What Is an Assistantship?

What Is an Assistantship?

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An assistantship is academic employment that aims to provide students with financial support in exchange for the students’ labor in either research or instruction.

Assistantship programs are commonly offered in graduate studies, where appointed graduate student assistants are required to help professors prepare for undergraduate classes or research-related projects. Furthermore, an assistantship position allows the students to gain working experience in research, instruction, or other administrative roles.

As a student assistant, you will be eligible to receive tuition fee remissions, including monthly salary stipends. In return, you will work with a faculty or mentor for a fixed number of hours per week within your assistantship term. Additionally, a full-time enrollment every semester may be part of the requirements in the assistantship program. Also, some universities will require you to maintain satisfactory progress or minimum GPA in your degree program to retain the assistantship position.

What Is a Teaching Assistant (TA)?

A teaching assistant aids the supervising professor in teaching-related tasks. Besides classroom instruction, university professors have other academic assignments to complete, involving assisting students, grading papers, and preparing lectures. A teaching assistant lessens the workload of the professor by helping him/her in the daily activities.

Responsibilities of teaching assistants

The responsibilities of teaching assistants may include the following:

  • Prepare materials – Teaching assistants help professors in preparing quality and relevant teaching and learning materials.
  • Attend course meetings – To further familiarize the course content, teaching assistants may have to participate in course lectures conducted by the supervising professor.
  • Conduct lectures – In some cases, teaching assistants may be required to conduct lectures or review sessions to highlight vital concepts necessary to supplement student understanding.
  • Assist students – A teaching assistant’s job may involve working with and assisting students on their problems in grasping the contents of the course.
  • Conduct laboratory sessions – Teaching assistants may be required to prepare for and conduct laboratory sessions where students perform experiments concerning the course.
  • Evaluate student performance – A teaching assistant, equipped with sufficient knowledge on course contents and acquainted with the grading policies, may be tasked to assess and grade students’ papers, assignments, and examinations.

Applying for a teaching assistantship program entails competition among other qualified applicants. The university can only accommodate a certain number of students for the teaching assistant position. In fact, the survey on U.S. doctorate recipients presented that only about 17% of the doctorate respondents identified teaching assistantship as their primary source of financial support for their doctoral studies, among other school assistance programs. This number suggests that only a handful of doctorate recipients have benefited from financial incentives provided by teaching assistantships programs in U.S. universities.

Teaching assistantship programs may be available at undergraduate and graduate levels, depending on your university or college.

How much do teaching assistants make?

Teaching assistantship programs enable college or graduate students to save or earn money that may help in reducing their educational expenses. College students can either save money intended for course enrollment using class credits earned or receive stipends through undergraduate teaching assistantship programs. Graduate students enrolled in a doctorate/master’s degree program can be financially supported with stipends and tuition fee waivers through graduate teaching assistantship programs.

Undergraduate teaching assistantship programs are offered in some universities that allow undergraduate students to earn class credits or receive stipends, depending on the terms of the program provided by the institution. In universities such as the University of Pittsburgh, the undergraduate teaching assistant may receive either class credit. The student may earn a stipend or up to 3 credits for 12-15 hours per week. However, some institutions only offer financial compensation to undergraduate teaching assistants as payment for their work rather than academic credits. Such institutions include Trinity College, with a stipend rate that ranges from $8.00-13.50 per hour. Brown University provides the undergraduate teaching assistant with an hourly rate ranging from $11.50-$14.50, depending on the student’s wage grade.

On the other hand, graduate teaching assistants receive better financial benefits than undergraduate teaching assistants. Most universities with graduate assistantship programs provide graduate teaching assistants with tuition fee waivers. These cover the semester’s full tuition or portion of it while appointed with the assistantship position. In addition to that, you are eligible to receive stipends as compensation for your teaching-related service as a graduate teaching assistant. 

The amount of stipend varies from one institution to another. For instance, a doctoral graduate teaching assistant with a full-time appointment at the University of Central Florida may receive a $6,000 stipend in one semester. A full-time graduate teaching assistant enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Rhode Island can receive compensation as high as $10,250 in a single semester.

How to become a teaching assistant

Graduate and undergraduate assistantships have very strict requirements. This is why we have written a full guide on how to become a teaching assistant.

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

Undergraduate teaching assistantships offer undergraduate students the opportunity to widen their academic experience by providing support to university professors and assistance to other college students. Being an undergraduate teaching assistant allows you to enhance your understanding of the course discipline and develop instructional skills to explain the course content further to the learners. Some aspiring undergraduate teaching assistants may be accepted for the position as volunteers, while others apply to acquire class credits or receive stipends for their service.

