What is an Assistantship?

Assistantship is a form of financial assistance provided to graduate students through part-time academic employment. Assistants are paid a stipend and/or receive tuition remission (free tuition) in exchange for tasks they perform for a faculty member, the department, or the college. Teaching assistantships provide aid in exchange for teaching activities, such as assisting a professor by conducting lab or study groups, preparing lectures, and grading. Research assistantships pay students to assist a professor with his or her research.

A graduate assistant (GA) is a person who serves in a support role (assistantship) at a university, usually while completing post-graduate education. The individual typically assists professors with instructional responsibilities as teaching assistants or with academic research responsibilities as research assistants, aids coaches with an athletic team, or is employed by other university departments (such as housing or academic advising) in an entry-level capacity.

Rather than receive hourly wages, GAs are often remunerated in the form of a stipend. Assistantships provide much needed experience for graduate students, increasing their future employment options.

A stipend is defined as a fixed sum of money paid periodically for services or to defray expenses. The fact that remuneration is termed a "fee" or "stipend" rather than salary or wages is immaterial. The stipend allows for the graduate student to focus 100% on their studies instead of a full-time job, but pays just the same as if they were working. A PhD graduate stipend is considered income.

A research assistant (RA) is a researcher employed, often on a temporary contract, by a university or a research institute, for the purpose of assisting in academic research. Research assistants are not independent and not directly responsible for the outcome of the research and are responsible to a supervisor or principal investigator. Research assistants are often educated to degree level and might be enrolled in a postgraduate degree programme and simultaneously teach.

A teaching assistant or teacher's aide (TA) is an individual who assists a professor or teacher with instructional responsibilities. TAs include: graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who are graduate students; undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs), who are undergraduate students; secondary school TAs, who are either high school students or adults; and elementary school TAs, who are adults (also known as paraprofessional educators or teacher's aides). By definition, TAs assist with classes, but many graduate students serve as the sole instructor for one or more classes each semester as a teaching fellow or graduate student instructor. Graduate and adult TAs generally have a fixed salary determined by each contract period (usually a semester or an academic year); however, undergraduates and high school students are sometimes unpaid and, in the US and other countries with the credit system, receive course credits in return for their assistance. Teaching assistants often help the main teacher by managing students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD, or even physical disabilities, such as blindness or deafness.