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  • The Teaching Assistantship

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    Teaching assistants (TAs) are the cogs in the university machine.

    They help professors with undergraduate courses by grading papers, leading discussion sections, and sometimes teaching classes on their own

    Two reasons to TA

    Many graduate programs (and almost all PhD programs) require you to serve as a teaching assistant for one or several years of your education. Even if this is not a requirement of your program, there are two reasons you should consider being a TA. First, it helps you pay for your education; TAs are awarded either a stipend or a tuition discount. Second, it provides you with university-level teaching experience. This is a great resume booster for any field, and particularly valuable for students who hope to become professors.

    Get the facts

    If you'd like to be a TA, it's important to find out as much as you can about the assistantship programs at your prospective schools.Be sure to ask what your roles and responsibilities as a TA would be. At some universities, assistants are just that; they grade papers or oversee quiz sessions. At other schools, a TA might be expected to teach two classes per term. While first-year TAs are generally provided with a basic curriculum and syllabus, they still spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans, doing background reading, grading tests and meeting with students. All this can be overwhelming when you're trying to keep up with studies of your own.

    Booking the gig

    Don't just assume you'll be able to snag a TA position; some schools only have a handful of spots, while others have none. Additionally, not all assistantships are created equal. The amount of time required can differ, as can compensation. Some TAs might get to forego tuition payments, while others receive only a modest grant.

    Most schools include an application form for assistantships in their general application packet. You may need a letter of recommendation and/or a short essay (separate from those required for the grad–school application itself) that explains your qualifications and what subject you want to teach. Volunteer experience as an instructor or tutor can help you land a position, as can real-life experience in your field of study.

    A teaching assistantship may be a great way to gain experience and save money, but it's not for everyone. Are you excited (or at least willing) to stand in front of a class of jittery freshman to earn your keep, or would the pressures of teaching detract from your own coursework? Only you can make that decision–so go into it with as much information as you can!