Zach Thomas knew he wanted to pursue an assistantship position when he enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University for graduate school. A math graduate student and former middle school teacher, he was taking undergraduate prerequisite courses for his math master’s program when he first learned about the assistantship opportunity.
“While I was taking undergraduate courses, one of my instructors during was a TA (teaching assistant) himself,” Thomas said. “Additionally, Dr. (Rebecca) Calahan, supervisor of the math (graduate teaching assistants), brought up the possibility of getting a TA once I was in the program.”
Unlike a more typical job unrelated to university studies, graduate assistantships offer students benefits directly linked to their academic pursuits such as tuition coverage, a stipend and greater interaction with faculty with 20 hours of work a week, Thomas explained.
MTSU offers three types of assistantships, said Dawn McCormack, associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies. There are teaching assistantships, the most common; research assistantships; and administrative assistantships — all of which can be full- or part-time positions.
McCormack recommends looking into assistantships at the same time as applying to graduate programs. General information about these positions is available at the graduate school website, and application deadlines vary from program to program.
Currently, the university employs around 600 graduate students in assistantship positions, said Shannon Caywood, a graduate studies accountant.
“Assistantships come with a certain amount of prestige as obtaining one is a competitive process,” McCormack said. “If students want to enter a doctoral program or are in a doctoral program, teaching or research assistantships can help them gain experience that is needed in order to apply for faculty positions at colleges and universities.
“Assistantships are intended to help students have more time for their academic work, helping them progress to completion of their program and graduation more rapidly than would be possible otherwise. For some of our students with assistantships, graduate school would not be possible otherwise.”
Thomas said some of the greatest benefits of an assistantship are the tuition waiver, which eliminates the majority of the cost for courses, and the stipend.
“The (other) biggest benefit you get long term from this job is getting to know the faculty better,” he said. “You’re in the building more. You run into them more often.… it gives you more ties. It gives you better references whenever you leave the university. You become a better professional overall.”
Jonathan Gogal, another graduate student and administrative assistant at the College of Education, has found his work rewarding and meaningful.
“The highest benefit of this position is working with this incredible faculty,” Gogal said. “The College of Education has an outstanding faculty who are devoted to their students and their work. Also, they foster a professional environment for graduate assistants to grow and learn … (in) a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.”
Thomas advised that good teaching assistant candidates are well-versed in their subjects. Teaching experience is also a plus.
Gogal suggested those interested in an administrative position be self-starters.
“Don’t wait for someone to ask for help,” Gogal said. “Your job is to assist, so be present and ask if anyone needs your assistance. It makes the faculty (and) staff’s lives easier, and (they) appreciate your work.”
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)