teaching assistant

Graduate students will often use a teaching assistantship or a research assistantship to learn how to become qualified members of their chosen profession. Learning how to grade essays, deliver lectures, and conduct class discussions are skills that graduate students can use after earning their advanced degrees. 

Graduate students often gain teaching experience by teaching undergraduate courses. Graduate teaching assistants may assist higher-ranking professors or conduct laboratory hours. In the humanities, many teaching assistants conduct their own classes and learn valuable pedagogical skills.  

Teaching assistants learn how to manage their time more effectively by teaching while studying in graduate seminars and composing drafts of a dissertation. Continue reading below to learn about the details regarding how to become a teaching assistant in grad school. 

Related: What is a Graduate Degree?

How Do I Apply to Be a Teaching Assistant?

Many graduate programs offer Ph.D. students research assistantships or teaching assistantships. Several M.A. programs offer their students assistantships after a student completes one year of graduate-level coursework. Students will receive information regarding their assistantship opportunities after they receive their acceptance letters. 

If a program does not automatically offer students assistantships, students will have to apply for assistantships within the academic department in which they study. Sometimes students will have to apply for different positions outside of a specific department. These students will apply for assistantships through the graduate school itself. 

Some students may want to work with a specific professor, but if the professor is popular, then the application process will be competitive. Earning an assistantship is easier as a Ph.D. student. M.A. students will rarely receive academic funding in their first year of study. However, after completing one year of graduate-level coursework, M.A. students are often awarded an assistantship. 

Suppose a graduate program does not automatically offer assistantships, and a prospective student wants to be a teaching assistant. In that case, that student should consider applying to graduate programs that offer teaching assistantships. 

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What Will I Do as a Teaching Assistant?

graduate school teaching assistant

Teaching assistants perform a variety of duties that will help them become more disciplined, professional, and knowledgeable. Graduate school teaches students how to become professionals, and assistantships are essential in this educational process. 

Teaching assistants will sometimes assist professors by leading discussion groups, grading essays, and conducting student conferences. Teaching assistants may also teach their own courses by themselves and hold office hours. Both types of teaching assistants learn pedagogical skills and observe how undergraduate students learn. 

Suppose a graduate program offers its teaching assistants the opportunity to teach individual classes, then the teaching assistant will learn how to teach at a university. Teaching assistants will often teach two or three sections of an undergraduate course. The teaching assistant will deliver lectures, draft syllabi, and conduct student conferences. 

Also, teaching assistants will often take a pedagogy during the first year of their assistantship. The pedagogy course will help graduate students learn from other graduate students who are discovering their identities as teachers. The weekly seminar or discussion-based class will analyze syllabi, examine course assignments, and explore assigned readings. 

Teaching assistants also learn how to manage their time. While conducting classes, grading essays, and learning how to teach, graduate students also take graduate-level courses and write a thesis or dissertation. Teaching assistants must learn how to manage their time efficiently and professionally.

Graduate education teaches students how to accomplish more tasks with less time. Many graduate students will attend conferences, symposia, and lectures. Being a teaching assistant is often a graduate student’s first experience of life as a professional academic. 

Research assistantships are more often awarded in the sciences. Individual research assistantships offer students opportunities to work with a faculty member on a specific research project. Sometimes several research assistantships will work together on a team. 

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How Will Being a Teaching Assistant Affect My Career?

supplementing income in graduate school

Being a teaching assistant helps students learn how to become effective teachers. Teaching is a demanding profession, and teachers must develop their own styles and identities. Graduate teaching assistantships allow students to grow professionally while finishing their degree programs. Rather than waiting to gain teaching experience after graduation, teaching assistants can begin teaching while completing their academic degrees. 

After graduation, teaching assistants possess valuable skills, experiences, and professional acquaintances. Teaching assistantships help students acquire teaching jobs. Employers understand that a recent graduate with teaching experience will be more prepared to teach and require less guidance. 

Going to a class and speaking every day, week after week, is an excellent way for students to learn how to be more confident, resilient, and creative. Teaching assistants develop skills that will improve their roles as public speakers. Some teaching assistants may enter professions unrelated to teaching, but they can still use public speaking skills in fields like law, administration, and finance. 

Teaching assistants also learn how to improve their networking skills. The academic world is small, and teaching assistants have access to amazing professors. When these students look for jobs, they can use their professional network to discover rewarding positions. Teaching assistants also learn how to transition from their roles as students to their roles as teachers. 

Students may want to pursue careers as professors, and if this is the case, then being a teaching assistant is a necessary component of their graduate education. Major professors want their students to model them as teachers and professionals, and graduate students can discuss their teaching experiences with their major professors. 

These conversations will focus on how to be an effective instructor. They will also deal with problems related to pedagogy, student behavior, and academia in general. 

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What Types of Students Are Best Suited to Be Teaching Assistants? 

 grad school teaching assistant

Dedicated, independent, and persistent students should consider becoming teaching assistants. Graduate education is strenuous, tiring, and frustrating. The most intelligent students often do not enjoy teaching, and students who do not want to learn professional skills will not enjoy being teaching assistants. 

