Paid assistantships for graduate students offer an alternative to off-campus jobs


Graduate students can help further their career by working on campus as a research assistant or a teaching assistant.

Cameron Karn

For graduate students looking to get an edge in their field, graduate assistantships can be a great opportunity to help fellow Iowa State students further understand certain topics and make money. At Iowa State, 80 percent of doctorate students and 35 percent of master’s students receive some sort of assistantship across all disciplines.

There are two types of graduate assistantships. The first is a research assistant (RA), and the second is a teaching assistant (TA). RAs help researchers on campus with their projects pertaining to their topic of study and sometimes are even given their own research projects. TAs usually help out professors who are teaching classes by grading papers and administering lectures and assignments as needed.

“I chose the teaching assistant route because I wanted to have a better idea of how to present to a large audience, and I get to be around people my age since I’m more likely to go into a professional field after this,” said Malik Newson, graduate student in journalism and mass communications and TA for Kelly Winfrey. 

As a graduate assistant, students don’t get much say in who they can assist. Most students sign up to be a TA or an RA in whatever field they are studying and are randomly assigned to professors who require the help. If a professor wants a specific assistant, however, they may choose that person before they are assigned to somebody.

“Dr. Winfrey is the third person I have assisted,” Newson said. “If you are a teaching assistant, you kind of get moved from class to class. Usually, the school will try to factor in who your personality would work best with.”

RAs and TAs are both paid stipends by the Graduate College of Iowa State. These stipends are fixed amounts of monetary compensation for the services graduate assistants provide and the expenses they incur. The stipends depend on the term length of the assistantship and what level of appointment they have. The levels of appointment are quarter-time, halftime and three-quarters time. For reference, the halftime appointed students are expected to work a total of 20 hours over a given week. Some assistants also have part of their tuition paid off as well.

Academic advisers are great resources for getting involved in an assistantship.

“I talked to academic advisers both from my college, Greenlee School of Journalism and from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to figure out what being a TA really involves,” Newson said.

For students interested in an assistantship, talk to your advisers for more information on how to apply.