You are here

What Does it Mean to be a Graduate Assistant?

UL Grad School -- 01/11/2018

If you are new to the graduate school experience then you may not be that familiar yet with the phrase: “Graduate Assistantship.”

Let this blog be your guide! We’ll explain the ins and outs of graduate assistantships, including what they are exactly, how to find them, and why they are so important for you to apply for.

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, often times, 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 advance their professional and/or academic development.

Each assistantship type has its own unique tasks and, in fact, no one individual assistantship position is exactly the same. Duties are assigned by the department or faculty member who hires them and can include anything from teaching courses, assisting professors with their courses, conducting research while working alongside research faculty, or even performing professional tasks in one of the many on-campus offices, labs, clinics, or facilities.

How to Find a Graduate Assistantship Position

There are a huge variety of graduate assistant positions available at UL Lafayette and the key to finding the one that fits you the best is by doing your research, communication, and networking.

If you want to gain that valuable teaching experience you should definitely contact the graduate coordinator for your program. They review all assistantship applications for their department and will be the ones offering the positions to their most qualified applicants. If you are interested in a research position then you should begin your search by getting more familiar with the research being done in your department and research centers on campus and the faculty members doing it. Again, contact your graduate coordinator but make sure also to 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, graduate assistant in the Graduate School, recently discussed how she managed to land her current job.

“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.” Her advice: “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.”

Visiting the various campus offices, labs, and clinics can be a great way to get your name out there. Inquiring if they have any upcoming graduate positions, leaving a resume, and making a great first impression can work wonders during the assistantship search process. Don’t leave any stone unturned – visit anywhere that hires graduate assistants on campus. You’d be surprised at how many different positions are offered, so you should check it out even if it’s outside of your comfort level. 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 master’s 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.

Furthermore, having an assistantship reduces stress while you are actually in graduate school because you don’t have to worry about finding the thousands of dollars for tuition and living expenses needed every semester.
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.

Doctoral students, it’s especially important for you to know at the outset that assistantships make a huge impact. They are essential. From getting that essential teaching experience to providing a first-hand experience being a part of--and running--a research lab, graduate assistantships demonstrate your aptitude beyond the books. They fill your CV with the skills and experience that will set you apart on the academic or research job hunt.

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.

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. 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. And, for students at UL Lafayette, getting in the know about these openings is easier than ever. You can like the Graduate School on Facebook and follow our Twitter, where we regularly post open positions and offer information 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. 

For these kinds of graduate assistantship positions, it's still a good idea to submit the official application, but you’ll also want to contact the office, clinic, or lab that you are interested in working in, as they may require a resume and references sent to them directly.

Find out more about Graduate Assistantships >