The best teaching assistants are those students who care about other students and helping them learn. Graduate students will face many challenges, but perhaps the most significant difficulty they will encounter involves their transition from student to teacher. Being a mentor and teacher is different from being a student, and seeing education from both perspectives is an essential feature of graduate education. 

See also: How Do I Apply to Graduate School?

A student may think they will enjoy being a teaching assistant but discover that they do not like teaching undergraduates. However, not every student should consider being a teaching assistant during graduate school. Many students will want to focus on coursework and writing a thesis or dissertation. Teaching requires time, effort, and sustained attention, and teaching assistants have to use their time efficiently to complete their graduate degree programs. 

Students who are not serious or have a superficial understanding of academic life will not be successful teaching assistants. Graduate school is a transformative experience, and lukewarm students who do not have the drive to succeed will burn out from exhaustion. Graduate school is a significant undertaking, and ambivalent students will not be effective teaching assistants. 

Qualifications of the Best Graduate Teaching Assistants

Creativity and Curiosity
Ability to Hold Meaningful Conversations
Patience
Empathy toward Students
Organized and Detail-Oriented
Passionate About Education
Loves to Help Others
Great Communication Skills
Sense of Humor
Good Time Manager
Compassionate Desire to Serve Others
Inclusive 

Are Teaching Assistants More Likely to Be Hired After Graduate School?

Students with teaching experience will be more likely to land teaching positions. High schools, boarding schools, and community colleges want to hire academic professionals with teaching experience. If teaching assistants work hard and network, they will be able to acquire a teaching post after they complete their graduate education. 

Teaching assistants learn how to manage a classroom, design assignments, and lead class discussions. Academic deans value these skills, and many employers will see teaching experience as a worthwhile trait. Not every graduate student will receive a teaching assistantship, so employers find applicants with teaching experience in graduate school appealing.

What Will My Students Be Like When I Am a Graduate Teaching Assistant?

TA graduate school

Most teaching assistants in graduate school will teach undergraduate-level courses. Teaching assistants will often teach introductory courses intended to teach undergraduates fundamental skills like analytical writing or quantitative reasoning in the humanities. Every department is different, and prospective graduate students should consider how specific departments assign classes to teaching assistants.  

Most undergraduate students are focused, committed, and polite. However, some universities may have less qualified undergraduate students, and some of these students may seem uninterested in the course material. If this is the case, teaching assistants should learn how to challenge students who do not enjoy a particular academic discipline. 

The quality of your students will depend on the quality of the university in which you teach. Teaching assistants at highly-ranked universities and colleges may develop intellectual relationships with their students. But teaching assistants at lower-ranked universities and colleges may not have opportunities to build these relationships with their students. 

One factor prospective teaching assistants must consider is that many students may be close in age to the graduate teaching assistant. Teaching assistants should maintain decorum and a professional demeanor when they are conducting their professional duties. Undergraduate students may not take a teaching assistant seriously because of their age, but this is a challenge that teaching assistants must face. 

Related: Best Graduate Degrees for Seniors

Will Being a Teaching Assistant Help Me Pay for Graduate School?

The university offers teaching assistants a stipend and tuition remission. Teaching assistants will not have to pay any tuition or fees while employed by the university as a teaching assistant. Stipends vary depending on the geographical location of the university and the cost of living associated with the community. 

Many graduate students will receive a stipend depending on their status as a Ph.D. or M.A. student. Ph.D. students often receive slightly higher stipends than M.A. students. A typical stipend will help the graduate teaching assistant pay living expenses and purchase necessities. Some universities will require their students to have health insurance, and different kinds of insurance may be offered as part of an assistantship package. 

One significant advantage of being a teaching assistant is tuition remission. Earning a graduate degree without paying tuition will help students reduce their student debt amount. Reducing this debt will help students begin careers sooner, purchase a home, and possess more supplemental income. 

Will Being a Teaching Assistant Help Me Grow and Mature?

Graduate education is transformative, and many students will go through profound changes during their time as teaching assistants. Being responsible for other students and their ability to learn new skills helps graduate students understand the role of education in an advanced democratic society. Teaching assistants will learn more about the inherent value of education. 

Teaching assistants learn how to develop as professionals and individuals. Graduate students devote themselves to the university’s intellectual life, and this experience leads to positive personality changes. Teaching assistants may feel as if they do not have time to complete everything they need to do in any given week, but they will learn how to access new reservoirs of energy and cognitive strength. 

Final Thoughts

Teaching assistants gain valuable experience during graduate school. They develop as academic professionals and learn how to expand their understanding of education and its role in society. 

Teaching assistants also learn how to use their time efficiently. Teaching courses, taking graduate seminars, and writing a dissertation consumes a teaching assistant’s life. Still, during this process, the teaching assistant learns how to manage every task they need to complete. 

Teaching assistants have excellent employment prospects after graduation. The skills they learn during graduate school will help them connect with many different employers. 

Public speaking is an essential component of graduate education. Teaching assistants will learn how to improve their public speaking skills by leading class discussions and delivering lectures. Graduate students will learn how to be more confident and independent public speakers. 

Students who want to pursue graduate education should understand that being a teaching assistant is a wonderful opportunity for both personal and professional growth. Prospective students should investigate the specific programs they apply to and learn about the policies regarding teaching assistantships and research assistantships. 

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