A graduate teaching assistant is an instructor who helps a professor conduct a college course. Sometimes graduate teaching assistants may preside over their own course, with simply some guidance from a professor. A graduate teaching assitantship is not a life-long career. It is simply a job that one is able to have while they are attending graduate school. After one is no longer in enrolled in graduate school, they must cease their position as a graduate teaching assistant. Most graduate teaching assistants have further career goals of becoming a college professor or university researcher.
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A graduate teaching assistant assists in running classes at a university. This may include helping a professor teach an especially large class, grading papers, running classroom related errands, and performing other menial tasks at the suggestion of their overseeing professor. At some schools, experienced graduate teaching assistants are given their own class to teach, and only meet with their assigned professor occasionally to discuss the matter. The classes that they teach are usually introductory courses in their field of study. For example, a graduate student studying English Literature will generally instruct or assist in instructing a Freshman Composition class, or a similar class within the field.
Graduate teaching assistants also sometimes help professors complete research. Assistants in the sciences may work preparing, setting up, and cleaning labs and scientific instruments. They may also work in university-sponsored tutoring centers, helping undergraduate students succeed. For example, a graduate student in Physics may work at a university tutoring center assisting introductory physics students in understanding ideas in their courses that they find to be complex. Graduate teaching assistants perform many jobs that professors are not interested in or consider to be menial or tedious.
In order to be a graduate teaching assistant, one must first graduate from high school or obtain their GED. Next, they must be admitted to a four-year college or university, maintain a competitive GPA, and graduate with a Bachelor's degree. Then, they must enroll in a graduate program, and apply for an assistantship. Not all students who apply for an assitantship are accepted. Those that are accepted will spend their time working as a graduate teaching assistant, in addition to taking classes. Once a student graduates from the program they are enrolled in, they will no longer be eligible to be a graduate teaching assistant. Similarly, they must also resign from their position if they choose to withdraw from graduate school.
Some programs do not offer graduate teaching assistantships, so it is important to check and make sure that the graduate program that one is applying for offers this type of job, if it is something that a student is interested in. Many places that do offer assistantships only offer a limited number, the competition for which is steep. At many schools, only the best of the best students will go on to earn a graduate teaching assistantship.
Graduate teaching assistants work for universities. Generally, they are given a cubicle in an office, which they can use for their studies and their assistantship work. Teaching assistants will also work in classrooms. Graduate teaching assistants spend a lot of time interacting with students, professors, and other assistants. Most graduate teaching assistants work part-time, in addition to completing full-time graduate studies. Many universities do not allow graduate teaching assistants to obtain additional employment outside of their assistantship. Graduate assistant offices are often some of the least funded places in a university. However, they do promote a sense of community between graduate students because of their openness and proximity to each other.
The compensation for graduate teaching assistants is slightly different than for most other jobs. Graduate teaching assistants are not paid a salary, but are instead given a stipend. The average stipend for a graduate teaching assistant is $20,000 per year. However, this figure varies between universities based on the level of funding available. Stipends may also vary on the number of classes an assistant is assigned. The more classes an assistant is assigned, the more money they will be awarded, in comparison to other assistants in the same department of their university. Assistants in high-need fields such as math and science are generally compensated more than assistants in the arts and humanities.
It is expected that the number of assistantships will increase over the next ten years. However, it is also expected that the pay for these assistantships will decrease. This is because there are more students attending both graduate and undergraduate schools, but there have been many problems with funding higher education in recent years. Many schools report the intention of lowering their assitantship stipends to only $10,000 a year. Some are reportedly even lowering the amount for an assistantship to only $6,000 a year, or $2,000 per semester. If these schools also have rules in place that do not allow assistants to seek outside employment, this could cause many assistants to live below the poverty level - as such, the subject of these decreases has been very controversial.