquire directly with faculty members who have similar research interests as you.

If your department doesn’t currently have any open graduate assistantship positions, don’t panic! There are many GA positions available across campus. Finding one of these more administrative-type graduate assistantship positions is similar to finding any other job – it takes networking, perseverance, professionalism, and sometimes just good timing.

Maggi Bienvenu says she landed her position as a graduate assistant in the Graduate School by keeping her ear to the ground and getting her name out there.

“A lot of these positions come about by word of mouth. Networking is big! That’s an essential skill to have in the real world, too.

“You have to be willing to put yourself out there and let it be known what you’re looking for and what your skills are. The more people who know that you’re looking and what you have to offer, the more of them will put your name forward when they hear of something,” she says.

Getting in touch with campus offices, labs, and clinics can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Inquire if they have any upcoming graduate positions, offer your resume, and above all make a good first impression. You’d be surprised at how many different positions are offered, so cast a wide net and consider opportunities outside of your comfort zone.

For example, one of our more unusual graduate assistantship positions requires working in the nursing patient simulator lab as a role-playing actor—and our grad student in that position is a criminal justice master’s candidate.

Why is a Graduate Assistantship Important?

LINK: download the steps for finding a graduate assistantshipFirst and foremost, having a graduate assistantship position can help you achieve your degree while incurring little or no debt. That means you’ll start the post-graduation job search without the pressure of paying back student loans.

Graduate assistantships are also important because they can open up doors in the future. You’ll be working very closely with faculty members and other leaders at the university who will be able to help you network, be your advocate, and provide you with glowing references for jobs.

All graduate assistantships are professional positions that allow you to build the skills that employers are looking for. For master’s students applying to doctoral programs, an assistantship demonstrates that you are well-prepared to contribute to the department. Indeed, for many research fields, not having an assistantship during your master’s could count against you when applying to PhD programs.

For doctoral students, know from the outset that assistantships make a huge impact on the trajectory of your career. They are essential to building your CV with the skills and experience that will set you apart on the academic or research job hunt. By gaining experience teaching classes or learning first-hand how to run a research lab, you’ll demonstrate your aptitude beyond the books.

How to Apply

To apply for a teaching or research graduate assistantship you’ll need to submit the Graduate Assistantship Application to the Graduate School alongside the documents required for admission. Make sure that, in addition to the application form, that you reach out to your graduate coordinator and inform them of your interest.

While your graduate coordinator is the best resource for open positions in your department, there are many available assistantships that regularly open up around campus. Have a professional resume ready and prepare a killer cover letter.

Be sure to like the Graduate School on Facebook and follow our Twitter and Instagram, where we regularly post open positions and details about how to apply for them. You can also stay in touch with UL Lafayette’s Career Services, which is responsible for posting open positions on campus.

Find out more about Graduate Assistantships >