Graduate Teaching Assistant - Job Description and Career Outlook

Graduate teaching assistants work with the faculty within their department in colleges and universities, supporting professors in a number of ways. Graduate teaching assistants teach lower-level courses while working toward their own graduate degree. In general, they tend to work on a contract basis. Teaching assistants receive a small salary, but usually do not have to pay tuition. The main challenge of being a graduate teaching assistant is being able to balance teaching and working for professors with the pursuit of a graduate degree. However, this job is an excellent way to gain teaching experience and network with professors who will at some point become peers.

Work Environment and Job Duties

A graduate teaching assistant puts about 20 hours a week toward the job. The understanding is that the rest of the time will be spent working on your own degree. Job duties are similar to that of a full professor. Teaching lower level undergraduate courses, creating lesson plans and materials, giving exams, and grading papers and exams are among the responsibilities of graduate teaching assistants.

Supporting professors in the department is also part of being a graduate teaching assistant. Monitoring labs and enforcing the rules of the lab, grading student work for professors, holding office hours on behalf of a professor and proctoring exams are just a few of the duties with which a professor may need help. In summary, a graduate teaching assistant may need to be a stand-in for the professors in their department.

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Requirements and Education

Working as a graduate teaching assistant is a stepping stone to becoming a full professor while earning either a master’s degree or a PhD. Depending on the requirements of the college or university, you may need to have already earned your master’s degree and be working toward your PhD, or you may need to have earned a certain number of credits toward a master’s degree. If you fail to maintain your GPA at a certain level, you will most likely have to relinquish the job, and it will be reassigned to a different graduate student.

In order to apply for a job as a graduate teaching assistant, note your interest on the application to graduate school. Once the school is aware of your desire to become a teaching assistant, you will most likely need to interview with a representative from the department in which you have an interest. You may also have to meet with the different professors that you will be working for as an assistant.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a graduate teaching assistant is $33,180. The lowest 10 percent earns on average $17,330 and the top 10 percent earns $55,410. Salary is only part of the payment for graduate teaching assistants; most colleges and universities also pay for the degree that the graduate student is working on. While the costs of graduate school can vary, the amount is not an insignificant part of the compensation package.

The growth of opportunities for graduate teaching assistants is directly tied to the growth of teaching opportunities for all professors in colleges and universities. The BLS reports that job prospects are decidedly positive for this position, with the growth rate over the next 8 years projected to be about 17 percent. Since the salary figures for those with a post secondary education are higher than those with only a high school degree, growth at colleges and universities will continue to be strong. That kind of demand translates to needing more professors and graduate teaching assistants. The outlook for teaching undergraduates remains positive and stable.

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