What are GA, TA, and RA and Their Requirements?
In the following lines we will discuss a major theme of every graduate student-to-be – the assistantships. Why are they so important? Firstly, because of their academic significance, and, secondly (my personal first, though I didn’t wanted to sound mercantile) – their financial contribution into students budgets.
What does an assistant? From the name you probably understood that he supports with activities of different types the academic activities. The assistantships establish some form of employer-employment relationship between the student and the university. The assistant perform some kind of work, in exchange of some type of benefits (tuition remission, remuneration, etc.). Up to this moment my explanation are pretty undetailed, eh?
To go in more depth, we must precise the three more common types of assistantships – graduate, research and teaching. Before I can do this, I must clarify something. All the info in this article is aggregated and every university has specific policy, criteria and application procedure regarding the assistantships. Here in the article you could see the common information and for best results you should check the assistantship policy in the educational institution where you will study in.
Graduate assistantship (GA):
The graduate assistantship is the first form we will discuss today. As we start from the toughest one, because graduate assistantships are the ones that have most differences from university to university. There are educational institution that uses the term “graduate assistantship” simply as a common term that aggregates teaching and research assistantships in. Other institutions use GA as some form of administrative assistantship that includes technical duties such as making power point presentations for professors, helping with technical programs – making designs, videos, even help with the surveillance systems. As our community gets more and more tech oriented, such abilities become more valuable no matter of the sphere you chose to work in. So, if you are tech oriented, you can go for such assistantship (of course, if the university has the same understanding of graduate assistantships, because the duties could vary based on department). Also, there are universities that make no difference between graduate assistantship and research assistantship – so in this case, a graduate assistant makes some kind of research, depending on the department, in return of financial benefits (as tuition remission, or additional funding). As everything here is relative, in some universities, Graduate assistantships have more funding, and of course, there is more work involved. Just make sure you check your university’s specific requirements.
Aside from the tuition remission, what other benefits could be included in a graduate assistantship? Part-time employment, and in some cases additional medical coverage, which is a huge plus, especially in a country like the United States, where the medical services are extremely expensive. The part-time employment guarantees a flexible schedule, which can mean a lot when you are studying at the same time. Up to this we can add a competitive salary, valuable experience, and a start of promising university career. Sounds pretty good, right?
Teaching Assistantships (TA):
Teaching Assistantships in general consist of support in a teaching course. The specific duties may consist in leading laboratory sections, tutoring, helping with specific assignments on demand, teach a part from a course or lead discussions. Teaching assistantships, like all other kind of assistantships are part-time, which is also something that depends on the university, because in some institutions there is additional limitation to the work hours (like no more than 15 or 10 a week), so this is also something a future assistant should check on-site for his academic institution.
If you are an international student, you should be aware that universities place mandatory TOEFL/ IELTS scores for teaching assistantships, and, it is no surprise that if you are going to teach in foreign language you should be fluent on this language. And while for the submission into university the scores are somewhat lower, because the authorities consider that even if you have some difficulties with a language you will get better with time, there is no such consideration with the teaching job. On average (and, I am repeating you should check the specific restrictions of your university), if the average TOEFL score for submission into a social major is around 80-90, the minimum expected score for a teaching assistantship application could be around 100 (when the maximum score is 120).
Of course, nobody is expecting to be perfect at the very beginning, there are a lot of institutions in the university (like centers for teaching excellence), where the teaching assistants can search for help and insights for the work from experienced specialists.
Typically you can apply for teaching assistant for a course you have already taken, in the previous semester, for example, and you showed academic excellence in. About the work hours, the rules are like in the graduate assistantships – 20 hours is considered full-time job when you are studying in the same time.
Research Assistantship (RA):
The last type of assistantship we are going to talk about today is the research assistantship. This type of assistantship includes research activity that is not directly related to the student’s dissertation (thesis) topic. The specific duties the Research assistantship includes also vary by the department and the nature of the research project – home based research, laboratory research, research in close work with NGO’s or other institutions. The research assistants work under supervision provided by faculty members. The research work is different from the teaching, because it usually requires more free time; there are even cases when the students work even more than 20 hours, because of deadlines or work overloads. Other specific thing is that the research work is usually given by a professor, because they are the people who take grants for research and afterwards they chose some students to give an extra hand with all the work. So, if you think research is your thing, you should contact a professor whose work you are interested in, and you should follow the process afterwards. I put an extra accent on “whose work you are interested in”, because if otherwise, your dream job could easily turn into a nightmare. Take some time to think about it, grab the wave and enjoy the ride. Good luck!