Our former ambassador, Laura Monroe, is a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama. I wasn't exactly sure what a graduate assistant did, so I turned to Laura to explain it to us. Here is what Laura shared with me:
"Graduate assistants do more than most students think, or at least more than I thought they did when I was an undergraduate. They are expected to take on a full class schedule and maintain a high GPA, all while being a hard working assistant. I think students often forget that the graduate assistants that work in their classrooms are full time students too.
Depending on the type of assistantship one receives, a graduate assistant might teach her own classes, assist a professor with his or her classes, or conduct research for a university staff member. My particular assistantship requires me to help a professor with his large lecture classes. I work 10 hours a week and my duties include entering grades, keeping up with attendance, and making lots of copies, among other tasks. With over 200 students in the class, it makes it much easier on the professor to share some of this work. Many of these students are freshmen and since it's one of their first courses at the university, I help field many of their questions. I also find myself grading small assignments, which has taught me a lot about working with students.
If you have the opportunity to become a graduate assistant, I highly recommend that you do. It's a great experience that can teach you so much about what it takes to be an educator, even if that's not what you are interested in becoming. It also allows you to make connections in your department, and connections you make now can always lead to more opportunities in the future. I have met more professors due to my position this year than I ever did in my undergraduate studies. As a graduate assistant, you become a sort of short-term coworker with the administrators and professors in your department. You use the same copy machines, eat in the same break rooms, and attend many of the same meetings. If you're lucky, you might even be given your own office space. Given you'll probably share it with a few other GA's, but it's still a nice feeling to see your name on the door."
I asked Laura how she was supporting herself during this grad school assistant position. She said:
"My assistantship pays for half of my tuition and I received a scholarship that covers the other half. I try to make extra money whenever I can by doing freelance work, for example. It's not much, but every little bit helps. While my program doesn't encourage full time jobs, most programs know that their students often have jobs while in school. Many of my friends in other graduate programs at this university have daytime jobs and take night classes."