Responsibilities of undergraduate teaching assistants

As part of your responsibilities, your activities may involve preparing and delivering lectures, leading laboratory sessions, attending class sessions, supporting class management, and facilitating feedback sessions. Additionally, you may be assigned to aid in developing course materials by completing literature reviews, evaluating research, finding learning resources, and developing study guides for the enrolled students.

In most cases, only the supervising instructor is responsible for assigning the students’ final grades within the entire course work. However, the undergraduate teaching assistant may assist in grading student outputs, examinations, and short answer questions using grading keys and rubrics provided by the supervising instructor. Furthermore, the supervising faculty member is also responsible for providing support and professional development for the undergraduate teaching assistant. The duties of the faculty mentor include the following:

  • Develop eligibility criteria for the undergraduate teaching assistant position
  • Specify the duties and responsibilities of an undergraduate teaching assistant
  • Provide training and orientation to undergraduate teaching assistants before assuming the responsibilities assigned to them
  • Arrange regular meetings and maintain close communication with the undergraduate teaching assistant for clarifications or inquiries on instruction-related duties
  • Evaluate undergraduate teaching assistant performance and provide feedback for improvement
  • Review and resolve complaints on undergraduate teaching assistant misconducts, grievances, and conflicts

Benefits of undergraduate teaching assistants

Additionally, some universities allow an undergraduate student to attend as a teaching assistant in a course for class credits. The supervising professor must create a course syllabus that specifies the roles and responsibilities and the learning objectives for undergraduate teaching assistants, which will serve as the basis for grading. Also, the works of undergraduate teaching assistants assigned to grade students’ outputs and performances must be regularly monitored and checked by the supervising professor to ensure grade accuracy and integrity.

Duties of undergraduate teaching assistants

Upon being accepted for the undergraduate teaching assistant position, you must dedicate a certain number of working hours every week to fulfill your instruction-related duties and responsibilities. Some universities, such as the University of Minnesota, will require you to complete your teaching-related tasks in an average of 6-12 hours per week. While others, such as Trinity College, allow up to 15 hours of work per week. However, the number of hours may vary weekly depending on the assigned tasks given to you for the course. Nevertheless, you must find balance in your teaching assistantship and academic work as an undergraduate student.

Training of undergraduate teaching assistants

As an undergraduate teaching assistant, you may be expected to participate in training and orientations sessions, avoid unprofessional misconducts, follow a certain schedule for teaching-related tasks, and maintain utmost confidentiality of students’ performance results, grades, and personal issues. 

Graduate Teaching Assistants

A graduate assistantship is intended for doctorate and master’s degree students. Like undergraduate teaching assistants, graduate teaching assistants also help professors prepare lectures and examinations, lead group discussions, conduct laboratory activities, grade papers, etc.

In addition, some graduate teaching assistants are allowed to handle undergraduate classes. Such a task is usually assigned to graduate students with a certain amount of completed course loads. Furthermore, the graduate student assistant must undergo a series of training programs provided by the department to ensure effective and quality delivery of instruction.

Duties of graduate assistants

A graduate teaching assistant assigned to assist an undergraduate course instructor with grading tests, helping in lectures and laboratory sessions, and coordinating field logistics, falls in the Graduate Assistant (Teaching Support) category.

Are graduate assistants full-time or part-time?

Some universities only offer full-time graduate assistantships, while other universities allow part-time graduate teaching assistants positions.

Generally, the difference between full-time and part-time appointments is the number of working hours the graduate student must render as a teaching assistant. For a full-time graduate assistantship, the graduate teaching assistant must work for 20 hours every week, while only of which per week is required for graduate teaching assistants with part-time appointments.

Categorization of graduate assistants

Graduate assistants may be categorized according to their tasks. In the University of Florida, graduate teaching assistants are categorized as:

  • Graduate Assistant (Teaching Support)
  • Graduate Assistant (Supervised Teaching)
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant or Associate

The bottom line

A teaching assistantship program not only provides you with financial support for your education but also enables you to learn and broaden your knowledge. Being a teaching assistant allows you to save or earn money for your undergraduate or graduate studies through the financial benefits provided as compensation for your work. Furthermore, having a teaching assistantship position equips you with pedagogical skills that prepare you for employment opportunities, especially in teaching-related careers.